Big Brash Dahlias


Dahlias may still be out of fashion in many gardening circles but I am an affectionado and think they are well worth growing.

I have just started off last years tubers in big plant pots that I will plant out lock stock and barrel (literally in some cases) when the spring flowers have gone along with any danger of frost.

I left some tubers in the ground last autumn but after this winter I am not hopeful. It is damp rather than cold that does the damage so you never know.

If I was keen and earlier (around February) then I could have forced the tubers then taken cuttings and grown them on. Still last years tubers divided easily this week and I could see the eyes or young shoots.

It seemed a waste to compost some of the tubers that had no stalk to them but they would never grow so off to the bin with them.

I have been a bit precious about growing annual dahlias but some seed mixes provide great results. If it is quick late colour you want give the annuals a try.

Thompson & Morgan supply seeds and tubers.

Dalek Dahlia

Dark leaved Bishop’s children Dahlias are looking very good as Autumn comes to an end. Children will be surprised the leaves are not green and the flowers remain so colourful read more




Iris from Bulbs as Opposed to Rhizomes

George Iris

Dutch Iris or Iris reticulata are small bulbs for pots or rockeries.
Flag Iris are big and blousy and grow from Rhizomes.
These pictures of different Iris are grown from bulbs.

Iris B

The reticulata group produce narrow, triangular leaves and a single, slender bloom per bulb.
Flowers are principally in shades of blue and purple, often with an attractively contrasting orange or yellow mark at the top of the fall.
Iris histrioides ‘George’ is proving to be a good Iris shown top.

Iris Frans Hals

Iris Franz Hals above or you could try the unusual Iris ‘Katharine Hodgkin’ below. Its exotic colouring of cream overlaid with a blend of light yellow and greeny-blue comes from its parents.

Iris joker

Read our other article Tips for Growing Spring Iris


Many Magnificent Magnolia Varieties and Species


Magnolia Varieties

  • Magnolia ‘Sunrise’ – White with red stripe
  • Magnolia ‘Black Tulip’ -Deep purple with full petals
  • Magnolia ‘Red Lucky’ -Pink with red base
  • Magnolia ‘Jade Lamp’ – Pure white
  • Magnolia ‘Crystal Cup’ -Cream
  • Magnolia denudata Yellow River
  • Magnolia ‘Pink Beauty’ –
  • Magnolia ‘Betty’ – Deep pink to cerise

Available from Thompson & Morgan


Continue Reading →


Biggest Aspidistra in the Toilet

Palma Loo

On holiday in Majorca I spotted this potted Aspidistra plant marking the way to the toilets. It is fitting that it was located at The Banys Àrabs, or Arab Baths.
These baths are a remnants of Palma’s Moorish past and include the lush gardens of Ca’n Fontirroig. Although very small the gardens are home to Sardinian warblers, house sparrows, cacti, palm trees, and a wide range of flowers and ferns.


  • Aspidistra is a popular foliage plant, grown as a landscape plant in shaded spots in areas with mild winters.
  • It is better known as the middle class Victorian must have as a houseplant.
  • They’re grown for their ability to survive neglect and very shady conditions, indoors and out.
  • In Japan, leaves of this species have traditionally been cut into pieces and used in Bento and Osechi boxes to keep each food separated.
  • I have never seen one in flower but with 90+ species listed in wiki they must reproduce somehow

Also read about Bomb Proof plants
Moorish bath

Odd Aspidistra Facts

  1. Aspidistra elatior can also be called the Cast Iron Plant and was made famous by the Gracie Fields Song ‘The Biggest Aspidistra in the World’
  2. Aspidistra are native to China and Japan but were popular in Victorian England as a house plant amongst the dark and sooty atmosphere
  3. Aspidistra belongs to the lily family

Do Not Over Feeding House Plants

Leaf at the expense of Flower

Pamper your plants by all means but resist the urge to over feed.

Doubling up on the plant feed or recommended concentration level will not help your plants. They wont grow bigger and better, quite the opposite.

