Gardening Hints - December

rosesI have just come out of a garden where a request had been made to reduce the perimeter hedge and let in more light; a mixture of conifer (Leylandii), cherry laurel, Berberis, Philadelphus and Forsythia. Well it was all pretty thick and high and had been left for a number of years. In a way I like these sort of jobs being left to decide the extent of removal which produces the greatest effect. A bit of ‘radical gardening’! It does leave a potential for further work. That space created may be filled with more suitable plant material and allows the removal and treatment of the more pernicious perennial weeds before planting up other long term species. Those gardeners with an eye for design will know that it takes a bit of bravery to be radical and the need to look ahead and see what will make suitable replacements. It could lead to a complete change of tack from the replacement of shrubs with herbaceous or a design change with a new concept.

This idea took me back to my days as an apprentice in Bristol, working at various locations throughout the city.

“Ashton Court Mansion and Estate” provided my estate management experience but in those days there was no Balloon Fiesta and Kite Festival and the house was derelict. The estate was managed on a care and maintenance basis, home to an agricultural show and a golf course with extensively managed woodlands and certainly no deer herd. Close to the house was the sunken ‘Rose Garden’ which today is a feature of the house surrounds; now back to its original splendour with grants from the lottery fund.

In my day, construction of the rose garden was taking place and it gives me pleasure to say that I was one of those who rolled up their sleeves to help.

One of the features was climbing and rambling roses grown as swags (or cantenary) down the edges of paths and across lawns. They created either a dividing or a linking feature to various parts of the garden. Most were of chains fastened to the tops of 5 or 6 foot steel posts set in a line. The roses were planted at the base of the posts and then trained along the chains to great effect adding a magic and new dimension to the garden. The base of the swag did not touch the ground. Where they linked to other features you would get a swag meeting an arch or a pergola also clothed in climbing roses. The adjacent lime avenues, giant sequoia’s and house formed the backcloth.

We have our own producers of swag materials in this area one being Atkinson’s Fencing based at Castleford (01977550441). They exhibit regularly at the Harrogate Show. Their materials are of a more sympathetic wooden post and thick rope. You can buy the 8 foot posts and thick rope separately and make up your own rose supports knocking in the posts 10 to 12 feet apart and attaching the rope to the tops of the posts, allowing the rope to hang a foot or two above the ground between the posts. You can plant roses either at the base of the posts or at the spot at the lowest position of the rope to the ground. Training and tieing in the roses, as they grow can be a thorny exercise but the result can be very effective. Two methods can be used either cutting hard back each year to new buds and shoots or removing a third of the growth encouraging new growth from the base each year to get regular annual flowers.

Climbers and rambler varieties for swag planting are best repeat or continuous flowering. Try Rosa ‘Bantry Bay’ a large flowered, pink, repeat flowering rose with some scent together with Rosa ‘Cupid’ an HT climber with double, very fragrant flowers of orange, pink and yellow, flowering once during the summer.


Repeat flowering varieties like R. ‘Lawrence Johnson’ semi double yellow or ‘Lady Hillingam’, apricot buds opening to yellow and very fragrant with bronze foliage cannot be beaten. If you like white flowers try R. ‘Mountain Snow’ and the fastest growing specie rose, the rampant R. ‘Kiftsgate’.

Other combinations you can try are R. ‘Alberic Barbier’ and R. ‘Gardenia’. The Daily Telegraph’s ‘Rose of the Year’ 1998, R. ‘Penny Lane’, a pink combines well with R. ‘Champagne’ a well scented apricot yellow.

Always prepare the ground well with plenty of organic matter to give the new plants a good start. Size of garden is not a barrier to this type of planting and a long narrow garden takes well to that sort of treatment.


Yorkshire Landscape Gardens

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Gardening Hints for October

n6TVyfIThe two culinary plum trees at the end of the garden have been a problem this year with very little fruit. The trees are a good size with long arching branches which had literally dripped with fruit last year. Plums are early flowering so the flowers are likely to catch the frosts. Likewise they require a chill period of less than 45 degrees C for more than 700 hours to fruit.

I needed to think about some heavy pruning to make picking fruit easier encourage setting of fruiting spurs and improving the fruit quality and size. I also suspected that a hard prune two years previously had done the fruiting trick.

Of course a show of bravery by replanting might also have worked. By growing the variety (the top half) on a dwarfing stock (the bottom half) it would be possible to reduce the total size of the tree. Whilst it’s very nice to be able to walk under a standard tree (grown on the rootstock St. Julian ‘A’ – giving a tree 4/5 metres high) you will be able to grow more trees in a confined space on the rootstock ‘Pixy’( 2/3 metres high). This stock will produce cordons or espaliers either in the row (like your raspberries) or on a wall. They are also quick to fruit when first planted!

