Ash – Root and Branch Review

frêne fraxinus
Common Ash trees row widely in the UK and other Ashes grow in Asia and America. Our Ash has dark almost black buds and some species have interesting flowers but it is as a tree the provided wood to make bows that the Ash is best known in Britain.

Key Features of the Ash

  • Latin name – Fraxinus excelsior – other names; Common Ash or European Ash
  • Height – up to 150 feet
  • Type of tree – Deciduous
  • Leaves – Green pinate with 7-15 ovate-oblong leaflets
  • Flowers – small purplish in short clusters
  • Fruit – winged keys in clusters of glossy green turning brown
  • Bark – grey-brown fissured when mature
  • Family – Oleaceae

Origins and Distribution of the Ash

  • Grows widely across Europe and there are many North American species.
  • Tolerant of wind swept and coastal areas.

Common Ash Tree

Uses and Attributes of the Ash

  • Ash can make a noble shade tree quite quickly.
  • Use to make bows, hurling sticks, baseball bats and historically car and plane frames.
  • Strong, flexible and easy to turn the wood also burns well and is used in some smoking.

Gardeners Tips for the Ash

  • Select a smaller growing variety like the Manna Ash.
  • Dislikes sandy or acid soil.
  • Weeping Ash make a statement tree.

Ash Tree

Other types of Ash and key species

  • Members of the Sorbus family, Mountain Ashes or Rowans are unrelated.
  • Fraxinus is an extensive genus of hardy Ash trees including White Ash or Autumn Purple Ash, Black Ash, Blue Ash, Singleleaf Ash and Fragrant Ash.
  • The Ornus group of Ashes are attractive flowering trees also called Manna Ash.

Ash comments from elsewhere

  • In Norse mythology the first man was made from Ash.
  • Yggdrasil the ‘Tree of the World’ is thought to be an Ash

Read about our series on British tree reviews with a bakers dozen fact sheets

frêne fraxinus by Luberon (sb) CC BY-NC 2.0
Common Ash Tree by denovich CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Ash Tree by Gemma Grace CC BY-NC 2.0

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‘Ready’ Primula Plants for Spring

It is mid July and I have just placed an order for some colourful spring Primulas.
Choosing from a good selection at   Jersey Plants Direct  I opted for Auriculas and Rosebud Primroses.  As an alternative I could have ordered  Polyanthus (primrose flowers on stems) or a wide range of self-coloured primroses.

frosted auricula

What and Why Buy Now

  • Ordering now, the plants should be delivered in good time to be planted and settled whilst the soil is warm and getting damp.
  • I do not do well growing these plants from seeds (which is very expensive) so I find the investment in plants well worthwhile.
  • My supplier offers various sizes of seedlings from 160  plugs 4-8cm, ‘Ready’ plants 6-10 cm, jumbo 7-11cm and super jumbo 8-12 in 5.7cm wide modules. I opted for the ready size as growing on small plants in the past has caused me higher losses
  • The quantities mean I can split the delivery into two and plant half in a cold frame and half in their flowering position to see which section performs best.
  • As recommended by Jersey I will grow some Rosebuds in pots for the house.


Photo credits
frosted auricula by framheim CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
primrose happiness by windsordi CC BY-NC 2.0
Auricula Dolly Viney by abriachan nurseries CC BY-NC-ND 2.0  ‘Auriculas are one of my favourite flowers, they are so unique and cheerful.
We grow and sell a wide selection of Auricula at the nursery and send out our catalogue and mailorder all over the UK.’

Auricula Dolly Viney

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Five Primrose Pictures

Primroses that bloom in the spring tra-la seemed a good title for these pictures with short pithy comments attached.

Hedgerow primroses grow well in the shade but flower better when a bit of sun breaks through the woodland branches waiting for their new leaves.

Flowers that Bloom in the Spring, tra-la
The inspiration for these five pictures of Primrose in their many colours.

Primroses in Spring

Leaves can die back shortly after flowering. The longer they are green the more they are feeding the roots and plant for future flowering.
Water and feed after flowering, you would be hungry and thirsty after producing so much seed and progeny.

Haworth primroses

Some colour look good and faithful on computer screens. I think that this applies to these Primroses.

Bred as a double flower this Primrose has interesting colouring. Some plants can be over bred and are then hard to keep from one year to the next. This is the second year of this plant.

Picture and other credits

Primrose seeds at Thompson & Morgan
Flowers that Bloom in the Spring, tra-la by cobalt123 CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 ‘Perky blooms in full glory, seen at the entrance to the Westin Hotel at LAX in Los Angeles. I don’t know what these are, so an ID is appreciated. I now believe these are primrose flowers. There were many colors and varieties of these flowers, which must be hardy against peaks of high and low temperatures and the gusty winds near the airport.’
Primroses in Spring by Chiot’s Run CC BY-NC 2.0 ‘…this one plant is 7 years old. All the other ones died, but this one blooms every spring…’


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Primula Denticulata or Himalayan Primrose

Spring flowering Primulas are one of gardens wonders. The ‘denticulata’ flowers are held on firm high stalks up to 12″ above ground. The globular appearance is due to the mass of small florets that group together to form a ball shape.

