Trendy Tree Ferns

Some plants achieve Trendiness others have a trend thrust upon them and I think this is what happened to the Tree Ferns during  the last decade.

What causes an outbreak of trendiness?

  1. Chelsea and other shows have a lot to answer for with their large budget gardens and the desire or obsession to be different. High profile gardeners are paid to produce sponsored gardens that in many cases no real gardener could want or afford.
  2. I am sometimes called ‘a sardonic cynic’ but I think trends are often driven by the horticultural industry. They want to sell what they have grown not always what we want to buy. Again flower shows, magazines and TV programmes are used to force feed gardeners with a diet of ‘new’, ‘exciting’, ‘must haves’ but as with too much fertilizer we can get too much of a so-called good thing.
  3. Gardeners aesthetic values and wishes can become trendy. Usually these trends or movements take a deal of time to come to fruition and are a reflection of society and other external pressures. RHS’s Harlow Carr has a series of gardens through the ages and it is interesting to see how tastes and gardens have evolved and developed over the decades and centuries.

Returning to Tree Ferns the RHS offers it’s usual quality advice to members on the web site. I think it is interesting that out of 1.2m hits on the web the two top ranking nurseries  selling Tree ferns are The Urban Jungle and The Palm Center two places I am unlikely to buy from.


Plugs For Growing Seedlings

In early Spring I bought some Zinnia plants as very small plugs. They have been a splash of stripy colour for several weeks now and with a bit of deadheading look set to on and on.

Yesterday I saw some ‘plugUgrow’ plants of early spring flowers .  I thought it would save me time and effort compared to seed sowing buying some Primroses and Violas, to say nothing of the certainty over germination.There was a fair selection of Winter Pansies and Violas but I opted for 24 Plum Velvet F1 Violas that are a deep purple with a mauve center according to the picture. The Primrose Terracotta Shades came in packs of 12 and were larger plugs and better plants.  I hope the flowers are as seductive as the picture suggests.

Plug Aftercare

  • If the compost is totally dried out or the gel is no longer supplying water to the plants I would give them a gentle water and leave for a couple of hours. My plugs were damp.
  • On the day of purchase, with a short stick I pushed through the bottom of the plug to ease the plant out and potted it into a 3″ pot already filled with multipurpose compost.
  • After a gentle watering at the base of the pot to help bedding in I put 15 pots to a seed tray in shade and shelter and will leave them for a few days to recover from repotting.
  • When I have space in the garden the plants will be well established with a good root system and they can be planted in their flowering position.
  • I will plant them close together to make a small mass of blooms of the same variety rather than have a pepper pot approach.
  • If the colours and plants habits are suitable I may allow them to survive as perennials but if they do not appeal I can compost them after flowering  and I am only down £2.50 per Plug pack.

Tip for little more than the price of a packet of seeds, plugs can guarantee 24 plants germinated and ready to pot on or plant out directly. It is  a quick and easy way to a patch of glorious colour.


Smaller Sunflowers for Smaller Gardens

You do not have to grow giant sunflowers to get a nice floral display. These smaller lemon coloured sunflowers with dark centres are called ‘Valentine’ and grow to about 4 feet tall and you can get a good look at the flowers without craning your neck to see. The blooms are still 6″ across and make good cut flowers. The plants branch from the ground making a compact display.

  • More sunflower seeds at Thompson & Morgan
  • Smaller dwarf Sunflowers are available like the variety Teddy Bear at 16″ with flowers that are at least one third that size which look almost too big for the plant. Small branching Sunflowers like Chocolat and Musicbox come in mahogany and yellow shades are  2 feet high but my favourite dwarf would be Little Dorrit with 8 inch flowers on a 16 inch high plant.

    Smaller dwarf Sunflowers do not need any special treatment. Biggest isn’t always best why not think about quantity and quality of blooms from these smaller Sunflowers.

    I just purchased a selection of 6 varieties of Sunflower seed from Johnson seeds. Helianthus debilis like Italian White and a mulit branching mixture have small gritty seeds and will grow to about 5 foot. The dwarf variety included in the packet are called Teddy Bear and flower at 16″ high. Red Sun Helianthus annuus will grow to a larger 6-10 feet.


    Growing Blinking Big Beetroot

    There are many different kinds of Beet and that is the root of the problem. Beetroot Bulls Blood shown above is  ornamental, edible and is a heritage variety worth seeking out. Seakale beet, Chards and Spinach beet are grown for their edible leaves and the young green leaves of all Beetroot can be eaten in a salad. However we want big roots to make our eyes blink.

    Growing Big Beetroots

    • Soil should be deeply cultivated in Autumn with plenty of humus and or peat incorporated. Do not use farmyard manure to avoid canker and aim to keep the ph level below 6 as beetroot do not like lime.
    • In spring ridge up the soil to about a foot high with 2 feet between rows. Prize plants will eventually need 3 feet spacing.
    • Sow the seed in groups of 3 at the top of the ridge in late spring keep the ground moist until germination. Expect 4 months growing time for the big beetroots.
    • When seedlings reach 2 inches thin out to two plants per station. From each seed several plants may have grown as each seed is really a clusters of seed.
    • Key Tip. One evening when the beetroot are 6″ high carefully scratch away the soil on the ridges away from the roots leaving only the tips of the root in the soil and the plant laying on the ground looking half-dead. Water the plant and soil and next morning they will have recovered and be working extra hard by swelling to survive.
    • As they swell thin out for a final time to 3 feet apart. Feed with a balance liquid feed from mid-summer and use a heavily dilute foliar feed from summer in addition.
    • Giant Beetroot are weighed without soil or foliage but may be you are just going to turn them into soup and chutney.

