Saturday 29 June 2013

Open day again.

It quickly comes round! Counting my old garden in Bolton Percy and the churchyard it’s about my 25th year! One still gets a thrill from the anticipation- and a knot in one’s stomach. One still wonders, “why do I do it, why put myself up for inspection and all that extra work?”. I claim of course that my garden management is so good that I just take it all in my stride. It’s a lie!
Brenda says that it’s weedier this year. I think she is perhaps right. I ever regret inventing the term ‘blogweed’, a term that is defined as 'a weed that is allowed to grow whilst time is wasted writing a blog!' She constantly pulls up a stray epilobiums  and smirks! (No one else in the gardening world mentions this weed. Without it, my garden management would be an absolute cinch).
Any one contemplating coming to Boundary Cottage on the 14th July can get all the details from the NGS link in the sidebar. For reports of last years event go here and here

Artist in the garden
In our area we are well supported by local artists. I don’t know who it will be this year, but one always turns up. It  adds an interesting theme to the  day, especially when visitors engage  in conversation or even buy a trinket. Over the years we have been blessed with many fine artists. Only last week I received this e-mail from Rob Crow

East Riding Artists have now displayed their 2012 art work at Fawley House last weekend so I'm happy for you to pop it on your blog if you so wish.
It will move from Fawley House to Roger's plants at Pickering the weekend of 22nd & 23rd June.
I hope you like the final piece, I regret there were no red dots on it when I saw it last!

Kind regards and thanks again for allowing me the pleasure of your garden.

Rob Crow

When Bob painted his picture he had ‘help’ from a little girl who had come with her Mum and Dad.

We are counting our pennies to perhaps buy Bob’s picture.

Sempervivum in Barbara Wood’s lovely pot
Barbara Wood is a fine potter who lives in the village. Perhaps, if she and her husband can break away from their weekend motor sports she will be with us again. Here is a fine piece she modeled on my self seeding nigella (according to Brenda ‘Love in a Mist’ is another of my blogweeds).

engraved tile

Nigella damascena. Love in a mist

John Brunton is a very well known artist. Many years he prepared a mould for this very fine etching of a scene in Bolton Percy churchyard. One hundred pictures were run off, this one has pride of place in our kitchen.

Bolton Percy churchyard in 1995

Photographic competition
We are repeating this competition this year with the prize yet again a £10 Marks and Spencer voucher. Hardly a princely sum! We had some very fine entries last year.
This year in addition to photos taken on our Open Day any pictures taken in my other gardens will be accepted! Some of you might have visited the always open Bolton Percy churchyard (35minutes from Seaton Ross) or even discovered my secret garden in Barnsley! You can always pop down to the village plot before or after you come to Boundary Cottage.
Please send any pictures to my e-mail 

Plants for sale

Brenda will be on duty as usual

Brenda nesting with Piff a visitor from next door

Urgent traffic update. B1228 closed from Bubwith to Seaton Ross

If you are coming up from the M62 via Howden it is best to travel north from Howden on the A 614 to Holme-on-Spalding Moor. Turn left and go through Spalding Moor and continue about three miles until you see my NGS sign turning right to Seaton Ross. Go  through the village of Seaton Ross and follow my NGS sign at the top of the village. It is just as quick this way as the regular route.

If you are coming from York, the best route is on the B1228 through Elvington and Sutton on Derwent, ignore advance warnings that the road is closed ahead. It does not apply to you!
Come into Melbourne and follow my NGS signs

From the A1079 all routes to Seaton Ross are unaffected by the road works.

Tuesday 25 June 2013

Down daffy lily. Cutting back daffodils

It’s been a good year for daffodils. My post in March examined the start of my own daffodil season. This post now examines how the season progressed. In particular I want describe how I try to ensure strong daffodil bulbs for next year. 

It’s ironic I posted a picture of an early narcissus in mid January when we had a warm spell. Two months of cold dehydrating biting winds that  followed held later varieties back. Never have I known standard varieties to be so late but how magnificent when they eventually flowered. My advice to remember to water bulbs in outdoor containers and not let them dry out in dehydrating winds proved particularly sound. The reward for a gardener’s patience was that when flowers eventually appeared, in the prevailing cool conditions they lasted well.

