Saturday, 17 September 2016

Wild about weeds; when weeds are wild flowers

I wander through the weeds

A weed is a plant in the wrong place. Frequently that wrong place is your garden. I defend to the hilt a gardener’s right to choose what he grows although I do not take kindly to a tall Leyland on my boundary or strong clumps of ground elder or equisetum just over the fence. Mea culpa when I grow the bee bum plant, Impatiens glutinosa in my garden, albeit a dwarf form. There are genuine Himalayan balsams that I allow to grow on the village plot. 

I used to have the Hymalayan balsam in Bolton Percy cemetery but the c-team got carried away weeding.
Having eliminated a quarter of an acre  of Japanese knotweed in the wood at Worsbrough cemetery I remembered how Victorian gardeners adored it. It crossed my mind that as I am not legally allowed to plant it I might get away with allowing a small isolated clump to regrow. It is perhaps fortunate that I could not find any.

A long time ago I might have said even nettles had a place - as long as they are not in my own garden. Now they are deeply trendy. Famed flower arranger George Smith had a very small clump in his wood when we visited his marvellous garden this June. Pocklington landscaper Martin Smith had a few in his gem of a small garden. Brother-in-law Dave Smith has fine specimens on his allotment. On second thoughts this might not have  been planned. Dave I jest, I think your vertical wildlife cypress pinnacle in your tiny front garden is a work of genius and so do the birds. Not the lady next door.
An Open garden we know has a large wooded area of nettles with strimmed paths running through. Labelled ‘wildlife area’ we wonder if this is a case of a necessity transformed into  virtue.
Brenda, like me, is very scathing about growing nettles. She says its not as if they were endangered, lacking natural habitat or even nice. I wonder how many who claim this garden thug as a home for butterflies and their caterpillars actually find them.

A former ecology colleague grew only weeds in his garden. I never saw them but I am told wildlife thrived. The best treatment of wild flowers that I have personally seen I described in my recent post about Jervaulx Abbey. There, wild flowers - actually mainly common weeds - make a wonderful display over the stones.

Thirty years ago my colleague Barry Potter moved the college bee hives on to a lawn adjacent to a small wood. He let the grass grow long and encouraged thousands of dandelions to grow. (I have always thought that if dandelions were difficult everyone would want them). The bees loved the dandelions which really looked lovely. Colleagues turned up their nose when they seeded around. Barry arranged for the then innovative differential mowing and visitors walked the grass paths.
Our language has changed and to call the area ‘wild’ was at that time something of an insult. We were starting to use warm words such as ‘ecological’, ‘natural’, ‘naturalistic’ and ‘back to nature’. A visitor gasped at her own folly when with a slip of the tongue she asked a question about the ‘overgrown lawn’.

Brenda’s son’s buttercups in France look good in his meadow
This Spring I enjoyed the yellow cover of dandelions and later on buttercups in Cathi’s developing grass verge. I retain the right to limit their numbers but I will certainly keep some. 
For several years now I have grown drifts of upright bulbous buttercups in lightly wooded areas of Worsbrough cemetery. There are a few in my miniature glade of four Betula jaquemontii in my own garden. 
Today I felt Brenda’s ire when she weeded excessive self sown campion and white Herb Robert and even to me too many volunteer red ones!

I don’t let Brenda’s zeal propel me to pull out the volunteer foxgloves

Several poppies have decided they like Cathi’s garden
I allow celandine in parts of my lawn
I love all the wild flowers in my cemetery gardens. Plants such as violets, campion and primroses thrive. The late Spring golden carpet of celandine at Bolton Percy is a joy to behold. Celandine is so well behaved It makes nutritious bird forage from February and then suddenly in June it disappears for the rest of the year.  Can I claim the Spanish bluebells in the cemetery are wild flowers? They are certainly not weeds!

Bluebells in Worsbrough cemetery
Cathi’s bluebells are so stately I doubted my identification
It had not dawned on me that Cathi’s bluebells were the true native ones. I transferred a few hundred that had been dug up by the rabbits to her new verge. I was really quite surprised at how strong and sturdy they were. Really quite superior
Blogger Sue Garett has pointed out that the above picture is not the wild bluebell and is no doubt a hybrid. I like hybrids and will think just as highly of this plant's wonderful constitution No doubt hybrid vigour.
We enjoyed a walk round the wonderful Yorkshire Arboretum at Castle Howard last week.
They have left the magnificent skeleton of a large dead tree for its atmospheric outline and as a wildlife haven. For safety reasons the tree is surrounded by old sheep hurdles to keep the public away. Overgrown with thistles and nettles they make their contribution as an impenetrable barrier!