Primula denticula alba

In early March this white Drumstick Primula Denticulata is full of flowers on stalks that are just breaking free from ground level.
Within a week the stalks will be over 10 inches tall and fully open.
Admired by the neighbors I often split the plants and give examples away.

Primula denticula
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Sycamore – Root and Branch Review

Sycamore Gap - Hadrian's Wall

The Sycamore is a picturesque tree the largest member of the European maples. It is one of the most common trees in the northern temperate zones enjoying exposed situations in most types of soil.

Key Features of the Sycamore

  • Latin name – Acer pseudoplantanus – other common names; False plane-tree, Scottish maple, or mock-plane.
  • Height – 120-140 feet
  • Type of tree – Deciduous
  • Leaves – Grey palmate leaves with 5 toothed lobes
  • Flowers – Borne in pendulous clusters, green insignificant
  • Fruit – Winged keys in pairs.
  • Bark – Grey-pink
  • Family – Aceracea

The Drumlanrig Sycamore

Origins and Distribution of the Sycamore

  • Western Europe and Northern temperate zones.
  • Colonises open ground with some success.

Uses and Attributes of the Sycamore

  • Strong creamy white timber is not durable outdoors.
  • Sycamore is used for flooring, furniture making and joinery.

Sycamore in Bud

Gardeners Tips for the Sycamore

  • The seeds are held in pairs with wings that allow the seed to spin and ‘helicopter’ down some distance from the aprent tree.
  • Leaves can attract a fungus that leaves the leaves with unsightly black or red spots .
  • The mature trees have a large canopy and are not suitable for small gardens.

Other types of Sycamore and key species

  • Sycamores are not to be confused with Plane trees the ‘American Sycamore’ Platanus occidentalis, Platanus racemosa or Platanus wrightii the Arizona sycamore nor with Ficus sycomorus a fig.
  • Atropurpureum has purple undersides to the leaf and ‘Brilliantissimum’ is a cultivar notable for the bright salmon-pink colour of the young foliage.

Sycamore Gap

Sycamore comments from elsewhere

  • Sycamore was the favoured wood for making ‘love spoons’ in Wales. These wedding gifts are linked with rings and were traditionally made from a single peice of wood.
  • The Drumlanrig Sycamore is reputed to be the UK’s tallest sycamore.It dates back to the 18th Century and is one of the largest girth and spread in Britain. It is one of Scotland’s top 100 Heritage Trees.

Read about our series on British tree reviews with a bakers dozen fact sheets

The Drumlanrig Sycamore by I like CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Sycamore Gap – Hadrian’s Wall by El Villano CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Sycamore in Bud by Durlston Country Park CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Sycamore Gap by Jonathan_W CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 ‘Sycamore Gap is where they filmed on of the opening scenes in “Robin Hood Price of Thieves”

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Repotting Permanent Pot Plants

Hols spain 543

When a plants roots fill the pot then it is time to think about repotting. Compost breaks down overtime, becomes prone to waterlogging and is less aerated. Plants in John Innes No.3 compost will last a bit longer but repotting every couple of years may still be needed to retain vigour.

Why Repot

  • Repotting helps consistency of watering. You are less likely to get waterlogging or dry compacted roots that are hard to water.
  • New compost and nutrient is made available to your plants.
  • Cramped roots will stunt the plants ability to perform above ground.
  • Tip for bulbs like Eucomis- Pot up in black plastic pots, then place inside a decorative pot in summer.

How to Repot

    • Early spring is a good time to do your repotting.
    • Gently ease out the root ball whilst supporting the plant.
    • Tease out some compost (upto a third) from the top and bottom and free any roots that are growing round and round the pot edges.


  • Lightly trim the roots from around the edges. If they are very tightly packed slice off a good sliver from one side.
  • Select a slightly larger pot, place the plant in the centre at the same depth and fill in the sides with fresh compost. Push compost down to avoid air pockets.
  • Add some slow release fertiliser granules as you repot and push some into the old root ball.
  • In years when you do not repot, top dress the pot with fresh compost by scraping away the top 2″ and adding fresh compost.
  • An over-potted plant will focus on root growth at the expense of new foliage and flowers.
  • Water the repotted plant and if the compost sinks top up or add gravel as a top mulch

Repotting House Plants

  • The process is very similar to other repotting.
  • It may be obvious that a plant needs repotting when roots grow out of the hole in the bottom of the pot.
  • Water the plant before you take it out of its current pot and let it stand for a couple of hours.
  • Once repotted do not feed for 6-8 weeks as the compost should provide new nutrients.
  • Keep your tools and pots clean and sterile particularly for Orchids.
  • Use appropriate special purpose composts for Citrus trees, bonsai, African Violets, Orchids etc.


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Gardeners Tips Top Ten Alpines 2010

Saxifraga grisebachi

Saxifraga grisebachii
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Indoor Primula Tips


Indoor plants that are in full flower in January include the strongly coloured Primula Obconica shown above. They look good in traditional blues, pinks and white with the new Twilly series including a strong red. There are plenty of long lasting blooms particularly if you pick off dead flowers. The hairs on the back of leaves can be an irritant so take care if you have sensitive skin, the plant is also known as Poison Primrose.

