Pentas – Urge to Grow Five Annuals

Pentas are semi-tropical shrubs grown as annuals that will be ideal if we have a long warm summer. (What is one of those I hear you ask?) They may last through a mild winter and gradually become a woody a 3 foot high shrub .

How to Grow Pentas

  • The nectar-rich blossoms grow in 3” clusters over a long blooming season in vibrant red, white, pink, and purple shades.
  • Bees and butterflies are attracted to them due to the open flowers and high insect food content.
  • Pentas will tolerate some shade but perform best in full sun that is also attractive to the butterflies.
  • Pentas appreciate a mildly acidic soil above pH 5.5
  • Grow from fresh saved or purchased seed providing light for germination. Don’t cover them with soil when sowing.
  • Soft wood cuttings may be grown in a greenhouse.
  • To avoid leggy growth keep in the sun and provide moisture rich soil.

Pentas Varieties to Try

  • Penta lanceolata belongs to the Rubiaceae family are often called “Egyptian Star Flower” due to the flower’s shape.They are very popular in the USA where the following varieties may be acquired.
  • ‘Butterfly’ series: Easy to grow from seed
  • ‘Graffiti’ series: Compact mounding plants
  • ‘Kaleidoscope Appleblossom’: Pale pink and rose on the same flower; an early bloomer
  • ‘New Look’ series: Upright plants that don’t flop
  • ‘Northern Lights’: Continues to produce pale lavender flowers in cool temperatures
  • Other common names for Pentas include star flower  or star cluster.

Another view of the same plant


RHS Garden Book Resources

Harlow Carr Library

RHS and Books

This week I revisited RHS Harlow Carr library for the first time in several years. I previously volunteered in the ‘old potting shed’  library before the new building was completed. Then I was part of the team that moved and reshelved all the books from one part of the garden to the ecofriendly new premises.

At the time of our relocation there had been a spate of thefts from the Lindley Library and some very valuable tomes had been taken. Good old artistic books with frameable prints were also susceptible to loosing pages to the ner-do-wells. So the powers that be decided to install anti theft devices in the spine of all the books at Harlow Carr. After much painstaking work we volunteers were told the exit was not compatible with the spine tags and another exit system had been purchased. As a consequence new RFID tags a couple of centimeters square had to be fixed inside all the books that already had a metal spine. Several good looking end papers were damaged or covered in this process. Imagine my ‘surprise’ (not) when the 3 books I borrowed this week were passed to my by the librarian in a way that circumvented the exit alarm because it wasn’t working properly.

The harlow-carr-library-learning-centre-is-eco-friendly as reported here eight years ago see’ library’


Garden Library

Orville Lyttle    A Tree of Knowledge?


RHS Lindley Library Disaster Prone

  • Named after botanist and artist John Lindley the library is a multisite operation with books, paintings, photographs and old documents at Wisley, London HQ and other RHS gardens.  In addition to old and modern books  the RHS has an extensive collection of paintings and photographs plus horticultural paraphernalia.
  • When I tried to visit the library last January it was closed for stock taking!  Now I bother to check the website and warn you it is again ‘Closed: First fortnight in August’.
  • The library in Vincent Square London was saved from a proposed closure in 1995 by refurbishment of the downstairs area. Then in 2011 it was damaged by fire but reopened in 2012.
  • Bigger disaster occurred when a notable book thief stole 13 volumes published between 1848 and 1860 of  ‘Une Nouvelle Iconographie des Camellias’ by nineteenth-century Belgian horticulturist Ambroise Verschaffelt.
  • William Jacques, also known as the ‘tome raider’ stole antique books worth £50,000 from the world-famous Lindley  library and was jailed for three-and-a-half years after skipping bail and evading recapture for several years.
  • Jacques used a false name to sign in to the Library before stuffing valuable books under his tweed jacket and fleeing, Southwark Crown Court. I was shown how easy it was to circumvent the security gates by balancing items on your head (but keep that under your hats).


