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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!

Friday
Nov112011

The Real Deal - advice on finding the perfect tree 

We know it's still November and thoughts of buying a Christmas tree are at the back of everyone's thoughts, but when December looms large - what do you look for when picking a tree? Colin Dale, Plant Buyer at Notcutts offers his advice on finding the perfect tree this Christmas and advice on how to ensure it stays fresh and green all season.

“The key to a great, long lasting Christmas tree is not only looking after it once you get it home but it’s choosing the right one from the outset. Here at Notcutts we have a wide range of trees to choose from and top tips on how to ensure your tree stays luscious and green for the whole festive season:”

What to look for when choosing your Christmas tree:

  • A heavy tree will be holding more moisture in its stump which should put it in good stead for a season indoors, helping  it stay green and fresh for longer, so do have a good feel of the tree’s weight when looking for your perfect tree
  • To test the tree’s needle retention give the stump a modest bang on the floor. If it is already dropping needles, you would be wise to choose another tree
  • The traditional tree of choice is the Norway Spruce which is very aromatic but it is not the best at holding its needles. If good needle retention is key then the scented Nordmann Fir, with its glossy rich green foliage and fresh scent, is the tree for you as it is less likely to drop needles. The Frazer Fir is also good at holding its needles and it tends to be more slender than other varieties, making it ideal for smaller rooms

When you’re home:

  • When you get home, take approximately 3cm off the stump with a saw and immerse in a bucket of water before you take it inside. Like cutting the end of a blocked straw, you will enable the tree to draw up lots of liquid and you may find that it takes in several litres of water. This will prepare the tree for the coming weeks indoors, ensuring it stays green and healthy throughout the Christmas season
  • Once you take your tree inside, place it in a water-holding stand, away from any heat sources, such as radiators and televisions. This will give it the best chance of staying fresh
  • If you want to keep your tree after this Christmas and plant it outside, you will need to buy one with roots. Container grown trees with healthy roots have the same chance of survival in your garden as any other container-grown hardy plant.  If you are planning to use yours indoors again next Christmas, ensure that the roots have room to grow by choosing a larger container in which to plant it and ensure it is amply watered. If you would rather plant it in the ground, be careful where you place it as they can grow to a substantial size

Our full selection of real trees are available for purchase in our Garden Centres from the 27th November.

Looking for an alternative or artificial tree?

There's a great selection on our website - www.notcutts.co.uk. We also have a wide range of lights, decorations and gifts...make Notcutts your one stop shop this Christmas!

Monday
Nov072011

Autumn Colour

Mrs McGregor and I have begun to light our wood burning stove on colder evenings and the drop in temperature is also signalling to the garden that it is time to prepare for winter. Bonfire night is not the only colourful event in November – Mother Nature has a pyrotechnical show of her own for us to enjoy!

Autumn colour is all around us at the moment, from the trees by the road side that are beginning to glow gold and russet, to many of  the plants in our garden which have often been handpicked for the display that they give at this time of the year.

Acer platanoides - Norway MapleOne of my favourites is the Persian Ironwood (Parrotia persica) which we have crammed into a small space in our crowded back garden! It will get far too large in time, but is worth planting for the glossy, deep green leaves which colour to rich red and orange before falling to reveal the greyish bark. The flowers are tiny, deep red clusters that adorn the bare branches in winter and the wood is very hard – hence the name ‘Ironwood’.

Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’ is a bonfire of a plant, with pale green leaves that change to translucent apricot before falling to reveal the luminous deep orange stems that make eye catching, twiggy mounds. Often admired by visitors to our garden, I have decided to take some cuttings of this and other varieties of coloured stemmed Dogwoods. Raised from hard wood cuttings, the best time to do this is as the leaves are falling. I like to use wood that is pencil thick and cut it into 20cm lengths. Left undisturbed until next spring in an outdoor nursery bed, the cuttings will begin to root and can be potted up to grow on. I have also pruned my Black Currants and Gooseberries to tidy them up for the winter and made cuttings of these as well to increase my stocks for the allotment!

On the subject of bonfires, we have a Smoke Bush in the garden, Cotinus ‘Grace’, which looks stunning with the low sunlight shining through the wine red leaves. Cotinus are late to come into leaf in the spring but look amazing when the fine, grey flowers appear in late summer, coating the plants in a smoky haze – hence the name. There is also a yellow leaved variety called ‘Golden Spirit’ which I will shortly be planting in a shady border so that the leaves are not scorched by hot summer sun.

Another treasure of a plant for autumn leaf colour is our Japanese Maple which we grow in a large pot. We have the old, but tested variety Acer palmatum ‘Dissectum’ which has ferny green leaves that make a congested mass and turn fox red at this time of the year, before revealing the gnarled, slow growing trunk.

Once the plants have had their swan song before the winter rest, of course the leaves will fall, so for now, it’s back to collecting these from the lawns and borders!