A south facing warm wall could be beneficial but this culinary variety ‘Czar’ was situated in a quiet corner, with a bit of a microclimate to help. It would also have taken benefit from an acid soil (mine being slightly alkaline).

One way to lower the pH (alkaline to acid) of the soil towards the neutral mark is by top dressing with plenty of organic matter. Try acid nitrogen fertilizers: sulphate of ammonia or ammonium nitrate. Potassium sulphate would help any potassium deficiency; apply around 3 to 4 ounces per square metre total fertilizer under and within the branch spread of the tree. The same with the organic matter. Because my old trees are close to the boundary wall they would benefit from additional watering. Growing in a lawn or orchard requires short grass and returning the grass cuttings for additional nutrients.

Plums are a bit out of fashion. Not quite the revolt of the prunes and custard, but a fruit to keep you on the move and superb with some light pastry and the custard of course! For different varieties try ‘mail order supplies plums’ on ‘Google’.

Plum trees need plenty of light and protection from the wind. That’s why espalier and

the cordon techniques are of such value. You prune and pick at a height which is

manageable. Save for that quick prune on an annual basis they need very little looking

after. The ‘Victoria’ recently planted shows the rolled leaves of the Plum Curling

Aphid which will be back shortly to lay its eggs for overwintering. A tar oil wash

would help here. In addition with the wet weather; encouragement has been given to

peach and plum scab. The fruit are spotted and ooze a gum, going rotten. Prune off

and destroy infected twigs and fruit and spray with copper oxychloride and white oil

or fungicides Zineb and Mancozeb plus white oil. Please don’t neglect feeding as

plants like ourselves need their “Meat and two Veg”!

Yorkshire Landscape Gardens

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Pelargoniums - Expert advice


pelargoniums2The Pelargonium is much admired as a plant in the home or greenhouse, or as part of a display in garden tubs, baskets, beds & borders. A few dedicated souls – the author of this article included – exhibit the plant on the show benches of the dwindling number of horticultural societies which continue that British tradition of the annual flower show. Many people know the plant as a Geranium, not least because it is sold as such in garden centres across the land, but Pelargonium is its correct name. I’ve been growing and showing Pelargoniums for many years and the Editor encouraged me to offer a few tips to whet the appetite of others. 

The easiest way to enjoy a spectacular display over the summer months is to buy small plants, which are widely available in early spring, to grow on and plant out in the garden when the threat of frost is past. There are benefits in this approach, but it does limit the grower to a relatively small range of plants, whereas specialist Pelargonium nurseries offer a much broader range. These are more expensive initially, but can be reproduced through cuttings to give extra plants year after year, providing – and it’s a big proviso – the grower can give the plants protection during the winter months. This really means a heated greenhouse and that does not come cheap these days. However few, if any, hobbies and interests do come cheap and I tend to view the impact on the wallet against the satisfaction I get from a fulfilling and absorbing interest which gives a real sense of achievement.

pelargoniums 1The extended range of plants from specialist nurseries focus on the traditional ‘Zonal’ plants with either green or coloured leaves and flowers in shades of white, pink, red and purple. Others include those plants with scented leaves, the more blousy flowers of the Regal Pelargoniums, which makes quite spectacular pot plants and Angel Pelargoniums which give an amazing display of smaller flowers. Quantock Perfection is a good example of the aptly named Angels. 

I recall vividly buying and erecting my small 8’x6’ greenhouse when we moved house some 30 years ago. From the local Co-op, complete with the staging on which plants would be placed, it cost £116 !!! I added an electric propagator, hauled back in a flat pack from the Chelsea Flower Show, a fan heater, thermometer, seed trays, pots and compost and I was in business.

pelargoniums3The growing year starts for me in August when I take cuttings of plants that have performed best in the current year and some for which I hold a sentimental attachment! A lovely pink dwarf zonal plant named “Brackenwood” gave me my first meaningful win on the show bench in 1989 and with it a fine border spade still in use today. I just have to continue to grow it.

Cuttings are rooted in half seed trays of B&Q Seed and Cuttings Compost. These trays are placed on a propagator base to give bottom heat (helpful but not essential in the summer months) and I try to give them a mist spray a couple of times daily. If the sun is strong the trays of cuttings are covered with horticultural fleece. They usually root within 10 to 14 days.