 Rip van Winkle

How to let daffodils die down
Don’t cut them back too soon. Preferably don’t cut them back at all and let them die down naturally. Thousands of daffodils in my cemetery gardens just fade away without any attention at all.
Inexperienced gardeners sometimes do not realise that leaves need to photosynthesis and build up strong bulbs for the next year. After flowering the leaves need to remain green. For bulbs in containers, or those that have been lifted (not recommended) watering is still needed. Don’t let them dry out until they seriously yellow. Give them full natural light. Do not tidy them away behind an old shed! 
Some gardeners imagine the leaves just need to die down and translocate their stored reserves to the new bulb. Not true, the leaves need to continue working in the sunshine for as long as possible. It horrifies me how people who have had bulbs in the house (itself a great cruelty) just dump them outside in the cold in a shady corner and wonder why they do not flower again!

It's the middle of May. It will be many weeks before this variety can be cut down

Do you know there are still some people who after flowering tie the tops of their narcissus in knots? Yes really! How ugly, how decadent! Apart from being visually repulsive those poor leaves cannot do their essential work. I sometimes hear protestations to my ire, “but they still flower”. They might, but next year there will be less flowers, they will be weak and insipid and not last very long. Flowers should remain in their pomp for at least three weeks if the bulbs are strong (unless the weather happens to be very warm).
I once had a client, dear Mrs Blunt. Her daffodils really where too tall for her small spaces. Of course I refused to strangulate the green leaves. After my maintenance visit the arthritic the old lady would be down on her knees….
Another acquaintance said he thought tying in knots is what you had to do…..

Also relevant to building up a strong bulb is nutrition. When naturalised in the open ground daffodils normally need no fertilizer at all. In tubs and containers, although feeding will do little to improve flower quality in the current season, it is worthwhile if a sturdy bulb is to be achieved for the next year. I apply a top dressing of fertilizer to my tubs in September when my bulbs are building their root system and again in January when the foliage starts to grow.

Does dead heading help?
Ready to dead head soon

Well ready to deadhead
Dead headed. I like spiky green leaves.

None of the thousands of daffodils in my ‘natural gardens’ are dead headed but they still flower well in the next year. At home Brenda cuts off the dead flowers (but not the stalk). It probably helps that energy is not diverted into the seed head. The bulb production industry would seem to take this view with all those otherwise unwanted flowers, profusely displayed at spring bulb festivals. There are many bulbs such as my own native lenten lilies, dwarf tulips, scilla, chinodoxa et al that set viable seed. Do not dead head them!

I have never found Narcissus bulbocodium to naturalise from seed

Why bulbs ‘go to grass’ and fail to flower.

Apart from the obvious, when men on their ride-on-mower toys cut back too soon to achieve their wretched stripes, there are more subtle reasons why daffodils don’t flower. Usually the reasons involve excessive shade.
  • Planting under evergreen trees.
  • Diminishing light levels over the years as neighbouring plants in a developing garden grow tall.
  • Failing to properly manage bulbs in containers after they have flowered.
  • Being overgrown by tall weeds.
  • Following the calendar as to when to cut down. The leaves  should be distinctly brown and this will vary with the season and whether they are early or late flowering varieties. This year my lenten lilies were mown  on the seventh June. Now at the end of the month several varieties remain uncut.
  • Sometimes when light levels are marginal and the spring weather is dull some bulbs might miss flowering for just one year.

If your bulbs have ‘gone to grass’ providing they are healthy and are not infected by an endemic pest or disease, do not throw them away. It might take a year or two but they will  return to flower -  if you let them have the sunshine they crave!

Although this is planted in grass under my ceder it has plenty open sky to give enough light to flower well each succeeding year

Mowing strategy
As mentioned in my earlier daffodil post when I plant in grass I like to do so in clumps which you can easily be mown around. You will see in one of my pictures, if you choose, you can mow very tight to the bulbs to allow very little long grass. In other places the tufts of longer grass look rather nice. As the leaves start to fade at the end of the season I tend to mow closer to the bulb. In some cases mowing a clump completely down is a gradual operation over three or four succeeding mowings and I do not need to adjust the height of cut of my unboxed rotary mulch-mower. For larger grassy clumps when I make the decision to completely cut down I do raise the height of cut so the engine does not stall! Because I have a wide range of daffodils some early, some late, the whole process is gradual and is spread over about five weeks. When long grass is suddenly cut short it will remain yellow for a while. By my open day in mid July  in a normal year the last scar is just about gone! 

