Archive | My Experiences

A gardeners personal gardening life over 70 years

Spring is Sprung – Finally

It is still be very cold and dank in some  parts of the UK but the flowers hint that spring has finally sprung. It has been a stuttering start for 2018 and the ground is still fearfully wet and therefore very cold.

Star performers so far this year have been Helebores that have taken all the snow and cold that could be thrown at them and still come out well. The Primula family have produce strong colour and my Drumstick primulas in 3 distinct colours have been reconsigned into a ‘Den Den’ to produce showy blooms close together. (Primula denticulata give rise to the new named zone). Unlike previous years the daffodils in pots have done better than those in open ground.

More effort has gone into plants kept in the house as these white Muscari show. I have planted these back out into a white zone within the garden to add to the special daffodils next year. I have had mixed success with bought mothers day houseplants like roses (No I tell a lie they were a great disappointment and a waste of the kids money).






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…….

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!


Mahonias make me Prickly

Every winter I am on the Oregon trail for garden scent. My best hope is the Mahonia (aka Oregon grape) which grows very well in various shady parts of my garden and flowers profusely in winter. Regrettably I find the much acclaimed scent is hard to detect but smell is not the only thing that gets up my nose! The rigid leaves have several vicious points on  the arrayed leaves and catch me out many times a year. This is partly due to a 6 foot shrub near my Japanese garden path. I don’t know what made me think Mahonia was suitable in a Japanese garden but there you go. As a deterrent to uninvited visitors the prickles make it as good as Holly and a close second to Berberis.

The stems or branches are an interesting yellow colour but only get seen when pruning.  I prune or trim regularly which aims to keep older plants in shape. Other maintenance is minimal as no critters would make a meal of the leathery, spiked leaves.

Mahonia Oregan Grape

Berries that give Mahonia the Oregon Grape name

What the Experts Say

M. japonica is an erect medium-sized evergreen shrub with large, spined, leathery pinnate leaves and small, fragrant light yellow flowers in spreading or drooping sprays from late autumn to early spring, followed by blue-black berries ‘RHS’

These woodlanders will appreciate a mulch in early spring and a tidy up underneath the main stem.

Selected by the Sunday gardener from over 50 species Mahonia popular cultivars  include

  1. Mahonia x media  ‘Charity’,   ‘Winter sun’ and ‘Lionel Fortescue’  These have large upright yellow, scented flowers. ‘Charity’ can be grown in a north facing spot which makes it a good shrub for a difficult growing area.
  2. Mahonia fortunei smaller 1.2m high 1 m wide which flowers in the autumn
  3. Mahonia aquifolium  known as the Oregon Grape is very hardy   flowering in March and April followed by blue black berries.
  4.  Mahonia  x media Underway AGM a tall grower reaching up to 3m with large erect spikes of fragrant yellow flowers in the winter.
  5. Mahonia japonica a mid sized shrub growing up to 2m.
  6. One to look out for is a new red flowering Mahonia called Mahonia nitens ‘Cabaret’ .
  7. Gardeners Tips    Berry Bearing Bushes for Birds
  8. G Tips  Mahonia  Attractive Spiky shrubs

Uses for Mahonia Oregon Grape

  • The small purplish-black fruits, which are quite tart and contain large seeds can be eaten in small quantities.
  • The fruit are sometimes used to make jelly or mixed with berries from Gaultheria.
  • Oregon-grape juice can be fermented to make wine
  • The inner bark and larger stems and roots of Oregon-grape yields a yellow dye.
  • The berries can produce a purple dye.
  • The foliage is sometimes used by florists for greenery which functions like holly as the leaves remain rigid.
  • If consumed in large quantities berries can cause vomiting, lowered blood pressure, lethargy, and other ill effects. Consumption is not recommended but tinctures and essences are available on the internet.

Do We Pay Too Much for Seeds

The seed catalogue season is in full swing and I paused to consider their value to gardeners.