When well rooted – you can tell by the way the cutting perks up and perhaps test by a light upward pull which meets resistance – they are moved to 2.5” pots of the same compost and watered in. These pots are placed on the greenhouse bench and during late summer quickly fill with roots.

By mid September the plants are moved up to 3.5” pots in which they will remain until the following February. The aim is to get the now established plant to fill this pot with roots to sustain it over the winter, during which growth is virtually at a standstill and watering is kept to a minimum. At this stage I change the compost I use to give more substance and good drainage by mixing B&Q Multi-Purpose compost with John Innes No.2 and horticultural grit in the ratio 2:2:1. 

The winter routine sees bubble polythene sheets used to insulate the greenhouse, the heater set to keep it frost free and a weekly inspection to remove any dying leaves. On milder days the greenhouse vents are opened up to freshen things up.

By late February signs of growth are evident and most plants will be again moved to a larger pot, this time to 4.5”, using the same compost mix as for the 3.5” pots. Most of my plants will flower in due course in these 4.5” pots. Spring sees a weekly feeding routine using Phostrogen (a balanced fertilizer) switching to Tomorite (with high potash content which promotes good flowers) as soon as the buds appear.

The plants are in bloom from late May/early June. Many will adorn the tubs and baskets in the garden, planted out when we are frost free in the Midlands, and others will be given the protection of a shaded greenhouse in the often forlorn hope that they prove good enough to enter in local shows.

The Pelargonium and Geranium Society Web Site gives information about membership and the leaflets and books available to anyone who wants to know more. The Web Sites of Fibrex, Fir Trees and Gosbrook Pelargonium nurseries are very descriptive of the many plants they sell by mail order.

Peter Pinnell

August 2012

Word count 921


Gardening tips for July

catIt hit us in the house when Pebbles the cat succumbed to eating something in the garden. That “feral thing” that swiped our legs as we passed by had gone for ever. No longer was our ‘Cat Sit’ Margaret forced to wear her wellies when visiting the house. Pebbles would quite happily eat a meal with a family of hedgehogs but was not a lap sitter (or dancer) and beware if you stroked her! Yes, she kept her distance and her independent spirit!

We missed the four legged friend waiting on the step on every occasion we arrived home and the early morning eyeballing as we lay in bed!

Being aware of which plants are poisonous can help your garden friendly cat. One or all parts of a plant can have potentially dire consequences when eaten or licked. Conversely some plants are good for cats like Cocksfoot (Dactylis glomerata) and Catnip (Nepeta cataria). Both are tasty, help digestion and relieve fur balls. Catnip is a hallucinogen so some cats take on a drunken appearance.

I checked out the ‘Real Gardeners’ website for poisonous plants and got myself a really comprehensive list and also a bit of a fright. Most plants in my garden seem to have a propensity to cause some sort of damage from death to drooling, dehydration, depression and sickness.

Our vegetable garden holds an abundance of poisoning potential: strawberry, rhubarb, parsnip, carrot, celery, marrow and cucumber. That box hedge, common privet, elderberry, holly, oak and iris; all grow rampant. We had more than our fair share. No wonder Pebbles used up her nine lives so quickly! Common symptoms of poisoning in cats is kidney and liver failure, collapse, vomiting, diarrhoea and blistering of the mouth and throat. In addition they may develop rashes and hypersensitivity to light.

It would help if I were to mention some common plants. Lilies cause kidney damage and tulip bulbs, depression, intestine irritation, cardiac and convulsions. Alliums will include both onions and garlic. Colchicum (autumn crocus), narcissus bulbs, hemlock (Conium maculatum), Datura, Daphne, Delphinium, Digitalis and rue; all have potential. My Dracunculus or stinking lily will never seem attractive again and the ivy (Hedera) on the garden walls is now likely to see a short life. Saying that those berries are made short work of in winter when birds are short of food.

My first known contact with poisonous plants was the Laburnum arch in the glasshouse complex where I started my apprenticeship in Bristol. Mixed with a red rambling rose it always gave a brilliant show!

Azalea (now Rhododendron) toxins can be severe and can affect both nervous and dietary tracts causing weakening, depression, coma and death.

Yew is a favourite with both berries and foliage affecting digestion, dizziness, cramps and vomiting. Foliage is more fatal than berries and death can be sudden without warning.

The Solanum genus, from common tomato, through the Christmas cherry and potato to the hedgerow deadly nightshades make an unhealthy contribution. It’s the green fruit, leaves and stems of the tomato that cause problems.

If you suspect any sort of poisoning then hot foot it to the Vet with the cat and a sample of the plant. The Magazine ‘The Cat’ has a helpline on 03000121212 with an email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .


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