Little long grass where I mow close to the bulb

I will have to raise the height of cut when I soon mow this

The next cut these will be shredded and mulched to the ground. Not the one on the right, its too soon

Another pet hate
Just as bad as tying in knots is cutting green leaves half way down. I go to the Worsbrough cemetery and on some graves I see it has been done  and  I cringe…..

Thursday 20 June 2013

Worsbrough Village St. Mary’s cemetery garden. June 17th, 2013.

My secret garden

Parts are wild and wooded

There are some interesting graves

Wild flowers and garden plants seed themselves around
Insect life thrives. The poached egg plant brings hoverflies which eat all the greenfly.

The fisherman fishes

No weeding needed here. All perennial weeds were eliminated before my garden plants were allowed to go wild.

The views were once of pit heaps and the cemetery was  a sea of nettles and brambles

Still an active cemetery, it is a quarter of a mile up the road from the church

“It looks rather wild”. I sometimes have to work out whether this is meant as a compliment or an insult!

I am always uplifted when I make my monthly maintenance visit

Monday 17 June 2013

Cuckoo love

People write to the Times when they hear their first cuckoo. They write to the Times when they don’t. Sadly the common cuckoo is no longer common. Why do we care so, about this thug?

The grey guise of the common cuckoo
Parasite, killer, mafia godfather, protection racketeer. Extortion, deception, intimidation retribution and ruthless exploitation are his crimes and yet we just love his spring song.

The common cuckoo
Worldwide there are many different cuckoos. In April, the common cuckoo arrives in Britain from Africa, its migratory home. Like many, but not all, other cuckoo species it is a brood parasite, laying its eggs in other birds nests. In the UK, pipits, reed warblers, dunnocks, pied wagtails and robins are a few of its unwilling hosts. In the case of our european cuckoo all of of the foster parent’s chicks are pushed out of the nest  as the cuckoo chick grows.
The common cuckoo in flight is reminiscent of a sparrow hawk and its fearsome sight  distracts the potential host and provides opportunity for the cuckoo to hastily deposit its egg. The egg has a hardened shell resistant to cracking when dropped in the nest.

There are seven distinct identities of the common cuckoo called gentes. Each gens (singular) is specific to an individual host. A cuckoo hatched in a reed warblers nest is imprinted by its foster mothers song and when in turn it lays its own eggs it is able to use this cue to seek out the reed warbler host. Each gente’s eggs are barely distinguishable from those of the host. There are nice pictures of egg mimicry on this interesting site.

Although the young cuckoo’s return flight to Africa is later than its natural parent, unerringly they find there way back to their ancestral home. 

Reed warbler 
Brood parasites, the cut and thrust of the evolutionary ams race
Look and learn Don Corleone, these are some of the strategies used by different species of  cuckoos  and hosts in this turf war.
  • Groups of potential victims will mob a cuckoo on sight. This is a learned recognition and is partially thwarted by the common cuckoo existing in two guises, one rather grey and the other with reddish brown colouration. Neighbouring birds will recognise one form but the other will sneak in.
  • If a bird detects a cuckoo egg has been laid, it will abandon its nest and rebuild elsewhere. If a potential host lays too early, the cuckoo will trash the nest and and spy out the new nest.
  • Cuckoos maintain surveillance over the host’s nest. They just don’t lay their egg and abandon it. One reference suggested it enforces the correct insectivorous diet!
  • The Spanish spotted cuckoo ‘allows’ one host chick to survive. Should the magpie foster mother detect a cuckoo egg and eject it, the cuckoo returns and destroys the complete nest and all its content. The threat of this retribution enforces the host to comply.
  • The Australian fairy wren is one step ahead of the cuckoo, it gives it’s offspring a password! Still in its egg the bird is imprinted with elements of the bird’s song. If this ‘note’ is not repeated in the fledglings cry, the nest is abandoned. The cuckoo’s egg laid later does not have time to imprint. Ergo, no password, its a cuckoo, abandon nest.
  • The foster hosts of the common cuckoo are starting to breed up to a week earlier. The migrant cuckoo might arrive too late. Most experts consider this is not the reason why our native cuckoo is in decline. I cannot help thinking it is a new salvo in the evolutionary war!
  • The cuckoo fledgling’s cry is so appealing, bird’s other than the foster parent have been known to provide food!
Magpie. Forced to comply by the Spanish Cuckoo in Andalucia, Spain
Common cuckoo, guise with rusty markings