Plants at garden centers may have been grown specifically for a quick show of colour that makes them saleable and decorative as indoor plants. They are probably not frost free or very hardy.
Primula 011

Primula Obconica

  • Unlike other Primula obconica varieties, Twilly Touch Me is primine free, so causes no skin irritation.
  • Grown from seed give them dark to germinate. They flower the following spring/summer in the cool greenhouse or as a houseplant.
  • Primula obconica produce a dozen different colours of flowers.
  • The flowers last for several weeks if spent flowers are deadheaded regularly.
  • Do not let the plants dry out and the leaves become floppy.

Thompson & Morgan search for seeds and plants
Other species of Indoor Primulas include Primula malacoides and Primula sinensis the Chinese Primrose

Primula 003
Showing the soft fleshy leaves of ‘Twill Touch Me Series’ of Indoor Primula obconica. The Primula stem holds the flowers proud of the leaves.

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Yew – Root and Branch Review

Yews, Stow on the Wold

The slow growing Yew is one of the longest lived trees capable of living for thousands of years. Britains oldest Yew in Fortingall is believed to be over 3000+ years old.

Key Features of the Yew

  • Latin name – Taxus baccata other common names English Yew, European Yew or Common Yew
  • Height – up to 80 feet
  • Type of tree – Evergreen Conifer
  • Leaves – Flat sharp-pointed needles growing in a spiral around upright shoots
  • Flowers – Male spherical catkins beneath shoots, female tiny buds near shoot ends generally on separate trees
  • Fruit – Single seeds encased in a red berry
  • Bark – Grey-brown with scaly patches revealing purple-red bark underneath
  • Family – Taxacea


Origins and Distribution of the

  • Yews have survived for many thousands of years and have adapted to climate changes
  • Native to the UK, western, central and southern Europe and as far south as northwest Africa.

Uses and Attributes of the

  • All parts of the Yew are poisonous and should be treated with care. There are new compounds (taxol) being developed from the tree to fight cancer.
  • The wood is hard, elastic and resistant to water. It was used to make long bows.
  • The Yew is associated with folklore and is often found in churchyards.

Yew - Taxus baccata

Gardeners Tips for the Yew

  • The yew can be clipped or pruned into topiary and makes a good hedge or wind break. As it is slow growing it is easy to keep it within bounds.
  • Old trees can have a girth of 20-30 feet.
  • Will grow on dry chalky soils and in the shade.
  • Taxus boccata ‘Erecta’ is a columnar form worth growing in your garden.

Other types of Yew

  • Taxus baccata ‘Fastigiata’ or the Irish Yew is one of over 100 cultivars and the several cultivars with yellow leaves are collectively known as “Golden Yew”.
  • Taxus brevifolia or the Pacific Yew is native to northwest America.

Yew comments from elsewhere

  • ‘The Yew is considered to be the most potent tree for protection against evil, a means of connecting to your ancestors, a bringer of dreams and otherworld journeys and a symbol of the old magic. In hot weather it gives off a resinous vapour which shamans inhaled to gain visions. Yew wood was regarded as especially magical to the Celts, due to its connection with the dead and the ancestors which were deeply respected. Archaeologists have recently found well-preserved Yew wood carvings at ancient sites of springs and wells which were probably votive offerings. ‘read the full story on White Dragon

Irish Yew

Read about our series on British tree reviews with a bakers dozen fact sheets

Yews, Stow on the Wold by 1967geezer CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 ‘A pair of yew trees flanking St Edward’s church door.’
Yew – Taxus baccata by lifeinthewild CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

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Very Hardy Tough Plants


Some plants are so reliable, accommodating and long lived that they earn the sobriquet ‘Bomb Proof’. As soon as I say that there will be howls of complaint that all my bomb proof selection have failed in one garden – well all I can say is you should not need green fingers to grow this bomb proof selection.

Gardeners Tips for Bomb Proof Plants

  • Rosa Rugarosa or Dog Roses are found wild in hedgerows and that means they survive what ever the British weather throws at them.
  • Taxus or Yew trees grows quicker then expected and can be pruned, trimmed and shaped. Old specimens in church yards can be several hundred years old so your tree is likely to outlive you.
  • The Grass in my lawns has been through drought, flood and plagues of children. I chop it down with a mower at least 30 times a year and treat it badly. It may go brown, grow some moss or suffer from Fairy rings but the green grass keeps coming back. If that fails there is also the horrible Gardeners Garters the stripy grass that is worse than couch to pull out.
  • Cat mint or Nepta Six Hills Giant is a robust plant that grows to 18″ but it prefers full sun. It is extremely drought tolerant and will  grow in poor soils.
  • Some plants survive like weeds and in my garden Creeping Jenny Lysimachia fits into this category.
  • Poppies are almost bomb proof due to the volume and longevity of the seed they produce. Iceland poppies and opium poppies Paperver somniferum are a couple of cases in point.
  • Flowering onions or Alliums have hardy bulbs and once a plant is established they are adept at seeding and growing colonies.

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