In Praise of Seed Catalogues

  • Good catalogues contain lots of information in an accessible and digestible form.
  • Photographs of ‘best in class’ purport to show what will result from sowing and growing the seeds. Given poetic license for a bit of photoshopping and retouching you can get a fairish idea of what to expect.
  • Many catalogues have extensive selections often with new varieties thrown in.
  • A new trend with catalogues has a ‘Marmite’ appeal as plug plants, grafts, equipment, shrubs and other offers now often take up more space than seeds.
  • The best reason I can find is the browsing facility that you can do from your own armchair. It beats standing at racks in garden centers.

We Gardeners are Paying

  • All the glossy printing and expensive photography has to come from gardeners pockets in some shape or form.
  • Too many copies are distributed, I have had 3 catalogues from Dobies (Owned by Tesco who also own Suttons seeds) with minor differences in content or cover and there is still the cost of postage and distribution.
  • Prices and thus value seem to have drifted adversly over the last few years. No more so than reduced packet quantity, postage or minimum order price.
  • Seed packets designed for retail display are not cheap and to compensate the number of seeds is often very sparse. It is worth considering buying plants rather than risk low germination and seed packet yield.
  • Branding and marketing are now significant costs for most companies and we customers pay. Another good reason for grow your own and save good seed.Seed catalogues

My Seed Suppliers 2018

Wallis Seeds are a small family run business and have been selling seeds for over 30 years. Their aim is to provide good quality seed, in good quantities, at a good price. The packets do not have expensive colour pictures!’ The mono colour catalogue seems to have been discontinued but the supply of seed by weight and or varied quantities is still an economic plus. I have kept my old catalogue for reference as basics do not change all that rapidly.

Another of my favorite catalogues comes from Chiltern Seeds ‘full 2018 catalogue, including the Vegbook, with many exciting new varieties, will be available, as ever, around Christmas 2017. You  automatically receive a copy if you have placed an order in 2016 or 2017,’

Kings seeds are specialists in vegetable seeds and supplies also acting as wholesale suppliers to allotment societies and commercial growers. (They are related to Suffolk Herbs another specialist seed outfit.)

Please do not forget Thompson & Morgan whose sales from this site provide a small commission to help defray our costs.

Marshalls and Unwins are brands both owned by Westland.  Mr Fothergill’s also owns DT Brown, Woolman’s, The Sweet Pea Company and Johnsons but I don’t know who owns them. One way or another we are all paying for the seed trade and their profits.

International Seed Organisations

Dow, Monsanto, Bayer, Basf, Dupont and Syngenta are major chemical conglomerates that supply agriculture. Japanese companies are growing market share.

The “Big 6” have entered into a number of agreements to share patented, genetically engineered seed traits with each other, such as herbicide tolerance and expression of insecticidal the businesses within the industry consolidate.

Other Gardeners Tips

50 Best Seed companies

Top 10 vegetable seed companies


Hellebores and I

I used to think the stinking hellebore was the main hellebore plant. It has its place but on the compost heap. The Christmas rose on the other hand is a fine plant well worth cultivating. (Hellebore foetidus is a compact, evergreen perennial with finely divided elegant foliage and green flowers.)
The better loved Hellebore niger or the Christmas Rose or Lenten roses produce the white flowers similar to those shown below.

Springing in to Action

I will be cutting out the old leaves of the colourful hybrids and the Christmas rose. why?

  1. The flower stems will grow before the new seasons leaf to reveal flowers so that I can see them,
  2. It exposes blooms so insects can pollinate them more easily
  3. To reduce places for bud eating rodents to hide
  4. And reduces infection from leaf spot carried over from year to year

Below is a hybrid Hellebore spotted in York Minster grounds last year.


What the experts say

‘Hellebore viridis is native to the British Isles with two subspecies, viridis and occidentalis. They both have twelve to twenty leaf divisions and usually have dark green flowers. Hellebore X hybridus has three subspecies – orientalis which has creamy-white flowers, abchasicus with reddish-pink flowers and guttatus with spotted flowers’. Broadview Gardens holder of the National Collection of Hellebores

Seed sowing  tips from Christopher Lloyd; Seeds fall from flower capsules in May or June and germinate the following winter. Collect and sow straight away on the surface of John Innes seed compost. As soon as they germinate move to a cold greenhouse and prick out when the first true leaf appears. Hellebores orientalis, foetidus and argutiflora are prolific self sowers and I often find good self sown plants under the leave that I clear away in the trim .