    In August 2008 the Times online reported ‘Ian Neale … once grew the world’s biggest beetroot at 51lb 9oz (there is no metric system in the world of giant veg) – gets his monsters off to a good start by feeding them rock dust, essence of pig slurry and a material called “dinosaur fertiliser”, from a “big pile on the top of a moor in Yorkshire”.  Will August 2009 top that weighty tale and will 2010 be your year to top 50lbs?


    Know Your Onions

    The necks of my Onions have just ‘gone over’ a bit earlier than usual but that could be down to the heavy rain we have had during July. Harvesting is a simple affair as I have pulled the Onions away from the soil to break the roots and left them in the sunshine to dry off. Shortly I will tie them to a string (like the old french onion sellers on the bicycles with hooped Breton shirts and berets) and string them from the garage roof to store (the onions not the French).

    In ground that had early peas I am going to sow some August Onions such as Ailsa Criag the mild flavoured favourite or Reliance (I may transplant these seedlings or just thin them this year). Since I did well with over wintering Japanese Onion varieties I will also try find some sets of Express Yellow or Kaizuka or sow them where they will crop. Lastly in September I will plant a row of spring onions.

    Shallots can wait until early spring around March time as can the smaller ‘Paris Silver Skin’ pickling onions. In spring I will again plant some main crop sets of both red and white onions as they have all earned there place in the veg garden by cropping well this year.


    • Onions like firm well prepared soil in the sun. Give the ground chance to settle.
    • For Autumn sowings rake in 3 oz per square yard of general fertilizer before sowing.
    • For spring planting rake in 4oz bonemeal & 2 oz of Sulphate of Potash per square yard in February.
    • Pickling onions do best in light unmanured soil.

    Hebe Shrub from Cuttings

    This purple Hebe is flowering about 2’6″ high in a compact format. I would like to make a low hedge of Hebe (Veronica)  to breakup the outline of a large border and this variety amongst many others suits me well.

    Hebe Cuttings

    • Now is a good time to take a series of cuttings to root this Autumn and be ready to transplant next spring.
    • You can pull off a 4inch shoot leaving a bit of a heel and pot it in sharp compost or soil with some sand added.
    • I cut with a knife  or take my cuttings with secateurs if I am busy.
    • Trim off the bottom leaves and try get a cutting with the wood just beginning to harden at the base as this summers green wood may not root as easily.
    • Take more cuttings than you need and if some fail it won’t be a problem. If you have too many plants you can always find a happy home for these flowering shrubs.
    • Theoretically you should use cuttings from unflowered branches but I find so much floral profusion that it is hardly worth seeking them out.

    Annual Alyssum

    Sweet Alyssum is one of the best smelling annuals you can grow. The flowers have a marvelous honey scent all summer and these  Alyssum ‘Royal Carpet’  are a different purple to the shades you normally see.

    • Carpet of Snow is the best selling seed variety that flowers traditional white. The seedlings clump up into a nice mound and the plants make good edging for borders. A must for Cottage gardens.
    • Allyssum is often paired with Lobelia for the contrast of blue and white flowers growing in unrestrained 3-4 inch tall plants. They can also be planted in pots to accompany a centre piece plant such as a bush fuchsia.
    • Mixed colours of pink, Lilac, rose, violet and even yellow now supplement the traditional white varieties.
    • Plants will self seed but I buy new seed each spring and the plants grow away in most soil conditions without much interferance from me.

    Fruit from Cherry Trees

    Sweet Cherry are not often grown in UK fruit gardens. To get a good crop of cherries you need several varieties for pollination, it takes 10 years to get a good crop (then birds eat them) and the trees take up a great deal of space.  I will get lots of comments to the contrary now.

    Going  Ahead with Cherries

    • Fan train your cherries against a wall and pinch out the growing shoots in June and again in September.
    • Add lots of Lime and Potash to feed your Cherry
    • Plant Standards 25 feet apart.
    • Opt for a self fertile Morello Cherry or Acid Cherry like Kentish Red or Flemish Red
    • For early Cherries in June try Early Rivers, Frogmore fruits  in July and Emperor Francis in late August.
    • For the above varieties check on the pollination requirements when you buy
    • Be content to grow Cherries for the blossom that can last 3 weeks in spring.
    • Smaller ‘Colt’ rootstock now allow trees to be controlled to 12 feet high.

    I was lucky to be walking through this orchard earlier this month in Prague.


    BBC Gardening Plant Finder


    Build Your Regal Geranium Collection

    If you want to be a collector and build a Geranium or Regal Pelargonium collection to be proud off then start now for next year.

    First Thoughts

    • Join the new Pelargonium and Geranium Society formed by the merging of the British Pelargonium and Geranium Society and the British and European Geranium Society on 1st January 2009.
    • Bone up on the best British suppliers of Geraniums like Fir TreesGosbrookand Fibrex.
    • Scrounge cuttings from friends, neighbors and local gardening clubs.
    • Now is a good time to watch garden centres selling off old stock (cheaply) that can provide lots of material for cuttings.

    Top Types to Try

    • Aztec naturally branching with attractive pale green leaves.
    • Grand Slam with rosy red florets to varying lavender shades
    • Sunrise needing stopping to get abush orange flowers with white throat
    • Fringed Aztec Askam or Arnside
    • Hazel ….. Cherry or Harmony, Stardust, Herald or Heather

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