Archive | My Experiences

A gardeners personal gardening life over 70 years

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



Winter Garden Tips


You can start your  gardening on New Years Day or as soon as your hangover is cured. Do not have too many resolutions or you won’t keep any of them. I find it is a good idea to know roughly what you want to achieve in the year without being too specific as to how. For my part I have decided to have more soft fruit and ‘Shock and Awe’ type garden features.

Steps for January


  • Prune apple trees and thin out the fruiting spurs. In my case buy cordons or ballerina trees.
  • Cut out any dead or diseased wood and spray trees with winter tar oil wash to deter insects. Leave the plums till later.
  • Remove any big buds on black currant bushes.
  • Cover a rhubarb crown with a forcer to get early, thin, pink stems.
  • Plant any new trees or shrubs – I want a dessert gooseberry
  • Tie up raspberry canes and check for loose ties on trees and wall trained fruit.


  • Order any seeds from a reputable supplier and sprout potatoes in a box with the rounded rose end upper most
  • Sow some broad beans when it is mild
  • Lime the vegetable patch that grew brassicas last year. Do not lime your potato patch.
  • Plan where crop rotation is going to be.

Flowers and Shrubs

  • Tidy the borders and plant lilies and Antirrhinums
  • Ventilate your cold frame
  • Check frost protection for new young shrubs
  • Spray roses and the surrounding ground against black spot and mulch Rhododendrons


  • Service the lawn mower ready for spring
  • Keep clear of dead leaves Rake mossy areas

Greenhouse and Indoor Plants

  • Clean staging and fumigate the greenhouse
  • Take cuttings of late flowering chrysanthemums
  • Keep houseplants on the dry side in the best light
  • Pick sprays of Daphne & forsythia to flower indoors


  • Don’t rush into doing anything too early but be prepared for your busy period
  • Do any construction work except concreting during a frost
  • Sow leeks and onions in boxes and even some lettuce and peppers in the warmth.
  • Look closely around your garden there will be treasures to uncover. Hellebore niger, Winter Jasmin and Witch Hazel (above) are all flowering

February Tips


Garden Tasks for February

  • Finish Planting trees and shrubs. The earlier trees and shrubs can be planted the better
  • Prepare Soil. If the soil is not frozen it is a good time to prepare the soil through digging where necessary.
  • Finish Pruning of Roses or other shrubs
  • Towards the end of February, you can start dahlia tubers and similar tubers such gloxina and Begonias indoors.

Vegetable Garden in February

  • Sow early crops under glass. Early vegetables can included mustard, cress, parsnips, broad beans and lettuce.
  • Towards end of the month you can start thinning out seedlings
  • Prune Autumn fruiting Raspberries. Autumn producing raspberries want to be cut back to 6 inches as they fruit on new growth.


A bed of crocus

Things to Enjoy in the February Garden

  • Early bulbs – snowdrops, crocus, early daffodills.
  • Early primulas –
  • Early pansies
  • Camellia Japonica
  • Daphne



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