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Wednesday
Dec072011

View of the Garden

The weather is making any gardening a bit of a challenge at the moment. Although it is still quite mild, we have had quite a lot of rain, so the soil is rather wet for winter digging on my allotments. Mrs McGregor has been using up the last of the red onions to make onion marmalade. They never seem to store as well as the white ones, but have a sweeter flavour. Homemade pickles and chutneys are always handy through the winter and make good Christmas presents as well, but our store cupboard is becoming quite full now! I must remember to check the rest of my stored vegetables and remove any that have gone soft to the compost heap!

Much of the growth on the perennials in the garden has died back now and I have begun to clear this from the hardy varieties, such as Hemerocallis (Day Lilies) and Phlox, which will be fine without any protection if we get a cold snap later on! I love the movement and late interest from the ornamental grasses that we have in our borders, but our Stipa gigantea, which has been flowering through the summer, has finally been stripped, by the wind, of the bleached out oat flowers which give the plant the common name of ‘Golden Oats’.   Many of our Miscanthus are in flower, with their soft, ‘feather dusters’ that will persist through winter. With the late interest that they give, I can forgive them for flopping about with the wind that has bashed them even more.

Imagine my delight when I looked out of the dining room window and saw a lone daffodil in flower! The mild weather means that this is a good two weeks earlier than usual for this variety and a sign that nature intends us to have a spring next year, whatever happens between now and then! The Lenten Roses (Helleborus x hybridus) have rather tatty leaves through winter, but a quick peek under them has revealed lovely crowns full of buds waiting to flower early next year. We have a beautiful double purple one, which ‘planted’ itself in the garden, along with a mixture of single flowered seedlings which have appeared from the original parents. These are such good plants for dry shady corners, along with the leathery, deep green leaves of their taller cousins Helleborus foetidus. I have to remind myself to keep an eye on them when they start to flower, so that I can pick a few blooms and bring them in to appreciate them. They look lovely floating in a bowl of water for an unusual table decoration and last for a good while.

The berries seem to have hung on trees and shrubs for longer this autumn, but the Thrushes and Blackbirds have almost stripped the last of our Cotoneaster now and are starting on the Holly trees so that we will have none to decorate the house unless I cover a few branches with some sacking as a matter of urgency!

Mr McGregor

Wednesday
Dec072011

Creative Container Gardening

Get creative with your containersThere is no right or wrong when it comes to creating a garden haven. Through our specialist blog, we love exploring the many ways other gardeners from across the world have created theirs. Creative Container Gardening by Daria from Gardening Bytes is just one piece we would like to share with you.

Containers are a welcome addition to any garden. Containers are ideal for small gardens needing more color or to give the illusion of more space. Containers can be stacked in levels to create the look of a bigger space for small gardens. Bring out pots with flowering plants and space them around the garden for additional interest. Herbs are also a wonderful addition to any garden. You can create your own small herb garden in containers. The leaf colors of the herbs create a delicate display and the herbs can be used for cooking.

When designing a container, plant up a large container using a tall upright focal plant in the pot. If the pot can be seen from all around, place the tall plant in the centre of the pot. If up against a wall you can place the focal plant against the back of the pot. Choose three mid-height plants to surround the base of the tall plant, then choose three plants to cascade over the edges of the pot. Make sure your plants all grow and/or bloom at the same time of year for the best seasonal display. Leaf colors and flower colors may be complimentary, all the same color range, or on the opposite color spectrum. Silver leaved plants are a good choice to enhance your container design. Choosing plants with interesting shapes and varigated leaves will help your containers stand out. Use a combination of tall, medium and short containers to dress up your patio area.