RHS as Hard Copy Publishers

  • The most popular RHS publication is probably ‘The Garden’  a members monthly magazine that often ends up in charity shops or NHS waiting rooms.
  • Also very popular are the annual Members’ Handbook, The Plantsman and the RHS Plant Finder
  • Coffee table books are produced regularly often in a joint venture with other publishers like Dorling Kindersly. This supplements the technical treatise on specific subjects under the RHS own imprint including Botany, Genealogy, Latin for Gardeners and encyclopedias.
  • I have cheekily chosen the following title to highlight because I am not sure ‘How Do RHS managers Work?’

Book Cover

What Others Say about RHS

  • RHS is a charity generating over £82m last year 2016/17. The accounts are silent on how much of this relates to publications, RHS enterprises ltd operates some commercial activities with profits gifted back to the charity.
  • The Lindley Library contains works dating back as far as 1514. It is widely regarded as one of the world’s most extensive horticultural collections, including books, journals, pictures and art concerned with botany, garden design and history, as well as practical gardening.
  • The Heritage Lottery Fund has awarded £4.8 million in a first stage grant towards an overall project of £160 million  10 year development project.   HLF said  “Wisley is such an important site in the history of plants and gardens – a superb setting for some rare and fascinating plant specimens along with thousands of books, artifacts and photographs…….

My Books on How to Garden

My Garden Books

My Gardening Books 

I am almost as keen on books as I am on gardening so it is natural that I should combine the two by collecting books related to gardens and gardening. The attached pdf is a cold list of my current collection by title, authors, publisher and date of publication. The extra columns were for my amusement showing the number of pages ( over 100,000) and a score that I attributed when I first browsed the book. The collection is a bit eclectic as a result of acquiring what was available and affordable at the time augmented by family gifts.

Why Collect Garden Related Books

  • A good book with knowledgeable content is priceless as long as I apply the ideas in my own husbandry.
  • A good picture is worth a thousand words. Where would we be if we were not seduced by a good picture on a seed packet, plant label, magazine or more importantly inside a book.
  • A bit of history goes a long way and all plants and species have their own tale to tell. Keeping old seed catalogues and public garden brochures will remind us how things were. Books about plant hunters and patrons can highlight our social fabric.
  • Before the internet and google, knowledge was power and attracted a price for those who shared their know how via books, magazines and radio shows. Much of my collection was produced during of just after WWII when growing larger crops was vital.
  • If I was more industrious I would have recorded my books using the Dewy decimal system where  all books have a classification number and reference. 580 is generally reserved for Plants with the following subsections

    • 575 Science of parts of plants
    • 580 Plants
    • 581 Specific topics in natural history of plants
    • 582 Plants noted for specific vegetative characteristics and flowers
    • 583 Magnoliopsida – Dicotyledones
    • 584 Liliopsida – Monocotyledones
    • 585 Pinophyta – Gymnosperms
    • 586 Cryptogamia – Seedless plants
    • 587 Pteridophyta  -Ferns
  • Some 20th century books will become more valuable as evocations of a bygone era. Good writing and art work, first editions and special books by key designers may lead the way.
  • One challenge for me has been to find a niche within the published gardening books where I do not currently have any coverage. There are some monographs and old classics where I would like to invest but for the time being I will content my self with a look at planting in accordance to the phases of the moon. This area, also called Biodynamic gardening, is often popular in the press and media at the turn of the year or following blue moons (both of which we have just experienced.)

New Books on Biodynamic Gardening

Book CoverAnecdotally biodynamic gardening increases yields with quality,  edible crops with a good depth of flavour. Science has not yet proved how this can be measured

Book Cover

These guides have been published annually for over 50 years to help gardeners choose the optimum days for sowing, pruning and harvesting various plants and crops.

Book Cover
Get help from nature – my garden needs all the help it can get and maybe just the sun is not quite enough so I’ll give the moon a go as well.
Book Cover
The moon garden is planted and tended in harmony with phases of the moon to take advantage of gravitational pull on the earth’s water table. Sow when the moon is waxing never plant anything when the moon is waning.

Book CoverExpanding into growing beyond the garden is a book that includes tips and ideas on large-scale farming,  livestock market gardening. cereal cultivation and commercial vegetable growing.