Facts about the common cuckoo

  • In many European languages the name is onomatopoeic. In French cou cou, in German cuckuck and Italian cuculo.
  • It is only in Europe that the cry ‘cuckoo’ is heard, never in Africa, its migratory home. 
  • The cry is exclusive to the male and it’s double tone softens in June. “In June I change my tune”.
  • It has an insectivorous diet and noxious hairy caterpillars are a favourite food.
Common British hosts


Pied wagtail sometimes recognises and ejects cuckoo eggs
And we do love the cuckoo.
How can we not. He’s the balance of nature. Although we rarely see him, his call represents Spring. Nature is red in tooth and claw. Why should we blame him?

Harry Poole pictures  taken in his garden at Seaton Ross (other than reed warbler).

Cuckoo stink.
added April 2014

In 29th March issue of The New Scientist under the heading ‘Smelly cuckoo protects crow chicks’ is some very interesting information about the great spotted cuckoo. Daniella Canestrari in Spain has shown this parasite’s relationship with the carrion crow is elevated to symbiosis!  Apparently the cuckoo in the host crows nest produces an incredible foul smell from it’s cloaca. If you were a bird  predator I don’t expect you would savour its flavour. When predators were active the host crow successfully raised 40% more chicks when the cuckoo parasite was present rather than when the baby crows had a nest to themselves.

Thursday 13 June 2013

Garden myths discussed. The dust mulch theory

There are some gardeners who still believe that hoeing conserves water because it breaks up capillary pores through which water rises to the surface. Most modern gardeners will not have heard this notion and I am a little reluctant to repeat this myth and thereby promote it!  My contention today is that cultivating the soil surface does not conserve soil water.  

Sixty years ago when growers and farmers started to use herbicides it was believed soil cultivations had values other than control weeds (and they do). What would be the consequences of completely ceasing to cultivate when weedkillers were used? A number of research stations investigated the dust mulch theory and found that its application made no improvement to water conservation at all.

I did not want to dust mulch, but the rabbit insisted
The way of the world is to find earlier findings flawed. Later research showed in some circumstances dust mulching had a small beneficial effect. Most trials with a wide range of crops and on soils of many different textures compared traditional mulching of organic material with dust mulching and a control with no cultivation between crops at all. In all cases proper mulching was best. Dust mulching sometimes showed slight improvement on the uncultivated control but more often no difference at all.

Conventional mulch
A little soil science
The soil between plants only loses water to direct evaporation when wet. With tendency to dryness, soil gradually becomes ‘self mulching’ and evaporation stops. The amount lost is not insubstantial and varies with soil type. Typically it might lose between 10 to 30mm of water before evaporation  completely ceases. (Water loss restarts when the soil is rewetted at the surface by rain). Of course, crops continue to lose water via the leaves by transpiration as long as roots can find water. In a dry season plants substantially dehydrate the soil.

This unmulched uncultivated soil is dry at the surface and water loss by evaporation will have ceased. (Unfortunately the adjacent thirsty grass will extract water instead)

This soil at the base of this dried up pond will have ceased to evaporate water. The plant roots will continue to extract water pulled up by transpiration
Dust mulching
Light cultivation does disrupt capillary rise. However capillary rise ceases even without cultivation as the rate of upward movement of water slows to zero as the soil is depleted of water and dries. In colloquial  language the rate of capillary rise does not ‘keep up’ with evaporation and stops.

