Friday, 1 July 2016

Why banning glyphosate to amateurs would be ill advised

Worsbrough cemetery’s bluebells regenerated when coarse vegetation was killed with glyphosate
This article was written before Black Thursday and in the UK danger of a proposed ban on glyphosate has receded. But for how long?

I have used glyphosate for nye on forty years and know it to be a very safe chemical. It is perhaps the safest pesticide ever invented and this view is supported by a weight of scientific opinion and the experience of worldwide use of millions of tons - or perhaps now a billion - in feeding the world, growing commodities and maintaining safe hard landscapes such as rail track and aircraft runways. You cannot holiday anywhere in the world without seeing it in action easing the workload of local populations. To me its invention was a gift to mankind.

I think without glyphosate Cathi’s drive might be a little bit weedy

Recently our rulers considered banning glyphosate to amateurs. It was a close run thing before common sense prevailed. It is still a possibility that it might be banned to amateurs and indeed anyone other than farmers in their fields. I intend today to explain why in my opinion banning glyphosate to amateurs would be foolish in the extreme. 
In a future post I will extend my argument to the value of glyphosate in world food and commodity production and protecting the environment. Without it there would be more soil erosion, greater carbon dioxide addition to the atmosphere and as a result of the use of consequent heavy cultivation machinery more diesel pollution. 
In another post I intend to discuss how we have come to this sorry state where glyphosate has collected so much baggage that some think it should be stolen.

Six reasons why gardeners should be allowed to use glyphosate

I accept that many gardeners do not want to use herbicides and that one can garden perfectly well without them. Indeed the misuse of glyphosate by the ill informed can ruin a garden! For me its withdrawal would be a disaster. I would still garden but it would be severely restricted. My contribution today argues that many gardens would be diminished without glyphosate and to ban it as public policy would lead to many unthought through expensive, detrimental and dangerous consequences.

This peaceful scene in Worsbrough cemetery was once covered with six foot brambles

Efficient perennial weed control
New gardens and allotments are frequently overgrown with weeds such as couch, ground elder and mares tail. So too are old churchyards and numerous byways and public places. Without glyphosate it takes much effort and skill to eliminate perennial weed. Many just give up and areas remain overgrown. This includes disturbed natural landscapes where there are strong stands of unwanted vegetation such as Japanese knotweed.

Some gardeners never succeed in eliminating perennial weed  and its removal remains as an ever continuing chore. Endless hours are invested in pulling out weeds when time would be better spent enriching the garden.

Good gardeners are constantly frustrated when perennial weed comes in from dirty neighbours across fence lines and through hedges. This might seem trivial but can be a nightmare and costly to the old or infirm. It is easily prevented by a quick spray along such boundaries. Mechanical weed control often requires energy and strength and without glyphosate many gardens would become overgrown.

Without spraying how would I control weeds in my gravel gardens and other mulched places? It would not be my style to underlay plastic which anyway is not good for wildlife

It's good for the soil
I include here preservation of soil organic matter, microorganisms and worms. For many gardeners the alternative to glyphosate is digging out weeds and soil cultivation. Regular cultivation oxidises soil organic matter away to release carbon dioxide and water. The worst scenario of all is when the ignorant garden public - and lets face it most people are not gardeners and at best only have a passing interest - cut out large weeds, precious soil still attached, and dump it into the wheelie bin. Weed control becomes a one way journey of ever diminishing soil fertility.
Contrast this with a garden overgrown with perennial weed which is eliminated by spraying with glyphosate. All the organic and nutrient content of the weed is cycled directly into the soil. No back breaking work destroying soil structure and removing its substance. No dirty bonfires burning un-compostable roots and rhizomes.

Growing healthy plants
It may seem strange that a herbicide that is designed to kill vegetation, when properly used helps grow healthy plants. Many of the benefits come from low till soil management made easy. There are too many advantages of no dig to cover today but things like a plants’ water relations, soil structure, high natural organic matter, root depth, mycorrhiza and nutrient uptake. 
Although minimum cultivation is by no means the only way that one can grow healthy plants that are less susceptible or more resistant to pest and disease its benefits to plant health are very significant.
Where the benefits of minimum cultivation is particularly pertinent to amateurs is to prevent their propensity to dig over borders and frequently stir soil. The most obvious damage is chopping and killing plant roots. In actual fact this is not obvious to the ignorant and when their plants are sick or die as a result of damage by digging it is regarded as providence.

Loosened soil by unnecessary cultivation is liable to be damaged when walked on when wet. Apart from wet weather keeping the gardener imbibing sugar in front of the television, loss of soil structure and weeds taking over is a further turn of the screw. Those of us who use glyphosate have greater access to our gardens - and are healthier for the exercise!

Mechanical soil cultivation is a bit of a blunder-bus. Where chemical weed control in the garden is done by a good gardener, desirable plants self seed and thousands of bulbs are able to naturalise.

