Archive | My Experiences

A gardeners personal gardening life over 70 years

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

pH Testing – Don’t Bother – Apply Commonsense

I love my acid loving Rhododendrons, Azaleas and many other ericaeous plants. So no wonder I have a ‘kit’ to test my soil for the level of alkalinity or acidity. Having said that I think it is a waste of time and money in the majority of cases. I now try to use commonsense instead.

Prized plants get appropriate compost and dare I say it ‘Peat treats’. Peat goes in any planting hole and is worked in around as a mulch. Feed and fertiliser is often chosen because it has been formulated for ericaeous plants. The acidity of the soil is not a fertilizer in itself but is a conduit that allows the plant to use what food is available too much lime locks food into the soil and plants will suffer.

I try to avoid making matters worse so no lime in the garden where my best Rhodos live. Blueberries are failing in my Fruitery because they can’t get nutrient out of the soil. So it is my intention to pot them up into good pots with better ericaeous compost.

I spread some lime on the area where I will be growing brassicas as they perform much better in a slightly alkaline soil.

Notes on pH

pH soil levels start from 1 to 14 from pure acid to pure alkali. Normal levels for soil are around 6.4 to 7.1. More acidic soil would be 5.3 to 6.5. Alkaline soil would be from 7.2 to 7.6.

Soil can leach out the soluble acids or alkalies to move to neutral conditions unless the surrounding geological conditions dictate.

If you still intend pH testing you can buy chemical tests or a meter similar to that below


Ph tester

Gardeners tips for correcting pH


My Soil Projects

I have had the same garden for 35 years and most of the soil has remained ungardened and untouched. I say that because the sub soil is best left undisturbed and I am not a fan of double digging (ie 2 spits deep). Underneath the lawns the soil is left untended and almost half the garden was and still is down to grass. We  are probably all guilty of doing little to improve that soil under lawns unless we are laying turves or new seed.

Manure Fables

I don’t think it is a false memory when I think of my father going out with a bucket and shovel after the rag & bone man’s horse to collect a deposit. Dads rhubarb and soft fruit were the post war beneficiaries.

For many years I went to a local stables for bag it yourself horse manure. My son helped me until he grew up but I never did grow up that is. He encouraged me to get the hot stuff from the new part of the not inconsiderable pile left by 30 riding school horses. This was intended to activate my own garden compost heap and help improve my own composted output. Mainly it just activated the nostrils. I on the other hand aimed at the bottom of the pile for the oldest and theoretically the best rotted stuff that helpfully could be cut in slices like peat in shape but not texture. This I wanted to use on roses, runner beans and for general garden use. I collected many bricks and stones, a bad back and a wonky car suspension system. The garden collected the unrotted weed seeds to germinate where and when they wanted. To be fair the old stuff was OK weed wise but fairly solid in structure.

Without my willing labourer, now off at university, I ordered and took delivery of a lorry load of ‘well rotted manure – honest Guv’ stable manure. It arrived on a farm trailer that couldn’t tip over a convenient low wall so it had to be slid onto my drive.  Clearing and barrowing it a fair distance was almost as hard as if I had collected it myself in many large, old, plastic peat sacks. The straw bedding was still much in evidence and rotting was negligible. One garden bed recieved the manure as was and this contained too many black slugs and I will revert to collecting my own ‘orse muck in smaller quantities now I have 3 large compost bins on the go.

Getting The Hump

In another project to create a new bed on top of an old drive became known as ‘the Hump’.  I couldn’t dig out the tarmac drive & hardcore so I ordered lorry loads of soil. It created a pile that was 4 feet high and covered 6 yards by 4 with steepish slopes. It was fertile judging by the number of potatoes that grew in the first year. Perhaps it had been scavenged from a spud farm and in addition to old seed spuds the soil was heavy clay probably subsoil (may be it hadn’t been good enough to grow commercial potatoes). There were virtually no stones (that may have helped drainage) but the soil is very absorbent. Even after 10 years and lots of the aforementioned manure there is no tilth of any note. Nevertheless one third of this ‘hump’ has been a success due to copious amounts of peat to create soil fit for Rhododendrons.

The ground has settled and the pile is a bit lower and more evenly spread. Many early plants have now grown over the original path. The tarmac base has never been uncovered but the dwarf conifers have been maintained at bonsai size without my input.

I now know that ‘top soil’ to be really top notch it needs to be bought carefully and not in bulk. Nor should it be from a construction site with bits of rubble, weeds, roots and contaminants. Manufactured or blended soil is often used by landscapers for quality and consistency.

Look after the soil you have

  1. Worry more about the structure of the soil than adding chemistry. If the soil is able to hold moisture and air it should be good for worms and for growing.
  2. If a fine tilth is the top layer of soil and the base is subsoil the best rooting zone will be in between
  3. Fork over compacted borders; turn over the surface soil and mix in humus such as, green waste, old compost from pots, bags of peat, mushroom compost, green waste. When forking over taking care of spring bulbs.
  4. Top up around plants by spreading a thick layer of compost.
  5. This final layer of humus will help worms to drag compost down into the soil to improve aeration, fertility and soil structure, bacteria and fungi will benefit. Worms work judging by the many worms I have in the best parts of the garden.
  6. Try not to walk on the soil in a way that compacts and squeezes the air out
  7. Don’t let top soil dry out and be blown away in high winds nor washed away by excess water.

Gardeners Tips Earlier information

Leaching and water Logging

Soil Types

Soil Health Tips

Garden Chemicals

Soil Health Chemicals

  • The health of plants and the health of soil go hand in hand. It is very hard to have one without the other.
  • Chemical assitance for soil health comes in improving the constituents of the soil by fertilisers or correcting deficiencies (as above) and by improving the structure of the soil (below).
  • Clay breaker is designed to stop the very fine particles of soil sticking together in wet weather and baking rock hard in the sun. The addition of grit and humus will do a similar job.
  • Humus in the form of spent mushroom compost, peat or manure are basic garden chemical additions to improve soil condition.
  • Potting base is not added to your soil but to peat to make your own seed or potting compost. It usually contains a wetting agent, chalk and trace elements and the resulting mixture is fine for growing your own seedlings or cuttings.
  • Soil improvers like Forti8 or seaweed extract claim to add minerals and trace elements to your soil. They do not do anything for the soil consistency or structure.

Here’s to Good Health



Powered by WordPress. Designed by WooThemes