What’s this? If you don’t recognise it, it will take over
Ragwort ticks the right boxes as a host for the startling red cinnabar moth. The moth’s colours are a warning to predators that it is full of deadly ingested ragwort toxins. The handsome yellow weed is legally classified as noxious and it is beholden on landowners to control it. It is old legislation and few take any notice! Our local hedgerows are a brilliant yellow. The weed is deadly if ingested by herbivores and is particularly insidious when dry.

Cathi’s developing grass verge continues as un-mown grass along the length of the road. I thought the yellow plant just beyond our jurisdiction looked rather nice and I had left it. (I am somewhat relaxed about matters proprietorial).
Last week I met farm worker Michael by Cathi’s green bin. He was depositing a very large neatly dissected ragwort. He is very conscious of ragwort danger. His employer keeps very  expensive racehorses. Michael is the man who has Foggathorpe clay. When on another occasion I had been down to Foggathorpe I looked for number four. There were four number fours - in the same street. Down there they are funny that way.

I notice some bloggers are starting to boast their cavalier attitude to weeds. It is almost an emblem of pride that they do very little weeding.
I think they will come to regret it.

Some places have very nice weeds
In a sense there are three weeds here. Only an idiot like me would plant mares tail and the orchid has sown itself

This dactylorhiza on the moist bank was planted. I wonder why we call plants in the water water-weeds?

Weeds like these grow in disturbed landscape in Tignes in the French alps. Suppressed mares tail normally contributes to the mountain landscape and the dock is a relic of an ancient local crop
I will be blogging soon about controlling rosebay willow herb 

But as a garden plant it is beautiful
The nicest of the two epilobiums (willow herbs) that infest every garden 

The alien plant zealots might regard this solidago as a weed in the Welsh hills

If convolvulus was difficult to grow everyone would want it

An innovative scheme that mixes wild flowers and garden plants. Unfortunately such schemes are difficult to manage and are labour intensive.
Links to related posts

Wild flowers in Tignes

Control of equisetum

Convolvulus is very easy to control if you do it right. (Scroll to the very end of the post)

A lot of pictures at Jervaulx

My opinion on introduced plants

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Peter’s pictures

I asked Peter Williams for some recent pictures of his garden to supplement a post I was intending to write and promptly lost my own contribution in the wilds of my computer! It would be a pity to waste Peter’s lovely pictures. Here they are with a few of my own captions
This plant is a 'must' for any garden. It provides golden colour all of the year. When in flower the orange blossom scent is gorgeous. It needs to be in full light to perform. In shade it is green
Jack Frost is better in Spring. My friend David Willis is the breeder of 'White' Swan' which is nationally popular. David's plant recently died and Peter gave him a new one!

Note the smooth line of the lawn and shallow easily maintained edges

Peter has help with his garden design by his former student and friend Julie. She is the one who described his former planting 'Morecombe and Wise'

I have in my own garden a strong stand of The Bishop of Llandalf series. Fortunately no early frost is forecast before my Open day this Sunday

Choose your varieties of kniphophia carefully and have flowers right through the Summer
You will find no stakes in Peter's herbaceous borders
Is the lily a 'volunteer' in the middle of the rudbeckia? I don't think Julie will approve
You might have missed this Peter Williams post and a picture of Julie
Other Peter posts can be found under Peter Williams in the themes column.

Final Reminder!

It is my Open day on Sunday. This NGS link provides the details

Sunday, 4 September 2016

Use of a Dutch hoe

Hoe hoe hoe
You might not expect a no dig gardener who sprays his weeds to have much use for a hoe. You would be right but there are occasions when I find a hoe an invaluable tool.  For many vegetable growers and Dutch gardeners on their sandy soils - the Dutch are proper gardeners - it is the weed control tool of choice. I remember a cycling holiday in the northern Netherlands. Early in a Summer evening everyone was out in their gardens relaxing hoeing with shiny hoes.

I used my ancient hoe blade on a broken shaft for several years in preference to a useless modern one! Handyman Chris has now shafted me. (Just joking Chris)
It is rather a challenge to write about hoeing. There is so much to say but most people are not very interested. It’s not very sexy. You do not read about it in gardening magazines. Not many will bother to read this either!
Hoeing does not have much going for it! It is only suitable for small and medium weeds and is best against those from seed. It is of little use in Winter because the soil is too wet. In Summer it is restricted to hot sunny weather and dry windy days. Preferably both. Not much good then for Harry and Rowena who live in Preston - you always need an umbrella when going to visit them. Worse most dutch hoes generally on offer are not fit for purpose - they are the wrong shape. OK for a mindless series of uppercuts and next to useless for shallowly and horizontally slicing through the soil or tightly undercutting a weed where the stem meets the root.