Plant Responses to Over Feeding

  • A strong dose of fertilizer will ‘burn’ or cause browning of the tender leaf tips and margin of the leaves.
  • If the nitrogen level is too high the growth will be soft, sappy and may lead to total collapse.
  • Fertilizer salts can build up in pots as the feed is never totally used or absorbed.
  • Delicate feeder roots are then damaged by the greater concentration of undissolved minerals which can kill a plant.
  • Browned off leaf tips and distorted or stunted leaves are a result.
  • A white crust of salts on the top of pots or compost is a sign of over feeding. This crust can burn the most delicate of plants to death.
  • Unbalance feeding can cause the plant to react in a disproportionate way such as growing leggy or too leafy.
  • Feeding through winter is generally a mistake. If plants aren’t growing naturally then do not force feed them!


Over Watering reminder Plants can drown! Some go limp and can be revived other ‘pop their clogs’ and you get no second chance.
Roots need nurishment and air. Water helps one but can remove the other from soil.

Young plants can often get all they need from commercial compost for several months.  Seedlings need even less feed.

Do not add a slow release fertilizer then use your weekly liquid feed.

Fertilizer companies want to sell more fertilizer so  many proprietary feeds can be diluted by half and still be effective. Match the quantity of feed to the size of your plant, you wouldn’t give a toddler a 5 course banquet.

Red Spider Mite Problems

Tetranychus urticae

 Habits of Red Spider Mites

  • Red Spider mites do not spin good webs. Proper spiders make symmetrical and neat webs.
  • You can recognise infections if the web is feeble and scraggy with tiny white flecks on some of the strands (this is dead mite skins).
  • You can also detect mites by placing white paper under a leaf and tapping several times. If infested some of the mites will fall from their hiding under leaves and away from direct light on to the paper.  If you see red dots scampering around and you have your work cut out although they start green in spring turning red later in the summer.
  • Mites pierce the skin of leaves and suck sap causing paling then red or yellow spots. This then leaves a fine white powder and leaves begin to fall off.

Problem Control and Prevention

  • Few plants are immune and indoor Cistus, Dracaena, Citrus, Podocarpus and even Aspidistra are susceptible.
  • Tomato and greenhouse plants also suffer.
  • Crocosomia, dahlia, fuchsia, runner beans and soft fruit are also susceptible.
  • Mite move easily from plant to plant and are so small that drafts can blow them from one plant to another. Isolation is the first option.
  • Mites find a hot dry environment a delight, whilst mites abhor humid conditions so try frequent misting to discourage mites.
  • Submerging plants in a stream of warm water or hosing off out doors may help.
  • Spray with soapy water or plant oils paying attention to the undersides of leaves and leave to dry.
  • Biological control with Phytoseiulus persimilis is effective in warm areas.
  • Malathion pesticide can be used, mix with water and a drop of soft soap but keep the spray away from cacti and ferns.
  • Systemic granular pesticide is a last alternative.

Tetranychus urticae Female of the red form of the spider mite
Scale : mite body length ~0.5 mm
Creative commons by Gilles San Martin, on Flickr
Chuck Crandall ‘Whats wrong with my plant?’

RHS the Tetranychus urticae is also known as Two Spotted Spider Mite


Cyclamen Indoor and Outdoor


I admire Cyclamen more and more as the years go by.

I am currently in awe of the indoor cyclamen that my wife obtained around Christmas time. The volume of strongly coloured flowers has been phenomenal on the Persian cyclamen. We have stopped watering them expecting them to rest through summer but in one case the plants have been reinvigorated.

Cyclamen coum

Cyclamen coum are hardy plants. The Persian varieties will not withstand frost.
I lay the pots on their sides so the plant can die back slowly.

In late autumn I bring them back into the light and give them a gentle watering and light feed. Hopefully I will then get a new showing of these super flowers.

Keep regularly watered whist in growth. I find it better to water from the bottom to prevent the corm from rotting.

coum Cyclamen

There are now 22 recognised species of Cyclamen. It is said that at least one variety is in bloom for every month of the year.
Cyclamen grow in a range of areas and environments from beech woodland, alpine meadows and windowsills through scrub and rocky areas. This tuberous family of plants are predominantly from North Africa, Turkey and Mediterranean areas.

Top Cyclamen Species

C. balearicum
C. colchicum
C. graecum
C. africanum
Continue Reading →


Compost and Fungus Gnats the Little Critters

I have no photographs of fungus Gnats because they are very small, little critters like miniature flies.
Houseplants with wet compost attract and breed gnats and the more organic matter the greater the brood of little flies. Fungus gnats are the most common flying insects found in and around compost bins.