Secateurs and Why I Choose Them

Secateurs are an indispensable tool for the the tidy minded gardener and even me.

 Ergonomic  Features to Look For on Secateurs

  • I like to be able to find the secateurs when I inevitably put them down despite the intentions of keeping them about my person. I good bright colour for the handles helps. I have lime green and red on my two favourite pairs and surprisingly the lime green stands out even amongst leaves and foliage.
  • On a similar ‘ability to find theme’ I like the pair with a small loop at the end of one handle with a hole drilled in. This allows a string or wire to be fed through to facilitate hanging them in a suitable location.
  • The grips should be moulded for fingers so a good purchase and transfer of power can be distributed. On my right handed secateurs the blade section has 4 finger grooves and the other handle is curved for the thumb and palm without a groove.
  • The grips are often some form of rubberised or hard plastic which I find preferable to bare metal that strikes cold.
  • Most secateurs have a thumb operated locking facility to keep them closed and safe when not in use. The idea is sound but you need to be able to operate this with the thumb of the same hand. A fiddly or unsafe device can be very frustrating.

Selected Secateurs

 Functional Features to Look For on Secateurs

  • There are two basic options for the blades to bypass one another in a scissor type motion or for the blade to cut then hit an anvil like a chopping board. I like the bypass or parrot nosed version for the majority of soft wood and stem cutting. I find that leaves the plant wound less prone to damage. The anvil approach is good for twigs and dryer material.
  • The blade and access to keep it sharp are key features. When buying new secateurs look for the best you can afford but focus on the blade.
  • At the base of the blade at the junction of the other arm there is normally a notch that can be used to cut tough items like wire.
  • The return (compression) spring to open the secateurs after every cut is generally held in place by two holes or protuberances near the top of each handle. They are key to the functionality and fun of using your secateurs  and if they spring loose you can spend ages looking for them. Keep them oiled and clean and if necessary stretch them to make a tighter fit.
  • Blade replacements are faffy and I find it hard to locate supplies. Why don’t manufacturers supply spares with new secateurs.
  • A Falco branded pair have a finger side handle that twists a quarter turn as you operate. I like this but am not sure it stops repetitive strain injury as I assume was the intention. I wont know unless I buy a new pair as this feature disabled itself and no longer works.
  • I have not used ratchet or geared secateurs that cut in a number of stages but find that useful on my loppers.


Well used anvil secateurs

My Experience Using Secateurs

  • There is a tendency to want to twist when cutting tough stems. This sprains the scissor action out of alignment and can cause irreparable damage. I have done this with many cheap pairs before I knew better.
  • As you can see I have numerous pairs that are not all that clean. I do oil them and try to remember to wipe excess sap off the blades.
  • I have a sharpening stone that I use frequently. I once sharpened the inner bit of the blade and then you could see light through where  gap should be. Sharpen the external edge.
  • For  cutting thicker stems use a lopper or more robust shears.
  • I have a good pair that occasionally nip the skin as I close them. As well as painful and frustrating I am also put out by having forgotten the makers name!

Gardeners secateurs tips



Why Choose Cyclamen

I coum early to Cyclamen (in the same way I came late to Chrysanthemums). Sorry, good gardening is no laughing matter but I like to plant a pun or two to see how they grow!

Eight Uses of Cyclamen

  • As a houseplant to brighten up your room
  • As a gift for someone else to brighten their room or day.
  • As a thank you, birthday gift, or as a token when visiting.
  • Historically they were give for people in hospital but the infection control police put paid to such plant based gifts.
  • As a garden stalwart in shade or partial shade under trees.
  • Persian cyclamen send a colourful  personal message or signifier in pink or brilliant white, cyclamen can convey  sympathy and love. Stronger feelings of pleasure, passion, friendship and fun are more appropriate in bright pink, dashing red or violet.
  • Cyclamen plants decorate a patio, conservatory, windowsill or any cool room inside the house.
  • Try cyclamen as cut flowers flowers!


