Rock On With My Garden

Rock On With My Garden

Dwarf Conifers in a Rock Garden

For over 25 years I have gardened a rockery or rock garden on a triangular patch of poor soil. I progressively scrounged and collected a range of granite, limestone and sandstone rocks and added them piecemeal. I aspired to growing alpine plants and recognised good drainage and shelter from winter wet weather would be key but that is as far as my planning would go. For the first couple of decades I was busy at work and wasn’t able to put in the effort of looking after small but hardy alpines.

One of the consequences of this lack of time was that I took the easy way out and planted ‘Dwarf and slow growing conifers’ that were a popular fad at the time. I also supported many alpine nurseries with my often ill chosen plant selections in attempts to buy a ready made garden feature. Latterly I joined the Alpine Garden Society and took advantage of shows and seed exchanges.

Then a latter stage crept up on me. The 10-20 year old conifers started to take over in scale and dare I say interest. Firstly dwarf can be a misnomer just because a conifer is small when planted it may very well just be a slow grower that has higher ambitions. I true dwarf conifer is a genetic feature of some species and are worth seeking out at the expense of other mass grown shrublets. Over time I dug out the larger and more boring specimens but still the alpines became less significant. I now have 20+ conifers of varying forms, colours and species taking over the alpines. The highest is 6 feet tall and may be the next for the chop one is low growing but spreads 5 feet wide and a favorite on mine is only 9 inches high. The space is still approximately 200 square feet but is extending into and adjacent bed past the crazy paved path.

Ideas for Rock Garden

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Special Seed Sowing Survey

Special Seed Sowing Survey

I thought I would just list some special tactics to try increase successful sowing activities.  After all ‘Tis the season for sowing summer annuals and so on’.

Pulsatilla ot Pasque Flower

Special Seed Sowing

  1. To chit, nick or sandpaper your sweet pea seeds, that is the question? I often settle for a pre-soak to get through the hard coating and swell the hard seeds. The RHS video recommends nicking with a pen knive but each to their own. I did well last back end just planting ‘cupid’ in compost without any preparation.
  2. Seeds with a long awn such as Pasque flowers germinate better if they are individually speared into compost not sown flat. With warmth and wet the awns twist the seed deeper into the soil.
  3. Flat seeds like lilies have a papery wing covering the fertile grain. The germination will improve if the seed is inserted edge ways and not flat.
  4. Many seeds like to be sown as soon as they are ripe, after all that is natures way. Primula, Lewisia, Ranunculus and gentians are best sown from ‘pod to pan’.
  5. Cyclamen seeds are covered in a sticky substance to reward ants that move them from the host plant. Germination may be better if this glue is washed off before sowing.
  6. Pollinated Orchids can take up to a year for the ovary to swell and ripen. Then the fun starts as your harvested seed is best sent to a seed laboratory for germination and return as pricked out seedlings. It can also take a further 5 years to reach the flowering stage dependent on the variety.
  7. Many seeds that can’t be sown immediately can be stored in a dry container in the fridge. Some benefit from a good chill as this replicates winter conditions.
  8. I message to myself – SOW SEEDS THINLY
Protect Your Garden from Wind

Protect Your Garden from Wind


Specimen tree sheltered by High Hedge

A windbreak can make a big difference to a garden creating safety and an improved micro climate. After we reduced a large conifer by half many plants got flattened by the wind which was now able to flow over the shorter windbreak.

Top Windbreak Tips

  1. Hedges, gorse and natural planting will help break-up the flow of wind. Banked up soil with a hedge on top often features in large windswept gardens.
  2. Solid barriers such as walls can create eddies and vortex effects that cause more damage than they protect.  This was forcefully demonstrated to me with lost greenhouse window panes after a big blow.
  3. Plan a first line of defence to break the winds full force followed by a second line. Design both together to be complementary. I prefer natural breaks of trees as the prime windbreak but for ground level protection I use smaller shrubs.
  4. In really wind areas windbreak trees will grow lower or be stunted so bear this in mind when planning the number and proximity of plants needed.

Mixed Shrub Secondary Windbreak

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I Do Like to Garden by the Sea

I Do Like to Garden by the Sea

Oh I do like to be beside the seaside, oh I do like to garden by the sea -Tiddely om pom pom. Seaside gardening has its challenges and it has it’s rewards as my west coast brother-in-law knows. (At the age of 82 he is thinking of giving up his gardening business to concentrate on his own relatively new garden).