If I hold the shaft high enough on a modern hoe to meet the soil at the right shallow angle I nearly break my back when I push! This green one points up in the air!
Because I never use my modern hoe it is rather rusty. A good hoe regularly used is shiny and self sharpened
I will try and make reading my post today less painful by presenting bullet points that can easily be skipped over.

  • Hoeing should detach weeds from their roots and leave them on the surface to desiccate and die and subsequently enrich the soil.
  • Where possible only the weeds should be hoed - and very shallowly. Not an overall cover disturbing all of the soil.
  • This will sometimes not be possible for those whose allotment soils contain multiple thousands of weed seeds with their emergence aggravated by bringing new ones to the surface by previous digging. With dense weed germination hoeing every inch between the plants will be necessary.
  • The smaller the weeds - as a result of frequent hoeing - the better. Larger weeds such as groundsel must not have chance to ripen seed as they die!
  • It used to be believed hoeing was a water conserving operation. It is not. You can read my old post about this.
  • Hoeing is perhaps of limited value against established perennial weeds. They don’t die and many re-root! Even here very regular hoeing - weekly in Summer - can be used as a long term strategy.  It takes several years to eliminate marestail  - as long as it does not keep creeping back from your neighbours! I once banished couch grass in a single season. In this case my hoeing was every five days and deeper than normal bringing rhizomes to the surface. In neither of these two examples should you denude the soil by removing the hoed weed.
  • Now my wrists are a little arthritic and for weeds such as liverwort and moss I sometimes use a small border spade as a hoe. (My back is still very supple and I go to pilates!) A spade is a little heavier than a hoe and its use has more momentum and jars my wrists less. I recently tried with a shovel! It actually presents its face to the soil surface at a much better angle than a pesky modern hoe. I have recently been using the very sharp corner of a shovel to ‘nick out’ course grass weeds from my lawn. (Some of us are a little strange with regard to our lawns). 
  • Don’t have any inhibitions about the angle you present the hoe blade to the soil. I sometimes hold the blade vertical and scrape - especially if a weed is very close to a plant. You are generally advised to use a dutch hoe working backwards. This is perhaps true but I tend to wander in any direction!
  • Hoes are great to get to weed under a plant cover. Do not desist however from bending your back to hand pull a weed in the middle of a clump. Throw that weed back on the ground too.
  • A regularly used hoe keeps itself sharp and shiny
  • Remember hoeing is to control weeds. If you choose to use it to fluff up the soil for cosmetic purposes like my friend Elaine that’s your own funeral.
Just a shallow undercut is all that is needed. Hoe too deep and the weed won’t die! You might be surprised at my shallow shaft angle
My hoe is well worn and I treasure it like an old teddy bear
Recently on a dry summers day I had a very light cover of weeds in my acre garden. (You all know that normally I am a glyphosate sprayer). I wanted to ensure the few weeds did not seed and to reach those sneakily hiding under ground covering plant canopies. It would also impress some visitors to find no weeds two days later! I worked my way round with the hoe in about two hours. I only hoed the weeds and did not otherwise disturb the soil. It is a great way to get a close look at your plants.

I hoe my vegetable garden when it is inappropriate to glyphosate spray. My policy has always been ‘don’t let weeds seed’ and I have been at Seaton Ross fifteen years now. I don’t dig seeds to the surface and I frequently hand pull weeds when I walk round. I refuse to add weed seed in mulched manure and such things. My weeds are sparse and as a result my hoe only comes out a few times a year. I zip round the veg garden in about ten minutes. For vegetable gardeners who rely just on the hoe I recommend whipping round weekly in Summer.

Relevant links
I write about the defunct dust mulch theory

I write about how a good weed control policy should ring the changes between several methods

Onion hoe anyone?
I managed to find twenty five uses for a spade

Friday, 26 August 2016

How to grow Zantedeschia

Mainly about hardy Zantedeschia aethiopica

red calla

Little did I imagine twenty years ago when Steven married Haley and the bride carried Arum lilies which also bedecked the tables that I would ever successfully grow these magnificent cut flowers. At that time I lived in dry Bolton Percy and without using copious watering they would never have thrived. With regard to watering I used to be rather self restricting and if an established  plant needed watering in the garden I felt it to be not worth growing. That included vegetables down on my allotment.
Now in my Seaton Ross garden zantedeshias are littered everywhere and make magnificent strong deep rooted plants that add brilliant white to the garden from May until September. My very deep sandy soil overlies clay that creates a water retentive basin. A huge ancient agricultural drain takes surplus water away and half of my garden boasts that rare condition of all year round well-drained moist soil.I have more than a dozen randomly distributed two to five foot high zantedeschia specimens. 
(Whoops I have written too soon and this August we have run into quite severe drought! My plants look healthy, some are setting seed but there will be no flowers for next month’s Open Day)

My Open Day guests will not be admiring my Zantedeschia ‘Crowborough’
Zantedeschia aethiopica ‘Crowborough’ is an almost fully hardy bog plant that can also be grown in a pond as an aquatic. I have doubts about its long term success in open water but it will certainly survive through the Summer! I would be very interested to hear of anyone who grows it permanently in the water. I tend to think that bog plants such as this arum and my own ten foot high gunnera prefer to be planted next to water but just a little above it where their roots can penetrate down.