Cost to the environment and the public purse
The consequential disposal costs of the inevitable increase of discarded vegetation to municipal composting and worse, going to environmentally damaging landfill will not be insignificant. Much municipal composting is contracted out to cowboys, transport costs are high and often doubtful product needs to be disposed of.
It is ironic that more organic matter going into municipal compost will recycle lawn weedkillers and general pollutants direct into gardeners’ potting composts.

Costs of weed control on roads, pavements, municipal hard surfaces and parkland will all be increased. Worse, failure to control unwanted vegetation will lead to things unsightly, dangerous slippery surfaces, root damage to hard surfaces and dangerous obstruction of vision on roads.

Alternative chemical controls are worse

Although horticultural chemicals available to amateur gardeners are very safe none are safer than glyphosate. Their use will increase. Apart from the fact that popular ‘contact weed killers’ are next to useless against perennial weeds, most weed killers have severe defects when inappropriately used.
For example  application of sodium chlorate is a crude caricature of responsible weed control when you not only poison your own garden but also those of your neighbours.

Although granular diquat retail formulations are safe to amateurs, professional liquid concentrates are registered poisons. People die every year when such chemical is ingested.

If you think some chemical controls are bad think of the horrors of weed burners! No good against perennials, they are a fire hazard, energy intensive, inefficient and polluting.

Accidents and deaths due to machinery

Many gardeners who do not control their vegetation by herbicide application use strimmers instead. Others tidy their gardens by rotavation. All manner of heavy and sharp tools are used to extract and cut unwanted vegetation. Most weekends emergency wards treat accidents, some very serious, caused by tools and machinery. Without glyphosate there will be more.
I am not aware of anyone attending Accident and Emergency ever suffering from glyphosate poisoning, glyphosate allergic reaction or glyphosate burn. Remarkable in a country of millions! Such conditions due to glyphosate hardly exist. On the other hand there are annually thousands of accidents with domestic chemicals.

In contrast to glyphosate; illness, sore eyes and  poisoning due to natural plant toxins are frequent. 
There will be even more if there is no glyphosate to control poisonous weeds.

Already gardeners are asking me how to get glyphosate to squirrel away!

You should have seen the horseradish, nettles, brambles and mares tail that preceded this

The 1950s school yard, now garden to Bolton Percy Parish Room would look very different

Under the trees there was five foot high ground elder

I maintain Seaton Ross village plot in two hours a month - thanks to glyphosate

My earliest post making the case for glyphosate
Buying glyphosate
Change in regulations relating to professional product

Thursday, 23 June 2016

The Aysgarth Rock garden. Was it (very) late Victorian folly?

Aysgarth Rock Garden

I wonder if Frank Sayer had illusions of grandeur when in about 1906 he commissioned that most famous Edwardian Landscaper, James Backhouse of York to build a two storey limestone rock garden in his small cottage garden. It would be uncharitable to think so but it must have looked a little strange in the backyard just over the road.

Cathi recently passed over our hedge a delightful small book about the inspiration, creation, decline and restoration of this delightful garden which is now  a preserved listed building! It is written by current garden owner Rosemary Anderson who with the help of husband Adrian now works to maintain it and opens it to the public for free throughout the year in all daylight hours.
The book is thoroughly researched and extremely well written. It paints a picture of great Victorian gardeners and their gardening fashions. It describes the emergence and much later decline of the renowned Backhouse nursery in York my home town. Little did I realise that such was it’s fame that the combined Backhouse garden and nursery was dubbed ‘Kew of the North’. At its peak it was a hundred acre botanic garden sporting forty greenhouses and employing more than a hundred gardeners. It was the spiritual home for great gardeners of its time. To great garden visionaries such as William Robinson it was a gardening mecca. For Reginald Farrer it was his inspiration for his writing about rock gardens.

As landscapers three generations of the Backhouse family built great gardens - especially  rock gardens and grottos - the length of the land. 
The book intertwines a social history of Aysgarth and Victorian/Edwardian life with meticulous research about the rock garden. Frank Sayer’s family history even reveals a mild Victorian scandal!

The Backhouse and Aysgarth story resonates with me. As a York resident I had heard whispers of a renowned local garden history about which I knew nothing. I remember how the craze for great rock gardens had continued well into my lifetime. I recall with nostalgia great flower shows such as Chelsea, Southport and Harrogate having huge exhibits of running water through water washed limestone. I read with interest that the closing down sale of the Backhouse nursery was in 1955. That was the year that I fell in love with gardening and decided it would be my own future! I have always loved rock gardens and gardening with gravel, water and stone.

Then I read on about the restoration of the overgrown once lovely Aysgarth rock garden at the beginning of the brand new 2000 Millenium. It was full of self seeded trees and overgrown with so called dwarf conifers and when I read further that the main contractor was Michael Myers who is a former student I just had to visit.