Florists Frilled to Meet you Cyclamen

Cyclamen As a Garden Stalwart

  • The corms will grow in size to saucer or even larger producing the proverbial profusion of purple people I mean flowers. They are also good self sowers with sticky seeds moved away from the parent plant to germinate. The flower stem twists and spirals as it dries then the seed is expelled
  • Single  flowers sit on top of slim stalks and contrast with heart-shaped dark green foliage. Generally flowering in autumn , winter and late spring depending on variety
  • Woodland gardens and shady areas with deciduous trees are good locations of cyclamen.
  • Flowers often arrive prior to leaves which can look very distinctive and interesting during winter.

Continue Reading →


My Ground Cover Ideas

Ground cover plants are designed to do what they say in the title. They can cover the ground by design, happy accident or conscious neglect.

Creeping Jenny

Benefits of Ground Cover

  1. Treasure the ground cover plants that clothe the soil and rocks with leaves or stems preventing wasteful moisture loss.
  2. Ground cover reduces weed seed germination as the seed can’t reach the soil. Any weeds that do grow will likely be smothered or hidden from view.
  3. Most ground cover will flower and even foliage only plants are more aesthetically pleasing than bare or patchy ground.
  4. Ground cover is useful on hard to access land such as scree or steep slopes.
  5. Ground cover may creep or mound but most will grow lower than one feet high and be ornamental.
  6. They are easy to maintain with an occasional clipping after flowering or an edging trim to keep them in control.
  7. Ground cover can support wild life and help create a special habitat.

Hart’s tongue fern Asplenium scolopendrium

Selected Ground Cover Plant Species

    1. Ajuga reptans like plenty of water to produce purple-green leaves and spring flowers of blue spikes.
    2. Erigeron karvinskianus has small white flowers like lawn daisies. A copious self seeder.
    3. Lysimachia nummularia also called creeping jenny for reasons you will discover as it moves around your garden. In summer it has numerous smal,l yellow flowers.
    4. Sedum acre or Stone crop is a popular low growing succulent for ground cover.
    5. Stachys byzantina has grey wooly leaves on 6″ high stems. They look like Lamb’s ears hence the common name.
    6. Often excluded from ground cover plant list is lawn grass. I guess meadow achieves a similar purpose.


Happy Accidents

Many times a garden will develop its own style with a series of what I call ‘happy accidents’. Looking at ground cover I would include the semi-evergreen strawberry with its habit of forming runners in my list of accidents. Other ground hugging evergreen plants include a range of recumbent or prostrate dwarf conifers such as Juniper horizontalis or Juniper squamata blue carpet.

Whilstnot planted as ground cover I notice saxifrage, Euonymus, Bergenia and even clumpy Dianthus are all fulfilling the cover role. The special evergreens have the edge over plants that loose there leaves in winter but I have some great covering clumps of cyclamen at the moment. Ivy, I would not consider a happy accident more a gardening disaster.

Pink Flowered Strawberry Lipstick

Conditions for Good Ground Cover

  1. There are plants for most circumstances and conditions. Problem areas of poor soil and poor access are often the drivers of the decision to plant ground cover.
  2. Heaths and heathers are good for soils with acidic ph and will cope with a comparatively low top soil on top of stone or rubble. Some ferns may be suitable in these conditions.
  3. Flowering ground cover generally appreciate full or partial sun with a soil that retains some moisture.
  4. Damp conditions offer there own challenges and plants from the primula, iris, polygonum or marsh marigold families may suit.
  5. Once the ground is virtually covered you may not want lush growth and for that a reason I do not apply extra fertiliser as it is not required.
  6. Delineate the boundary of the ground cover to give a smart appearance.
  7. If you are happy with an informal aspect allow several varieties to inter-mingle.

Book Cover


Foliar Feeding Hints & Tips Frenzy

Foliar feeding does at least some good. First and foremost it makes me, the putative garden expert, think I am doing some good for the plants in my care. If the fertilised plants pick up any extra nutrients so much the better. If they also repay me with a better crop or display then wow!

What is Foliar Feeding

Foliar feeding is the method of supplying nutrients to plants through their foliage. It involves spraying water-dissolved fertilizers directly on the leaves. Many believe that foliar feeding is preferable to soil application and that it is associated with higher yields and better quality. However I am firmly of the belief that both forms of fertiliser application is best.