Problems with Fungus Gnats

  • On their own they do no damage to your plants but their offspring will.
  • The Gnats or flies lay eggs on the surface of damp houseplant compost.
  • The eggs hatch into minute white maggots that burrow into the soil. Here they can bore there way into roots leaving them open to infection and bacterial diseases.
  • Gnat maggots can eat feeder roots and weaken plants or generate chlorsis.
  • I also find they are the sort of fly that ends up in your eye.
  • Susceptible plants include Chrysanthemum, Cyclamen, Freesia and Pelagoniums.

Control of Fungus Gnats

  • Allow soil to dry out completely before watering to kill the flies.
  • Drown the maggots by leaving plants in a bucket of water over night but then drain throughly.
  • For heavy infestations Malathion kills maggots and eggs.
  • I rely on a fly paper with a sticky glue to catch the flies before they breed.
  • Half fill a shallow container with ‘Sweet Almond Oil’ and place near an infested plant. Leave it and the flies find it irresistible and meet a sticky end. Another recipe is apple cider vinegar, a little water and a tiny dab of dish soap. the gnats love it and
  • Venus fly traps would be fun but may not eat enough
  • In the garden, wormwood is supposed to be an excellent deterrent
  • Cover your indoor composting bin

See also Which Gardening pdf on fungus gnats


Feed and Water Your Fruit Trees


March is a good time to feed your Pears, Plums, Greengages and Blackcurrants.

  • To boost your trees into growth they will appreciate a nitrogen feed.
  • A general feed like Growmore or VitaxQ4 is easy to apply.
  • A surface mulch of well rotted animal manure will also help.

Watering Tips

    • If spring is dry water the plants gently with a bucket of water onto the roots. repeat every fortnight if needs be.
    • Any watering should be dome before mid day.
      water well the weather is clement not in anticipation of a night frost.
    • Water pears for the first six weeks after blossoming. They are usually grafted onto thirsty root stock.
    • Try to keep water away from the trunk or woody stems to prevent rot.
    • Newly planted trees need watering for the first year.
    • If you have dry sandy soil mulch for the first three years to help retain water.
    • Water the first year after transplant after that they are on their own.
    • You want the trees to build deep roots so they are self sufficient for water.

Blackcurrants are a shallow rooted so weed by hand.

  • Blackcurrents are prone to frost damage on the flowers.
  • Varieties called Ben…. flower a but later or you can cover with horticultural fleece.

March is still a good time to plant new fruit trees and bushes. As the soil warms up they should grow away quite well.


Spiders as Treatment for Aphids

Green Island Garden

Yes you can rest happily with this organic treatment for your Aphids. It is called ‘spiders’ and they can be found in every garden and often in your own home.


  • There are over 100 families and nearly 50,000 known species of Spider.
  • Spiders eat insects and not your plants although there is one vegetarian species of spider.
  • Spiders typically catch their prey in a Spiders Web as depicted on the plant above

Spiders Webs in the Garden

  • Orb webs are geometric in shape and often have gaps that any self respecting greenfly can get through.
  • Tangle webs or cob webs are finer in structure and designed for smaller prey.
  • Most spiders webs are more conspicuous when they hold dew drops or moisture.
  • About half the potential prey that hit orb webs escape, so it isn’t a cure for Aphids after all.
  • A web intercepts the prey, absorbs its momentum without breaking and traps the prey by entangling it or sticking to it.

Spiders are Good for Gardens

  • Read more from Cornell University Dr Linda Rayor
  • How to Increase the Number of Spiders in Your Garden

* Use mulch. It provides protection and humidity.
* Provide places for web attachment or homes eg. Crates, tall plants, bundles of hay.
* Leave areas uncultivated and leave plant stalks for overwintering habitats.
* Grow flowers that bring in prey.
* If spraying pesticides, spray when the spiders are less active or use a pesticide that has fewer effects on the spiders.

Book Cover

A spiders ‘evo devo’ and the silk they produce (that is Evolutionary Sevelopment to you and me) is hard science mixed with good writing. from amazon


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