In gardening terms the dust mulch theory is often expressed as ‘hoeing conserves water’. Hoeing breaks capillary contacts but on the other hand more soil surface area is exposed to evaporation. Further-more light showers of rain will have poorer  penetration into loose soil than into uncultivated ground where cracks and worm channels provide a route for water absorption. On balance it would appear that in terms of water conservation it makes little difference if you hoe or not!

Why I disapprove of dust mulching
There are several reasons why dust mulching is not good land management practice.
  • Loose soil is vulnerable to wind and water erosion.
  • Particulate pollution of the atmosphere is caused by wind blown dust.
  • Soil organic matter is degraded by cultivation which in turn reduces the soil’s future water holding capacity.
  • After heavy rain capillary contacts are restored and if cultivations are not repeated the dust mulch is lost.
  • Overgenerous loosening of surface soil seriously reduces root capacity to benefit from light showers of rain.

But hoeing does conserve water by killing weeds!
Plants dehydrate the ground. I did not convince all of you that ground cover plants dehydrate the ground in my earlier post but in the case  of weeds there can be little doubt. My own perspective on hoeing  is that it should shallowly sever weeds from the ground and should not be used to ‘fluff up’ weed-free soil. Hoeing is an excellent way of controlling weeds-from-seed but in my post ‘Ring the changes with weed control’ I urge gardeners to also use herbicides and mulching.

A small idiosyncrasy of my own
I often take plants to my cemetery gardens. When dry conditions prevail I know I will not have opportunity to water them again. I sometimes heavily water-in the plant and then mulch around them with dry soil! My gamble is that this will give them time to establish if there is no rain. The loosing bet is when rain only comes as light showers!

I was fascinated by this dry-mulching equipment apparently used in Holland sixty years ago.

I believe gravel mulch to be the very best water conserver - from immediately it stops raining. My eucomis thrives on the preserved moistureI

Thursday 6 June 2013

6 Using glyphosate selectively

Unless you look very carefully you will not see sprayed weeds in my garden
I could not manage five acres of gardens without using glyphosate. I have explained in my previous posts how I have created diverse and naturalistic plantings of thousands of  healthy plants. I have also tried to show how my gardens provide rich habitats for wildlife. I know many of you do not agree with using glyphosate and I respect your view but for me it is an essential part of what I do.
I believe ‘Roundup’ is a most useful tool to create and maintain beautiful gardens  and the purpose of this series of posts is to share with fellow gardeners my experience of using  glyphosate over the last thirty years. So far I have described the ‘easy bits’ such as clearing an overgrown plot, clearing fence lines, spraying under coarse hedges, spraying pathways and drives and rough-grass edges inaccessible to mowers, spraying between widely spaced shrubs and under trees. All to varying degrees, are selective methods based on the directional action of the spray. Glyphosate does not know the difference between a plant and a weed. It potentially will kill them all!
There is a fine balance in the care needed when using glyphosate. I find to my horror some men just stand there and vaguely direct their spray in the hope that magically the weeds will be killed and the plants will not. Equally perplexing are those gardeners who faff around spraying a square meter in the time I spray a small garden! There is a happy medium!

It takes less than three minutes to spray my ‘acid border’
It is no secret why the horticultural press say little about using glyphosate among plants. Not only is it of no interest to most gardeners, in inexperienced hands it is an unfortunate way to damage and kill  plants. Too many things can go wrong! I am sure you have all seen ‘Roundup footprints’ across the lawn. I will go further. I do not want to persuade inexperienced gardeners to spray among delicate plants at all!  What I do want to do is to provide guidance for those who choose to spray to do it well.

Two of the main methods to achieve selectivity with glyphosate are the use of directional application and timing. An example of the latter is when bulbs are dormant you can safely spray above them, more about this principle in my next  glyphosate post!

There is no need to spray my herbaceous border now as the plants grow so close together but it would be ideal in winter
Although  counter-intuitive a professional knapsack sprayer with a long lance is the most accurate way to spray. It is important that the sprayer has a trigger to stop/start application and that the pressure can be adjusted by the pump handle to everything between a mere dribble and a full thrust of spray.
I found it completely inappropriate for ‘spot spraying’ the way our students were taught to spray by agricultural engineers who worked to professional specifications. They were taught to spray with almost continuous  liquid flow at constant pressure. (I once mistakenly bought a knapsack fitted with a constant pressure device and immediately threw the device away). Such methods are appropriate to agricultural situations where large uniform tracts need to be  sprayed accurately per unit area. The accuracy I am interested in is to kill the weeds and not the plants! 