Foliar feed can involve the drenching of leaves and stems with suitably diluted liquid fertilizers. This allows nutrients and trace elements to pass into the plants system through direct leaf and stem absorption.

Greenhouse spraying helps humidity and the removal of dust from leaves so why not add some weak feed to the spray and add  nutrients to plants through their foliage.

I personally believe this method is a supplement to normal root based feeding  which is naturally derived from water uptake.

How to Foliar Feed

Mix up your chosen feed by diluting concentrated liquid feed or dissolving  fertiliser salts in warm water. Using  a very fine spray apply the solution on top and under all the leaves.

Evening is the  best time for plants to be treated with a foliar spray without jeopardizing the plants other root based feeding schedule and risking burn from strong sun.

Small amounts of nutrients should be applied little and often. I find foliar feeding useful for specific situations such as ailing plants in need of a ‘pick them up’. I spray the leaves of tomato plants all over.

To increases the retention of the spray solution, by reducing the surface tension of the droplets, add a surfactant like a couple of drops of vegetable oil in the spray. This will contribute to a more uniform coverage of the foliage.

Benefits of Foliar Feeding

Continue Reading →


A Garden Jim but not as we know it

Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Fiona Weir, has been supported by the Freedom board and was invited to take the creation – a traditional black cab festooned with hundreds of colourful bee-friendly plants to the fringe festival at the Horniman Museum in Forest Hill.

I regularly fill the boot of my car with large bulky garden waste that would take more than 2 years to rot down. I have never tried using under the bonnet for extra space but console myself with rear seats that lay flat hatchback style. If I still had my chipper it may be a different story. I would still have my chipper it it didn’t clog or rust! Perhaps Santa can beam me up to an intergalactic compost heap that will do away with roots, weed seeds and compost undesirables.

Hull had a bee in it’s bonnet for the City of Culture 2017

The photo of the Black Cab garden by Adele an artist and designer who was helped by Fiona Weir. Fiona is a  landscape architect and bee specialist from the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust work together ‘to plant temporary beelines and insect friendly gardens in the most unexpected scenarios’.

Other Garden Sculptures

 Memorial Garden Bradford City Fire Disaster 1985

Klingons on the starboard bow, starboard bow, starboard bow there’s Klingons on the starboard bow, starboard bow, starboard bow – not quite Klingon language.



Miniature Pines are Smaller than Dwarf Pines

What is a Miniature Pine

  • Small pine trees have been grown and sold as Dwarf plants for years but true miniatures are raised as clones from potentially larger species.
  • Miniatures are classified as such if they will not exceed 40cm height or width over 10 years. Experts recommend exhibition quality plants should not grow more than 25mm per annum ie. 25cm in 10 years.
  • True miniatures are clones of other pines.
  • They may  grow as spontaneous sports, as bud mutations or seed faults .
  • Witches brooms creating miniatures pines are dense growths that result from virus infection or insect damage.
  • Bonsai are restricted growth plants and not true miniatures.

Miniature Pine Varieties

  • Pinus mugo Donna’s mini 20x30cm cushion form
  • Pinus mugo Mini Mini  globose habit 20×25 cm
  • Pinus mugo Suzi 30x30cm spreading with orange-broan new growth
  • Pinus mugo Zwergkugel 35x35cm
  • Pinus mugo unicinata Jezek 20x30cm  good cushion form
  • Pinus mugo Bonsai Kramer 10x20cm
  • Pinus syvestris Marshall  30x25cm
  • Pinus strobus
  • Pinus uncinata
  • There are many other species that sport or produce miniatures but pines are consistent favourites.

Dwarf Species include;

  • Dwarf conifers are at least twice the size of miniatures after 10 years. As the sign above shows many conifers are sold as Dwarf plants
  • The pine family includes Dwarf White Pine, Dwarf Swiss Mountain Pine,
  • Many conifers sold as Dwarf are just slow growers and will continue to grow into sizable trees given time and favourable conditions.
  • Dwarf Lebanon Cedar, Dwarf Alberta Spruce,  Dwarf Japanese Juniper.