Book Cover

Book Cover

Gardening with Hellebores


Lifting Your Tree & Shrubs Crown

Giving trees what I call the ‘Royal Chop’ is not as drastic as it sounds. It is one way of controlling the low growing branches that restrict light, create unwanted shade  and generally get in the way. The technical term may be to ‘Lift the Crown’ which has the result of leaving the lower trunk clear of branches and letting the growth starting at an acceptable height.

My problems  started when I couldn’t reach the upper part of the conifer to keep it in trim. The same energy is going into the trees growth without an outlet at the lower end so it gets a bit wider and a lot taller. I pruned out the lower branches leaving about one third of the trunk height bare.

Had I taken out the growing point at the top of the tree the spread of lower branches would have been far wider and been the opposite of what I wanted. Conifers trimmed in spring were not the best subject to learn, on broad-leafed trees trimmed in autumn or winter may have worked better.

What the Experts Say

‘Crown lifting is the removal of the lowest branches to a specified height and where possible should be achieved by removal of smaller branches so to minimise stress to the tree. The crown of the tree should not be lifted to a point which is more than 1/3 of the overall tree height (i.e. leaving 2/3 of the trees height as crown).’ Crown thinning and crown reduction are variations that are also  designed to change the extent of the canopy.  Nick Organ Tree maintenance

‘Crown lifting on older, mature trees should be restricted to secondary branches to minimise stress and reduce recovery time. It is possible to crown lift a tree too much. Chaffin Tree Surgery

Shrubs Suitable for Crown Lifting
Acer palmatum and Acer japonica
Bamboos, such as Phyllostachys
Conifers, such as Chamaecyparis, Juniper, Pine and Yew
Euonymus japonica
Ligustrum (Privet)
Pittosporum tenuifolium
Prunus laurocerasus (Cherry laurel)
Rhododendron and azalea 2012

This is my Copper Beech that has been lollipoped over a few years, in fact it is regularly licked into shape.


Fastia Japonica

My Fastia Japonica is coming into full winter flower after a summer of evergreen leaves that provide interest and structure in the border. For short while the plant was treated as an indoor decoration but it has not looked back after it was planted out 2 years ago.
The white pompom flowers are rich in nectar providing food for the few flying insects that are around during winter. They stand out against the dark green leaves. It is strange that a tropical style plant with large hand shaped leaves should flower so well late in our season.
When the growth has been lush I have to occasionally give it a prune. I try not to cut individual leaves.

After a December blast of snow I have a garden of snow-fingers where the Fastia was growing. In the past I haven’t suffered too badly from browned of leaves.


What the Experts Say

‘Fatsia japonica is too often seen only as a bright-foliage indoor plant. As such, it does well – it is trouble free, shiny and static, the mainstay of many an artificial-looking foyer display. Fatsia japonica comes into its own outside, where the leaves darken and weather to an thicker texture.’ Helen Yemm Daily Telegraph 2013

‘Fatsia japonica Spider’s Web’ is a bushy, evergreen shrub growing to 2m tall. The dark-green leaves are heavily-speckled with white, particularly at the edges, but the white variegation can sometimes spread across the whole leaf.’ RHS

‘Japanese aralia is a tropical plant that makes a bold statement in the garden, in outdoor containers or as a houseplant. The common names Japanese aralia plant and Japanese fatsia refer to the same broadleaf evergreen, known botanically as Aralia japonica or Fatsia japonica.’  Jackie Caroll Gardening Know How

Eucalyptus Adventures

Yes you can grow Eucalyptus in the North of England although the mosaic below was created largely from Australian leaves by Robyn Jay.

Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) on flicr

My Adventures

It is about 12 years ago that I planted a small pot grown Eucalyptus near a wall in my garden (the wall may be the first mistake and the crazy paving path would be my second). For the first few years or so the shrub sized tree did quite well and provided an exotic feel and aromatic leaves without problems. As the growth exceeded 10% every year the Eucalyptus began to out pace itself growing in girth as well as height. At 30 feet high another 3 plus feet for every subsequent year became daunting. Eucalyptus are tall growing trees in their natural habitat (300 feet +) which aint an English urban garden. At the same time the crazy paving became too crazy with the roots of the Australian ‘mountain ash‘ or Eucalyptus. Thus the decision was taken it had to go.

As luck would have it a tree surgeon was working 20 gardens away and I hoped to get a quick, cheap job ( there is no such thing). I told the guys to take down the Eucalyptus tree on the corner of my street little realising the neighbor on the other corner also had a tall Eucalyptus in need of lopping. How could I miss such a prominent plant. Fortunately I was asked to pay beforehand and the neighbors tree was saved for another day. Due to potential damage to the wall and path I was happy to leave the stump in the ground; big mistake. You can see why with the little blue shoots starting to grow despite the treated stump with a slit for poison.

A few months later and far from starting to rot down an 18″ mass of side shoots has sprung from the old trunk. My wife has come to the rescue of my back, the wall and I suppose part of the path by proclaiming the Eucalyptus looks better than it has ever done and should now be reprieved. As long as we cut the shoots out for floral displays and never let the plant get out of hand again It can stay. Meanwhile the neighbor’s tree is 30feet high and growing.

If you play Dancing Queen or Money Money Money on a didgeridoo is it aboriginal.(Arboriginal or abbariginal)


Outdoor Pots and Wotnot

Experience with Outdoor Plant Pots

This back end I have bought some new terracotta pots from the manufacturer in their end of season sale. I had always wanted some large, matching Long Toms and I now have some filled with patio roses. (Naylor Garden Pots is near Barnsley since the 1890’s.) I have also belatedly realised that pots look better when grouped in identical pairs or with like minded pots.

The new pots were commandeered by two of my adult children leaving me with only a couple of Long Toms.

A sturdy pot on tarmac hard standing with cheerful violas. New plants will be planted up in the same pots when these plants go over. The Violas transplanted quite well into my garden but Pansies from pots seldom do as well when replanted.

Winter Care

Glazed and ceramic pots can be damaged by frost. Terracotta pots may be sold as frost proof but if you have spent a lot of money on them it is as well to take care.

Full pots present a different problem as damp freezing soil expands as it cools enough to split or crack thin pots. I move mine to a sheltered spot under the eaves of the house. I raise pots off the ground to stop them freezing to the soil and loosing the bottom of the pot. It also helps improve drainage. Although ‘pot feet’ can be bought for the purpose I am using old plastic tape cassette boxes this year (this may be false economy but I am Yorkshire tight.) Bubble wrap or hessian can be used to insulate precious pots and keep roots from the worst of the frost.

Any pot not in use should be washed out in Jeys fluid or similar disinfectant and I store them in the garage, shed or coal place through winter.

I get frustrated at myself if I let pots get top heavy so wind blows them over  or bad location say in a wind tunnel. A have taken to crocking big pots with heavy stone and gravel to give a ‘sold Bottom’ to the plant pots.

Problems and my Help with Plant Pots

  1. Heavy pots  are hard to move and lift without casters, wheels or sack trolley. (often 50% of the weight is water.)
  2. Soak terracotta pots before use to prevent them from drawing moisture from the compost into the pot. This moisture is important for evaporation that keeps plants and soil cool.
  3. Black plastic gets hot and compost dries and shrinks around the edge. Keep shaded or know what type of plants will not mind extremes.
  4. Thin plastic may look unnatural and will not age by moss or lichen. Consider using a plastic pot inside a good looking pot so you can easily ring the changes. Plastic also becomes brittle when exposed to UV light.
  5. Beware the dreaded Vine Weevil which can consume your plant roots. It is the grubs that do the damage but the beetle look terrifying.
  6. It is worth the extra cost to buy frost free pots if you want to leave them outdoors in a frost prone area.
  7. Gardeners tips

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