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Tuesday
Dec202011

Christmas Greenery

Christmas Day is not far away and always seems to sneak up more quickly when it falls on a Saturday or Sunday! Mrs McGregor has visited our local garden centre and brought back a beautiful Nordmann Fir, which won’t drop its needles in the house. I prefer the pine forest scent from Norway Spruce, but the ‘needlefast’ trees save us one of the traditions of Christmas – getting the vacuum cleaner out every five minutes! This is made worse when our cat, Thomasina, decides to investigate the tempting shiny things hanging before her eyes – even though she is now a teenager and should know better! I cut a few centimetres off the base of the tree and put it in a bucket of water in the garden shed, still in the net, until we were ready to bring it into the house and decorate it over the weekend. We have a heavy duty stand which holds water, so the tree can continue to drink and be merry whilst in the sitting room!

Ilex Aquifolium Argentea MarginataWe have a house full of guests this year, so my thoughts are turning to decorating the house with greenery from the garden as well as feeding our friends and relatives from my allotments! As I write this, we are in the grip of yet another gale – I think this winter will be wet and windy rather than particularly cold but don’t quote me on that! There is still a long way to go and the late spring frosts always do the worst damage to tender young shoots and leaves. I just hope my Brussels sprout plants are not rocked out of the ground before the Big Day!

Back to the greenery! I always hold on to any lower branches that are taken off the Christmas tree in order to fit it into the stand. The tips of these are useful to add into arrangements or to make a wreath for the front door. It is time to trim our lovely green and silver variegated Holly (Ilex aquifolium ‘Argenteovariegatum’) so that I can use sprigs above the picture frames in the sitting and dining rooms. The bolder coloured gold and green varieties look great in table arrangements with big red candles and I think I will combine these with some dark green Choysia ternata (Mexican Orange Blossom), whose leaves will add to the shiny, rich effect.  Because of the mild weather, our Box plants have put on lots of fresh green, fan shaped growth, again useful for flat table arrangements. Viburnum tinus (Laurustinus) has started to flower with beautiful clusters of white blooms and these will look great with some bare stems from our olive green Cornus sericea ‘Flaviramea’ (Dog Wood). Despite the rain and windy weather, our winter Jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum) is still flowering well and I may even include some of our early flowering daffodils as a surprise for our visitors! 

Monday
Dec192011

Christmas Decorations

Rattan Wreath available from NotcuttsLast weekend was spent decorating the house, which was fantastic. The whole family got together, bringing down the decorations from the loft and all pulling our weight to make sure the house looked festive.  Over the past week my son has been getting extremely excited, running around the house, singing all types of Christmas songs. So when I told him we were going to decorate the tree you can imagine his reaction.

Mrs McGregor and I decided to go down the more traditional route with our Christmas decorations. So when we took the boxes down from the loft, we began to sift through them, eventually finding rich reds and greens that will really give the house a festive feel.

Holly cuttings from the garden will also be taken so we can dress doors, mirrors and picture frames.

Traditionally when the MrGregors decorate the tree we gorge ourselves on tin of Roses whilst having Christmas carols played in the background. However, this year I decided to make my own finger food, by using some of my harvested vegetables. Using potatoes, parsnips, beetroot and carrots I made my very own crisps, and they went down a storm. Mrs McGregor also made her famous homemade coco as well. I’m sure you can imagine us all now, taking a break from decorating the tree to sit back with one hand holding a hot chocolate and the other firmly placed in the bowl of crisps.

Merry Christmas everyone,

Mr McGregor



Friday
Dec162011

What goes on beneath the soil

Written by Dan the Gardener, What goes on beneath the soil details the intimate relationship between plants and the very soil they’re planted in. This post has been written by a gardening enthusiast and we hope you enjoy reading it as much as we have.

The intimate relationship between plants and the soil is very complex. The concentration of nutrients and the type of soil is just part of this relationship. The silent partners of plants are worms and fungi and without either of these, plants would live in poor quality soil with l low levels of nutrients.