My gunnera gets plenty of moisture but never stands in water - other than occasional Winter flooding
French interlude
My pictures of Brenda’s son’s zantedeschia in France provide some evidence of their permanent success in very shallow running water. They are absolutely six foot magnificent. The ancient traditional public laverie spills spring water into a very shallow stream that runs across his land. Needless to tell you I brought a few very small divisions home. With patience very small pieces after a few years made wonderful huge plants.

The water drains from this still used laverie
When Peter moved in I took several divisions from this plant that had established itself naturally and dibbed them into his stream

They soon established and now hold their own against Peter’s brambles and nettles (this was a good day)

In the water they make luxuriant shiny foliage 
and look very fine

Culture of  Zantedeschia aethiopica

The French variety has found my own garden to its liking
The methods of growing the hardy Crowborough variety and similar cultivars is very different to those for the widely available more compact coloured tender hybrids which I will consider below.
'Crowborough' is really quite hardy, especially when established. Mine survived the notorious 2010 ‘double Winter’ with minus eighteen centigrade air temperature registered in both January - March and December. Just!
Very small plants like the one I brought back from France get going better if you give them greenhouse protection for their first Winter.
They thrive in moist soil although many gardeners successfully grow them in ordinary deep  well drained soil. They are best undisturbed and go from strength to strength with each succeeding year. My own grow in a wide range of conditions but the plants in full light do the best.
Although the books correctly tell you that you can lift and divide them this does give the numerous propagules a considerable check. I prefer to notch or tease out pieces with a spade leaving the parent little disturbed. Small pieces can be potted for coddling in a greenhouse and larger divisions can be directly planted. My plants rarely if ever go completely dormant but are best divided in Winter or Spring. For the record my French rooted shoot was taken in August.
Your established plants need plenty of space when they will make strong large specimen clumps.
Do they respond to fertiliser? Are they better with mulching or adding extra organic matter? Probably yes but I never bother. Do they get pest and disease? I have never noticed - except the tiny black insects that show up on the flowers.
Should I let them seed? Probably not and I remove the dead flowers to encourage more. Do they need staking? No.
Growing the coloured hybrids

For fifty years I had ignored the coloured hybrids that are sold as ‘bulbs’ every Autumn and Spring. Early failures with rotting-off tubers and weak spindly growth when directly planted in the garden persuaded me that they were a complete waste of time. Especially so when I knew them not to be Winter hardy and be best started off early with artificial heat. 
Although I do love our heated conservatory, artificial heat for greenhouses has never been the way for me. Many texts wrongly quote rather high minimum starting temperatures as essential for these so called callas. That might be appropriate for commercial cut flower growers but not for me.

Brenda’s son Steven lives in balmy Folkestone and his coloured zantedeschia is permanantly established in the ground

Last year I decided to try some coloured calla cultivars in my unheated greenhouse. ‘Unheated’ is a bit of a misnomer as so called cold greenhouses heat up very well with the sunshine. Even better the warmth is suffused with healthy light. Artificial heat in a greenhouse on dull days very early in the season is not usually a good  gardening option!

I am still on my learning curve. In researching this post I learned that these coloured zantedeschias like it rather drier than the hardy species. Especially when starting in their pots and before new growth appears when the roots can easily rot. Like any plant that grows luxuriantly when they get going they then need plenty of water.
I  grow them in large pots of my own sandy soil enriched with slow release fertiliser and regularly top dressed with my yaramila general fertiliser. Most gardeners chose to liquid feed. My plants are stood outside throughout the Summer.

An advantage of tubs is that they can be temporarily placed next to a wide range of plants
I have fallen in love with these coloured hybrids.
Less strong first year plants bulk up each succeeding year. In my second year I have not chosen to divide them.
I overwintered the dormant tubers last Winter, still in their pots almost unwatered in my unheated greenhouse.
I think I was lucky as it was a very mild Winter! I have written before how I lost tender plants in containers in the 2010 Winter when for example agapanthus survived outside in the ground when those in the unheated greenhouse died. I am confident that my tender zantedeschias would survive in the greenhouse in a normal winter but in fear of a harsh one I will this year overwinter the tubs in my almost frost free garage.

My niece Gail recently admired my coloured callas and reminded me that they were her wedding decoration too.

red calla
They seem to be rather popular at weddings

I wrote about growing agapanthus last year

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