Get creative by using different types of containers in your garden; think outside the box when it comes to plant design. An old clawfoot tub looks lovely planted up with flowers, and has a built in drain for drainage. Plant your clawfoot tub with cottage garden plants for a vintage look. Stock tanks, new or used, serve the same purpose with a rustic style. Drill holes in the bottom and plant up your flowers and shrubs. Almost any item, if sturdy and given proper drainage, can become a container for your garden.
When planting in containers remember to keep your container plants watered well, especially during summer. Container plants lose water more quickly than those planted in the ground. In cold weather months containers may be brought into the greenhouse and kept over until the weather warms, providing you instant color when the weather changes. During Autumn, plant up your containers with bulbs such as crocus, daffodils, tulips, and iris for a fantastic display when the garden begins its move from winter to spring.

Creative container gardening has no limits, with so many herbs and flowers, as well as container shapes and sizes you will be able to create interest in every area of your garden.

About the author: Daria Goetsch is a gardener, blogger, and writer. Her gardening hobby translated into her gardening blogs Gardeningbytes and North Coast Gardening, providing gardening tips, information, and articles for the home gardener.

Monday
Nov282011

Winter Colour

Now that most of the leaves are off the trees and shrubs, the garden has taken on a different look, but there is still plenty of interest. Our white and green variegated Holly (Ilex aquifolium ‘Argenteomarginatum’) has grown beautifully in a dry, shady spot and has plenty of growth that can be lightly trimmed to decorate the tops of pictures in the dining room over Christmas.

The star of the show is our Fatsia japonica; its huge shiny leaves make this a beautiful evergreen in a dry, shady border. The tropical appearance belies the plants toughness – hailing from Japan the tops get pruned by hard frosts but it grows back in spring as if nothing had happened! The curious white flowers appear through October and November and remind me of giant Ivy flowers. This plant is such a good doer with just a light prune and feed each spring.

The Dogwoods have dropped their leaves now and Cornus alba ‘Siberica’ glows in a damp shady corner with upright, ‘Santa suit’ red stems, whilst in the front garden the olive green stems of our Cornus sericia ‘Flaviramea’ are making good upright plants since I pruned them back brutally last spring! They had the most beautiful butter yellow leaves this autumn before they fell.

Talking of yellow, a walk in the garden this morning revealed the first flowers on our winter Jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum). These always bring a smile to my face. For most of the year, the plant goes unnoticed on a shady fence where it is an untidy mass of green stems. The leaves are quite attractive in a deep green, plastic looking way but they have dropped now. The perennials in front of the fence have died back for the winter, so the Jasmine is once again in the limelight. The flowers appear over a long season - carrying right through the winter until March, when the yellow on the fence is replaced by the yellows and golds of daffodils. Only the hardest of frosts damage the flowers, if the sun gets onto them before they have thawed out.

Lurking under an evergreen Euphorbia mellifera, which has been damaged in the last three winters but always grows back, is another winter flowering shrub, Sarcococca that is excellent in dry shade. The wavy, deep green leaves are always glossy and look impossibly healthy! In late winter, tiny white flowers appear up the stems. Their sweet scent will waft around the garden on warm days and have visitors hunting for the source. They find it hard to believe that such an unassuming shrub can pack such a scented punch!

I would not be without the Box in our garden. Ours are clipped into balls and pyramids, making strong shapes especially when covered in snow or frosts! Standing alone in their small borders through winter, they are surrounded by daffodils and tulips in spring and perennial Geraniums through the summer. The first of the daffodils have made an appearance through this mild weather that we have had and my early variety ‘Rinjveld’s Early Sensation’ should be in flower before Christmas to keep some of the Box balls company!

Friday
Nov182011

Down on the allotment...

Mmmm...sproutsEnthusiasm for my allotments has been difficult to drum up with the patchy weather and shorter days. I have a lot of respect for the workers who harvest vegetables in our fields so that we can go and purchase them in comfort, whatever the weather! Being lagged in mud is not my idea of fun, but it is more than compensated for by being able to supply our own winter vegetables, as well as plenty of onions and potatoes that are still available from the store in our garage.

Now that we have had a frost, I have started to pick sprouts as we need them for the kitchen. They are one of my favourite vegetables especially when par boiled and finished in a frying pan with a little butter, chestnuts and bacon – far too good to save for Christmas Day alone! Although the plants are a bit crooked due to the windy weather we had in the summer, they are full of tight sprouts which should easily last us until after Christmas.