 Collecting and Displaying Miniature Conifers

  • Miniature conifer is the catch all name for the smallest of the conifer family.
  • The size makes them ideal for use in miniature landscape plantings, alpine or scree gardens, troughs and pots.
  • Miniatures are also popular for exhibition purposes.
  • Restricting the size of a pot can cause the needles on lower branches to fall
  • Top growth shouldn’t extend over the pot. Repot as the conifer grows until you have a pot 36cm or so. There after the miniature pine may be happier in the ground .
  • The main shape and forms of miniature pines are conical, globus, pyramidal or spreading.

Growing and Cultivating Miniature Conifers

  • Miniature conifers are never likely to outgrow their situation.
  • Pot miniatures into a compost of equal amounts of John Innes no.2, grit and composted bark.
  • The aim is a tight bun with closely displayed needles and a compact display. Fertiliser is only needed occasionally and in frugal quantities.
  • Thatch or dead needles should be removed from inner branches to avoid die-back.
  • Shallow, plastic pots are lighter to move around and should not harm the plants.
  • Prevention is better than cure so treat for vine weevil and dose annually with a fungicide.
  • Top dress annually with compost.
  • Outdoor specimens can be trimmed in spring by candling (removing new extension growth) to retain shape.
  • Plants can be grafted onto clean longer stemmed rootstock but why would you want a tall miniature.
  • Side grafting on to compatible rootstock can be done in January and then kept frost free.


Miniature conifers and especially pines are worth growing in a cold greenhouse or outdoors. There is a range of shapes and colours to cultivete and a good supply is available from Kenwith Nursery growing miniature and dwarf conifers for the last thirty five years.

Kenwith Conifer Nursery


White Fly Infestations

My Experiences of Whitefly

Sometimes I am too tolerant and generally that is true with whitefly infestations. Perhaps that is because I have not had a serious outbreak or a great deal of resulting damage. So live and let live unless an edible crop is involved. The worst that happens is on houseplants where these sap feeding insects can breed continuously through the year. As a gift to the windowsill they leave a sticky secretion on leaves which drops from the plant. Only in the greenhouse have the white-winged adults taken to flight from tomato plants when disturbed. Adults and the scale like nymphs have secretions that can make plants sticky and prone to sooty mould.

Brassicas, particularly my broccoli  are prone to large collections of aphids and or white fly that make the crop unappetising. Who wants to eat bugs unless they are on a bush tucker trail. If picking and squishing is not enough control I remove affected leaves or use soapy water as a spray.

What the Experts Say

  1. There are many forms of whitefly including those on outdoor plants that are species specific for azalea, honeysuckle and  phillyrea. (Over 1500 species)
  2. Avoid getting Trialeurodes vaporariorum whitefly from newly acquired plants.
  3. Treatment and cures include the use of sticky traps, a parasitic wasp called Encarsia formosa a tiny, parasitic wasp that preys on the greenhouse whitefly.
  4. Some strains have become resistant to controls but a insecticidal soap may be an efficient control.Failing that try a systemic insecticide such as Provado ultimate bug killer.
  5. Ladybirds love eating whiteflies and they are very cheap. Encarsia Formosa is
  6. ‘Due to the whitefly feeding, plants can quickly become extremely weak and may be unable to carry out photosynthesis. Leaves will wilt, turn pale or yellow, and growth will be stunted.
  7. Check undersides of leaves around the veins for white insects, even if they aren’t visible, and feel leaf surfaces for honeydew. If the whiteflies are feeding, they’ll suddenly all fly off the leaves in a swarm, so it’s very obvious.
  8. A half-and-half mixture of petroleum jelly and dishwashing detergent, spread over small boards painted bright yellow, is sticky enough to catch little whiteflies. To whiteflies, the color yellow looks like a mass of new foliage. The bugs are attracted to the cards, get stuck in the jelly, and die.’  Old Farmers Almanac


Gardener! gardener!  there is a white fly in my soup – well button up!


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