Tips to achieve accurate directional spraying with a knapsack sprayer (spot spraying)
  • Only spray when there is no wind and it is absolutely still. Early in the morning is frequently best. Having said this many amateurs fear to spray in a light wind when their spray can be delivered safely at low pressure when the spray head is held low
  • Direct your spray down and/or angle it away from your garden plants.
  • The nearer the spray nozzle to the weed the greater the accuracy.
  • Vary the spray pressure with circumstances. For a few isolated weeds direct the nozzle close to the weed and give little more than a squirt. For larger weedy spaces hold the nozzle a little higher and pump a little harder.
  • Do not spray at too high a pressure. I usually achieve sufficient pressure with two to four thrusts on the handle - maintained by a single thrust as the pressure subsides. In truth, I find it difficult to describe what I do, it is so instinctive and varies with circumstances.
  • Do not attempt to control pressure with the trigger. It should be either, off or on!
  • Although it is wasteful and normally counter productive to spray to ‘run off’ I am quite happy for this to occur when spraying a rosette forming weed like epilobium in winter when ‘stem flow’ will direct it to the roots. Although leaving no horticulturally significant residue in the soil, glyphosate will be absorbed by basal roots for a little while.
  • Although it is normally alright for the bark of woody garden plants to be wetted any green plant tissue will absorb weedkiller.
  • Do not spray anywhere near soft actively growing plants. Unless you are exceptionally skilled the best weed control in your vegetable garden is with a hoe!
  • Normally use the glyphosate at the lowest recommended dilution.
  • Practice first. I once had a colleague who found his former employer expected him, on his own, to control weeds in a small park. He taught himself to spray accurately with pure water in his knapsack and carefully sprayed around upturned plant pots on a concrete surface. When he could wet the concrete and not the pots he rightly concluded that he was ready to spray!
  • Spray shields over the nozzle are often recommended and some gardeners swear by them. Personally I never use them. I prefer to see what I am doing!

Getting Roundup a bad name
Although to kill established perennial weeds they need to be allowed to make a full head of foliage, this is not the way to tackle ‘weeds from seed’  which should be sprayed when very small. Otherwise you get a mess like the above! The casual observer never sees sprayed weeds in any of my gardens.

Anyone unfamiliar with glyphosate spraying should read all these previous posts before attempting selective spraying.

If you read this post you might doubt my competence to spray.

This links to control of ‘weeds from seed’

Wednesday 5 June 2013

What should I call glyphosate?

I would get many more search engine ‘hits’ on my blog if I called it Roundup. Roundup seems to have become a generic name for glyphosate. It’s an interesting phenomenon when this kind of thing happens. To be clear, Roundup is the brand name for Monsanto’s glyphosate product. Glyphosate is the ‘abbreviated’ chemical name and is often referred to as the active ingredient.
Since when some years ago, exclusive production rights for glyphosate expired, many other glyphosate based products have come to the market. I have previously jested about the ingenious new brand names invented by rival companies.  Monsanto, of course, retain exclusive rights to the brand name Roundup. On a product, the brand name Roundup, can only be used by Monsanto and those companies who use the name under license.

Generic names

Some generic names are brand names that have lost their patent. When you take an aspirin, see cats eyes in the road, or wrap an item in cellophane you are using an expired brand name as a generic term. 
‘Hoover’, ‘sellotape’  and ‘biro’ are all examples of brand names that have not expired but are commonly used as generic terms by the public. ‘Roundup’ now seems to be the colloquial word of choice that gardeners use when referring to glyphosate.

Can you think of other horticultural examples?
  • Rotavator - a rotary cultivator.
  • Hayter - a rotary mower. This was widely used when I was young. The name rotary mower seems to have reasserted itself now.
  • Flymo - a hover mower.
  • Arbrex - tree sealant.
  • Astra turf - artificial turf.
Can anyone think of any other examples?
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