My Parsnips have grown really well this year. I sowed the variety ‘Improved Hollow Crown’ later than shown on the packet, at the beginning of May. A friend of mine said that they would still make a good size for the winter and he was right – they germinated well and are enormous, but still tender. I know Parsnips are not everyone’s cup of tea, but Mrs McGregor chops them into fingers, parboils them and rolls them in flour, beaten egg and bread crumbs before freezing them on a tray and transferring them to a bag. They are then easy to roast from frozen and make a good standby for times when even a keen allotment holder is rained or snowed off!

ParnipsI have managed to clear a lot of spent crops from my plots now. Just removing the stakes from the runner beans and my last pea crop tidied the area no end and has encouraged me to start some winter digging. Weeds are still growing fast, due to the mild weather and I have reluctantly used some Tumble Weed spray on the larger areas that have been cleared of crops until next spring. This should keep the weeds at bay until I have a chance to turn the ground over.

Apart from perennial weed roots such as Docks and Couch Grass, I try to take as little green material away from the allotments as possible and single dig the ground. This allows me to bury any annual weeds and spent crops, such as dried pea and bean haulms, in the base of the trench that has been dug out. The layer of organic matter is then covered with the soil from the next trench and so the process continues up the plot until it has all been dug. I am not a very even digger but have found that with some enthusiastic raking and treading in the spring, I can get the plot more or less level and create a nice firm seed bed ready to begin the allotment year again.

Monday
Nov142011

Winter Protection

This year, although optimistic that it will be milder, I am determined to take action earlier to protect susceptible plants in the garden against winter damage.  The first stop has been my local garden centre to buy some ‘frost fleece’ that can be used to wrap up tender plants that we have growing in the ground, as well as a new heater for my greenhouse and some bubble wrap for any planted containers that are left outside.

Kniphofia Caulescens (Red Hot Poker)One of my favourite tropical looking plants is Melianthus major, with huge grey green leaves that smell like peanut butter – some people call it the ‘Peanut Butter plant’. Although an evergreen perennial in South Africa, its homeland, the lush growth will be cut down by hard frost. Last spring our plant shot back from underground after it had sulked for a while, but this year I am wrapping it in fleece and putting some chopped bracken over the crown for added protection to keep it cosy. Red Hot Pokers are another group of plants from South Africa that do not appreciate our current winter weather, so I will put bracken around the crowns of these as well, although I hope fleece will not be necessary.

Even the hardiest of evergreens may need extra care in winter. I have planted quite a few this autumn, so that Mrs McGregor has more material for her flower arrangements and to decorate the house at Christmas time. When the ground freezes up, they will be unable to take up water and will still be losing moisture through their leaves when the wind blows. This often results in plants dropping their leaves in spring and taking ages to recover as they shoot from the bare wood, only to be hit again with the same problem the following winter. Mindful of our exposed front garden, I am wrapping up the evergreens in fleece, tied securely to stop it blowing away through the winter gales! If our garden was not so exposed, I would settle for keeping the plants well watered in cold windy weather, or putting up a green netting windbreak, which is often enough to stop them suffering brown leaves the following spring.

As well as plants that are in the garden, I am taking more care of my planted containers, which seem to grow in number each year! As many as possible will be squeezed in to our greenhouse, along with the soft wood cuttings of tender perennials that were taken as an ‘insurance policy’ for next year in late summer.  These have rooted now and I have potted them up, but will be keeping them warm until next spring!

I have moved containers that have not made it to the greenhouse to a sheltered wall, so that they will not be damaged by cold, drying winds. The Hostas are all below ground now and will stand the coldest weather, but I will wrap evergreens in fleece and also bubble wrap the pots to try and insulate the soil and roots.

I hope that with all these extra precautions we will have a kinder winter and for once my work will not have been necessary!