The Filey Seaside Gardener

Seaside Gardening Challenges

  1. To garden by the seaside you face virtually all the challenges inland gardeners face and then some.
  2. The first to single out is the salty air borne on winds that have blown over the sea to deposit there munificence on your prized plants. Salt is not a natural fertiliser! Salt is not a natural plant killer although you may come to think that it is so if you plant the wrong plants.
  3. In the UK you may expect westerly winds  around half of our coastline. However there are additional strong winds that blow on-shore on a regular basis to the detriment in the East, North and South gardens. Seaside wind is desiccating and abrasive as we know from personal wind chill effects.
  4. Sand dunes, beaches and sand castles amuse the children but sandy soil is a garden staple that adds to the challenges. Such soil has little humous, hold little water or goodness and is desiccated so lacking in nutrients.
  5. Geological and geographic features need to be contended with including the possibility of a high water table, limey seashell based soil or pebbles and rocks. The worst issue of the moment is soil erosion on the East coast where your cliff top garden or allotment may crumble into the sea.

The Filey Fisherman’s Friend

Seaside Gardening Rewards

  1. Defeating the challenges or holding them to a scoring draw is reward in it’s self (or so I’m told).
  2.  Others common plants will do far better at the seaside than one expects. Hydrangea macrophylla can do well despite the lack orf water as do annual plants chosen for public gardens by tourist minded local authorities. See our selection of  Perennials for the seaside from gardeners tips 2012. Careful plant selection could even introduce some new species to even the most avid gardener.
  3. There are far more detailed selections in the book ‘The Seaside Gardener’ by Richard Mortimer
  4. There can be special rewards from the introduction of wind breaks. Walls add height to a flat landscape providing scope for climbers or crevice plants. Selective planting of trees and shrubs will be rewarded by breaking the flow of the wind and possibly directing it up and over your patch.
  5. The proximity of the sea can provide some winter warmth to keep the worst of the frost at bay. On the other hand you may suffer from a sea fret that prevents you from seeing your garden.
  6. Low growing locally successful wild plants will do even better with your tender care.

Odd Seaside Gardening Tips

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Bigger than the Biggest Aspidistra

Bigger than the Biggest Aspidistra

What I am talking about  are plants that are bigger than the biggest aspidistra in the Gracie Fields song book. They represent examples of the biggest natural organic organism in the world. I have three candidates for your consideration a couple of which may surprise you.

    1. Honey Fungus,  Armillaria mellea,  Armillaria ostoyae, and Armillaria solidipes also known as the humongous fungus, “honey mushroom” or “shoestring fungus.”  The largest measured example of unique DNA is believed to be in Oregon’s Blue Mountains. It is thousands of years old stretches, over 3 square miles, weighs 100s of tons, grows 10 feet deep and is acknowledged as the largest land organism on the planet.
    2. A plant in Fishlake National Forest colorado forms a colony of clones of Populus tremuloides also known as  Quaking Aspen, Pando or the Trembling Giant; it weighs in at an estimated 6,000 tons and may be up to 80,000 years old.  Clones and genet have identical genetic make-up and are a single living organism assumed to have one massive underground root system.  

3. The third candidiate and world heritage site is in Ibiza and is a  sea grass Posidonia oceanica also known as Neptune grass or Mediterranean tapeweed. Despite growing underwater it is not a seaweed but a grass that forms large underwater meadows in this case 5 miles long and over 100,000 years old. It is the largest example of a colnal colony


Other potential  biggest aspidistras include The Great Barrier Reef, the world’s largest structure but  is composed of a mixture many different living entities, the Giant Sequoia or amongst mammals the Blue Whale.

Rotten Rotters Musings of a Composter

Rotten Rotters Musings of a Composter

I guess I am lucky to have 3 compost heaps and have had the ‘fun’ of emptying one over the last 3 days.  It would probably have been better compost if it had been left a few more months but the other 2 were full or filling up rapidly. I wanted to trench out the bean and sweet pea ground both of which should benefit from the moist compost at their roots. Another reason for action was created by corona virus and the cessation of garden refuse collections and closure of local refuse tips by our MDC.

So what of rotten rotters or poor composters that I unearthed this morning.

Inert Items

  1. Not surprisingly plastics did badly, as, despite my efforts a clothes peg, several plant labels from garden centers and my own written identifiers had got into the bin. Other plastics including starch magazine wrappers, and stickers from exotic fruit that were discovered not yet if ever broken down.
  2. Every year I find at least one missing tool that I had probably spent an age looking for. Last year it was a precious Falco secateur that turned up with a bit of damage the month after I had bought a new one.
  3. The surprise of the day was 3 spectacle lenses and one arm. It beggars belief but perhaps I couldn’t see them when they fell in to the compostable clippings.
  4. The bin I emptied must have stood on soil where an old bird feeder had existed. The metal spike stabliser was now dug out with the compost. There was no more metal this time.

Natural Material

  1. It may be due to my impatience but Avocados give me the pip or should that be the nut. Whatever you call it the kernal takes more than a year before it cleaves into 2 unrotted hard pieces. The skin also fails to rot as quickly as all my other kitchen waste. They were nearly ready to go this time so I let them be.
  2. Moss lies dormant and will not rot. Short of burying it I must be dissuaded from putting the lawn grass mossy rakings from a wet winter in the now empty bin.
  3. I dug up an old tree stump but that won’t rot down in my lifetime so I may invert it and make a stumpery. Other thick woody lumps are not destined for my compost heaps.