Going to Aysgarth - in pictures
I had to see the now very scanty remains of the great Backhouse nursery. I skipped the original site on what is now York railway station(!) and the subsequent Fishergate nursery and went straight to their final home, the renowned Holgate garden.

Little did I know it is 300 yards from York Bridge Club where I attend weekly!  West Bank Park is the only part of the Backhouse nursery left that is not under houses  
It is a now a local municipal park. A group of volunteers work to preserve its history

A few dog walking acres retain shadows
There are of some very fine original  trees
Victoria still reigns
It is likely that this new rock garden uses some of the old stone 
Edinburgh Botanic Rock Gardens started with Backhouse and looks very similar to the original two acre York rock garden

Aysgarh Rock Garden
It really is quite a big heap of stones
The surrounding wall, fence and actual stone are legally preserved
It is a very fine garden...
...and contains some very fine plants
it opens up like a tardis when you go inside
The girls feel that they rather get dragged round gardens
I hope Roger has not got lost...
It looks a little precarious. Much of the cost of restoration was to ensure its safety and stability
Shades of Victorian grottos
Ferns like walls
A former resident used it as a gnome home for his gnome business. They keep finding more gnomes when weeding
A gnother gnome. A writer about Bolton Percy churchyard described me as gnomic

Contrary to rock garden dogma many larger plants are planted on high
Was this one of the originally planted dwarf conifers? With some disturbance to my domestic  bliss I so argued...

There are very fine water features. Apparently the original water works were much more sophisticated and created alpine misty environments
But it still splashes down
I love the green water
Peter is very frond of ferns at the moment...
....and pictured this beautiful crozier
Plants love to grow over and sometimes anchor in limestone. I loved this muehlenbeckia. A different one at home is a real thug and I dare not recommend it 
Inside looking out
Meconopsis cambrica
A lovely seed-around thug
We wondered if these were remnants of original planting
You can source Rosemary Anderson’s delightful book here

Thursday, 16 June 2016

The moss phlox, Phlox subulata is very easy to grow

Bulbs can grow through it
It sets off neighbouring plants
Lovely rich red
You might not think it is easy when you see a list on the net of its pest and diseases! I have never seen any - but then I don’t wear my reading glasses very often in the garden. It is important to remember that if you grow plants well, that health is the norm. My version of growing my phlox subulata is to leave it alone and let it get on with covering the ground. It produces a tight covering mat in all shades of mauve, pink, red and white. Mine grows in well drained sandy soil and also in places that at times are quite wet. It fails where it floods!
It comes in all colours 
Phlox subulata
Shame on me, my lack of attention has allowed moss to grow
I was intrigued to read it is called the moss phlox. The leaves are so fine that the name describes it exactly. I could see that they are very similar when I pulled out several handfuls of real sphagnum moss after this very wet Winter! I chopped up this moss and mixed it with soil  to make some special potting compost.

We all know and love the very easy to grow and long flowering taller herbaceous phlox of the paniculata kind. There are many other phloxes in the nurserymen's catalogues of varying ease and difficulty. Some are lovely but very miffy. Nurseryman love the tricky ones because innocents come back time and again!
Helianthemum 'Henfield Brilliant'
Phlox subulata is strong growing and associates with other ground cover (I clip the helianthemum hard after flowering)
If you have the right conditions Phlox subulata is very easy. Mine were purchased originally at my favourite nursery at Reighton near Bridlington about fifteen years ago in 40 pence pots! 
The books correctly tell you they can be raised from seed or cuttings. Why don’t they tell you that it is so much easier to take out a chunk from a clump with your spade?
Yesterday we visited the Reighton nursery from our holiday at Filey! They had very sturdy plants but now 70 pence each. Much to my surprise they are all named varieties. My memory has failed me yet again as I have being telling everyone they were seedling varieties.
Did I excitedly copy their names? Roger dream on.
Phlox subulata
I don’t know if it was two young plants together when I bought it or whether it has self seeded 

Phlox subulata
 In the pink
The idea of a delicate plant such as this phlox covering the ground and smothering weeds is a difficult concept for new gardeners. Ground cover plants won’t kill any weeds for you! It is essential when using them as ground cover to kill all the perennial weeds first. Every last piece of such as couch or ground elder. Sensible gardeners do this in a new garden with glyphosate.
Nor will your phlox do anything if it is surrounded by weeds coming from seed. They need to be hoed or weeded away. As the phlox spreads over the years it provides a tight mat and almost no weed seed germinates within the clump. Even so the diligent gardener might need to pull out the odd dandelion!
The evergreen foliage provides a tight ground cover all the year round
I read in wikipedia that Phlox subulata has a delicate smell of marihuana. I have never noticed  - but then I wouldn’t know!

It has plenty of room to spread its wings in my Worsbrough cemetery garden
It will still be there when the bluebells die down
Do give Phlox subulata a try. It is very easy....
....and has very rich colours
My previous long-long article on border phlox described how to plant phlox and leave it alone - other than to propagate more or move it to a new garden!

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