A sign of good soil health is the population of earthworms it holds. Earthworms break down organic matter and excreting it as humus, creating a finer quality and nutrient enriched soil. They are great to have in the compost bin as they rapidly eat through new material recycling it into compost. As gardeners, when we think of fungi we often think of the ones that infect our plants and ruin our crops , but there is a whole other dimension to these fantastic organisms.

Mycorrhizal fungi are root like file filaments that associate with the roots of nearly 95% of earth’s plants. There are thousands of different species, many of which are  host specific. Like earthworms, the mycorrhizal fungi play an important role in the soil/ They  break down organic matter such as dead plants and animals and recycle the nutrients for the host plant. In return for breaking down the previously inaccessible organic nutrients, the plants give the fungi carbohydrates. It has been found that mycorrhizal fungi can expand a plant’s potential for obtaining nutrients by over a hundred times. You can buy packets of mycorrhizal fungi in powdered form containing species that are well known to benefit the growth of fruit, vegetables and house plants.

Using packets of mycorrhizal fungi is simple. Either add the directed amount of fungi into the hole before you plant a seed or plant or use as a spray or in a watering can. As well as helping to feed your plants the fungi also aerate and stabilise the soil making it less prone to erosion and compaction. There are two types of gardeners; those who just care for the plant and those that care for the soil too, which in turns takes care of generations of plants.

Lots more interesting information can be found at Dan the Gardeners Childrens Gardening website. There is also a wide range of Childrens Gardening Tools to have a look at.

Thursday
Dec152011

Gifts for Gardeners

Spending so much time in the garden means that there is always something to buy - from vegetable seeds for the allotments, fertilizers, plant labels, twine or new garden tools. The list is endless and Mrs McGregor never has a problem with Christmas present ideas for me! Our local garden centre is always well stocked with a huge range of sundries, but I like to give plants as gifts.

Plants are a lasting gift and can only grow in beauty and value over the years. Once they reach a certain size, they are not instantly replaceable - only with a much smaller specimen that will take time to grow and mature. Although plants like us, have a lifespan, many shrubs and especially trees, will easily out live a human being!

When giving plants as presents, I like to select those that are easy to grow but perhaps a bit more unusual. There is no point in giving a plant that is tricky to grow just because ‘you don’t see it very often’. There is often a good reason for this and in my experience most people are mortified if they manage to kill a plant that has been given as a gift!

Evergreens are a good place to start and what better than a plant with a Christmas theme? Holly (Ilex) are available in a range of leaf colours, from gold and white edged variegation to the stunning Ilex ‘Blue Princess’ which has deep bluish green leaves that contrast well with the red berries, which are produced if pollinated by a male variety. Holly is easy to grow in sun or part shade and most soil types – especially in dry shade.

Another easy, but unusual evergreen is Arbutus unedo. The Killarney Strawberry Tree makes a rounded shrub of olive green leaves and clusters of white flowers, a bit like a Pieris, that appear in early winter. These are followed by the ‘strawberries’ which are edible, but a bit insipid! Arbutus will eventually make a small tree by gradually removing the lower branches. They are very hardy and easy to grow in most soil types and situations.

Spotted Laurels were popular in Victorian gardens and are superb growers for a densely shaded area and dry soil – often a difficult situation to plant! They are slow growing, making a rounded bush and female varieties have red berries through the winter, but may need a male variety to pollinate them.

Skimmias have been popular for winter colour for many years. Their handsome leaves make pleasing low mounds in sun or part shade and most soil types, although they do not like shallow, chalk soils. A newer variety that has caught my eye is S. japonica ‘Thereza’ which has panicles of olive green buds through winter, opening to scented white flowers in spring. Despite the name, this is a male variety and can be used as a pollinator to encourage berries on female varieties in the vicinity!

So why not give a garden plant as a gift this Christmas? A visit to your local garden centre will reveal a host of possibilities!

Mr McGregor

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