Home made compost sieve to remove rotten rotters

Latex, Opium, Sap, Gum and Resin

Latex, Opium, Sap, Gum and Resin

Opium Poppies – Geograph – Pods of the opium poppy at Woodcote, Oxfordshire


Dried latex is obtained from the seed capsules of  Papaver somniferum aka the opium poppy. Morphine, heroine and codeine are all derived from the alkalides in the latex. Latex is natural rubber.

Many  plants produce forms of latex rich in isoprene polymers including spurges, dandelions, ficus elastica, lettuce and chicle. Two most useful latex derived products are chicle for chewing gum and Hevea brasiliensis the rubber tree that is tapped to provide the latex for natural rubber production.

Latex can cause allergic reaction as gardeners with euphorbia may know from skin rashes


Tree Sap is obtained from maple, birch, or walnut trees and is a liquid less viscous than honey comprised mostly of water and sugars. Sap from a tree is made of sugar and water carried in the trunk cells.

Maple syrup comes from maple trees in the form of sap that is harvested in drips, from incisions in the bark, into a bucket hung from a tap hammered into the tree.

Sap has antiseptic qualities that can keep wounds from getting bacterial infections. Thus sap can  make wound dressings or when boiled down it becomes a sticky tar-like substance used for waterproofing (it’s believed by some that Noah used ‘pine pitch’ to waterproof the Ark)


Resin is a liquid found in the outer cells particularly of the Pinaceae family like pine, fir and cedar trees. Resin may be the trees way of removing waste products from the heartwood.

Resin is a sticky solid form of secretion that is highly valued for their chemical properties with various uses including the distillation of turpentine.

Amber is the fossilized resin from ancient forests.


Eucalyptus trees can produce a highly aromatic oil used  for cleaning, as an antiseptic and cough medicine.  Gum arabic is a natural gum made from the hardened sap of some varieties of Acacia trees. Its main uses are in the food industry.

Looking Good This Spring

Looking Good This Spring

In some years different plants do better than others. In my garden this year is the spring for primulas and today’s crop shows off some of the strong colours that I have been enjoying. Notably the blues are deep and stand out  due to the contrasting yellow eyes. Yes to quote  our former speaker John Bercow  ‘the eyes have it, the eyes have it’.

Why better looking than in previous years?

  1. A wet and mild winter has favoured the primulas and produced lush leaves and masses of bloom.
  2. The ground I have photographed is largely dedicated to these plants with a few interlopers and weeds.
  3. The original stock is a few years old and a process of selection must have been going on without me realising.
  4. From last year the soil was in good heart in terms of texture and fertility.
  5. I think I tried harder and provided more TLC as I also got good results of primulas in ornamental pots.

What to do after Spring

  1. I am not confident that next spring will look as good but I see that copious water has helped so if winter is dry I will augment with mulch or extra water.
  2. I will resist the temptation to split the clumps to get lots of new plants. I will mark out a couple of larger favourits and may split off some roots.
  3. I will look after the semi-dormant plants as they loose some robustness through summer and give a liquid fertiliser boost before autumn.

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Pelargonium Stock Plants

Pelargonium Stock Plants

Mid March and I have just spent some enjoyable time and effort on my Pelargonium stock plants aka Geraniums.

 Spring Clean and Tidy

  1. Through winter I have kept the plants on windowsills in good sized 5 inch pots. I gave minimal water and no fertiliser since autumn but notice they are now beginning to revive and shoot up.
  2. I removed all brown or slightly damaged leaves and old detritus from the soil surface.
  3. I broke up the top soil where it had formed a thin crust that inhibited water penetration.
  4. Then it was time to water with a weak solution of a general fertilizer.
  5. I pruned out branches that were in awkward positions opening up space for new shoots to develop. This had the advantage of improving the shape of the plant and providing stock for cuttings (see below)

Spring Cuttings & Pinching Out

  1. This is the time of year to increase  your geranium stock by taking cuttings and my spring clean provided the opportunity.
  2. I am confident I will get more rooted cuttings than I will need but any trimmed shoots longer than one & half inches were placed around the edge of a plastic pot containing a gritty compost.
  3. For pelargoniums hormone or rooting powder is not effective and may encourage rotting.
  4. In 5 weeks or so (just as the frost is going) rooted plants will be ready to be replanted and by mid summer I hope they will be flowering strongly.
  5. Choice plants and varieties will be selected for growing on as houseplants.
  6. Pinching out the top of stems will force the geranium to grow two new stems making a bushier plant I did this  partially during the spring clean as even stock plants can put on a good show.

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