Tuesday
Nov012011

Winter Borders Are the Most Dramatic of Them All

For many gardeners, the months preceding winter can be a depressing time. At this time of year, whilst there is the beauty of changing leaves and the excitement of planting bulbs for next spring, a lot of garden duties are clearance. Dying leaves, withering stems, the last fading flowers dropping their blooms signals an end to the year and a draining of garden exuberance. However, winter can offer some magical qualities for the garden, and not only is this time of year perfect for transplanting and putting in new shrubs, but pick the right plants and you can have fantastic interest throughout the colder months of the year.

Winter, perhaps more than any other season, is about creating drama in your borders, pots and green retreats. Spring brings the tender new leaves of plants, and summer is about a deluge of blooms and vigorously flowering borders, but the colder months offer the chance to create visual flair against a dark backdrop. Any hint of green will draw the eye, any eruption of colour will stir the senses, and it is for this reason that I adore the winter period.

Depending on your garden size and shape it’s important to consider planting possibilities. A dozen or so cyclamen or clumps of snowdrops can make a dramatic impact if placed in borders of a small garden. However, spread them through a larger garden, or around corners which cannot be seen from the house, and the visual impact is instantly lost. In you can’t afford to buy in bulk, consider planting containers on your patio or pots on your porch instead. And though planting winter window baskets is lovely, unless you have additional colour in your garden to pull your interest, your eye will go no further than the petals in your window boxes.

It’s not all down to blooms however, and some of the most visually stunning plants for winter offer not flowers, but fruit and stems. Cornus (Dogwood) comes in a various number of coloured stems including orange, red and yellow, and whilst plants can be monotonously green throughout the year, their branches become alive with colour during the colder months. This is especially true when set off against the browns, blacks and whites (snow prevailing) of winter. You can use these species in your garden for winter interest, planting two or three specimens together to offer islands of colour in your borders. The vibrancy of hues keeps for a long time even on cut off stems, and if you don’t have any plants but are lucky enough to know someone who does, see if they have some pruned twigs to spare. These can be pushed into the ground throughout borders or even pots to create colourful drama and you may even find that a few push out roots when the spring weather arrives.

If you have silver birches in your garden, cut down any obscuring foliage so that you can see the glistening trunks in full view. Meanwhile, leave pruning of plants producing red berries such as pyracantha, cotoneaster and holly until very late winter when birds will have taken most of the colour away. Callicarpa is an additional plant which offers luminous berries, this time of purple, and is a great winter season garden addition.

There is no need for winter gardens to be dull and soulless. Whilst you may not be spending much time in your oasis, adding colour in view of windows will draw your eye out into the garden through the long cold months. And whether you plant up visual containers, scatter winter beauties through borders, or offer some architectural elegance with vivid stems, the drama can be just as magnificent as at any other time of year.

This post was written by Geoff Wakeling, author of the popular gardening blog; The Guide to Gay Gardening

Monday
Oct312011

Tidying Up Jobs

The nights are certainly a lot colder now and the plants in our garden are beginning to prepare for winter. Many of the perennials are starting to die back, so I have been cutting them down and using the compost that I bagged up a few weeks ago as mulch around the crowns. The borders look very smart once they have been cut back, weeded and mulched! The mulch should help to protect the crowns of tender plants like Penstemons and Melianthus if we get another hard winter! Towards the end of next month I will be taking more winter protection measures – more about that at a later date!

The leaves are driving me mad! Every few days I rake them off the lawns, using a lawn rake, then wake up the next day to see more down! They must be removed regularly so that the grass does not go yellow and eventually die if it is left covered for too long. I like to compost them separately in a wire cage to use as leaf mould around Mrs McGregor’s favourite Rhododendrons in the spring, when I tidy up that area of the garden, once the daffodils have finished flowering.

The garden shed has been tidied out and I have strung up my onion crop now that they have dried completely. We have had a bumper crop this year and should have enough to last us through the winter. I planted the varieties ‘Sturon’ and ‘Red Baron’ last April as sets in a well trodden bed. Onion soup anyone?

Tulip Queen of NightAfter the first frosts of the autumn, the summer bedding plants are looking a bit worse for wear, so I have been emptying out the containers, and using the spent compost on the borders. I have added the plants to the compost heap to manufacture more lovely mulch for next year! We do not plant as many winter containers, so containers that I will not be using have been cleaned out with Jeyes Fluid and stored away from frost.

As well as winter Pansies and Violas, I am planting Tulips in pots to give some splashes of colour next April. I like to plant in two layers, so that the containers look really full. These pots are then put in a sheltered spot and kept watered sparingly through the winter. We also have to keep an eye on mouse and vole damage, as our elderly cat is no longer up to the job!

Tulips and Wallflowers are a delicious combination in the borders; the scent and longevity of the wallflower blooms contrasting with the blowsy tulip flowers, which appear from their architectural green buds that seem to take forever to colour up. Now that the borders have been tidied, I am able to see the gaps for these and planted them whilst thinking of the ‘black forest cherry’ scent that will waft around the garden next spring when the Wallflowers are in flower.