Wednesday 27 November 2013

Why gardeners dig: to sever unwanted roots

My posts in this series explore why gardeners cultivate the soil. In some cases I carry out the same cultivations myself. In other cases I do not share gardeners’ methods but appreciate their good reasons within their system of management to do so. In the case of deeply cultivating amongst established plants I firmly disapprove. Today I shall sit on the fence!

Protecting my allotment

Many years ago I had an allotment. It was a long strip of ground alongside a private garden. I have boasted in a previous post how my none dug soil was black with organic matter and highly fertile. One day I went down to my allotment and found to my complete devastation that my neighbour had planted a leyland cypress hedge on his side of the boundary! I sulked for a week! That wretched plant, would suck my beautiful soil dry of water and nutrients, not to mention stealing my light if it was allowed to  grow high.
I resolved every couple of years to dig a two-spit deep foot-wide trench on my edge of the boundary. I have no idea if cutting the hedge roots did much good to my garden but I felt  better for it. Although perfectly legal, in the interest of neighbourly relations I waited until my neighbours were out!
It did not appear to do the hedge any obvious harm. Unfortunately.
I never quite determined  how many cypress roots  grew up from depth into my plot!

My present undug vegetable garden is lined with a 1.5 m.privet hedge separated by a 1m path. I no longer dig a trench! There is a small but not very significant fall-off in the quality of my plants near the hedge. 

Planting under trees

Most of my ‘other’ gardens are rather well wooded. I frequently plant under trees in my cemetery gardens. Other than making a slit or a small planting hole I never dig. Planting some times almost breaks my wrist. It would be impractical, time consuming and in my opinion, a waste of my energy to dig in any conventional way. (And in an old cemetery one might not be quite sure what you might dig up). Undoubtably there is competition to plants from tree roots. 

Nature faces this problem of competition all the time and plants have evolved  to compete.The natural ecology of an un-dug soil is such that woodland plants are well able to grow under trees. There are factors such as existing mycorrhiza, natural cracks where dead tree roots have decayed away, mulches of leaf litter and all the benefits of earthworms.
I would argue that digging such a soil, although it would make the process of planting much easier would in the long term be detrimental. Tree roots are amazingly quick to recolonise and exploit new loosened soil. I shudder at the thought of all those  water-hungry exploring young fibrous tree roots competing with my plants.

As a contrast to my more natural planting, I have in my minds eye, a picture of Victorian parks (no I’m not that old, but you know what I mean), where walks under trees were sometimes lined with borders of bedding plants. Because of aggressive invading tree roots they were dug every year.

Good gardening reasons for cutting roots

  • Undercutting nursery stock. When nurseryman grow ‘open ground’ shrubs and trees to ensure a compact root system they routinely undercut the plants with mechanical equipment. On a small scale it can be done with a spade.
  • When planning to move a well established shrub or small tree it is sometimes  good practice to anticipate the event by severing spreading roots several months before the operation. Some gardeners dig a trench around the plant and back-fill with fibrous material to encourage new compact peripheral roots. (I also firmly recommend reducing the tops when moving old plants).
  • Root pruning is a traditional and very effective way of keeping vigorous plants smaller. Think of bonsai!
  • There is increasing evidence that when transplanting trees and shrubs that if distal roots are damaged it is best to cut them off and let the more central healthy roots regenerate.
  • Although I do not transplant my own leeks many gardeners do and ‘top and tail’ them. It goes against my own instincts but it is common practice.

Thursday 21 November 2013

Reasons not to dig 9. Your garden plants will more successfully self seed

Poor weed control is the major reason why one might fail to establish desirable self seeded plants and inadvertently kill them. Minimum cultivation allied to enlightened weed control makes it easy to encourage self seeded plants. Many other benefits of minimum cultivation such as a fertile soil surface also satisfies self seeding success!

I have written before about how deeply buried weed seeds lie dormant in the ground for as many as a hundred years. This enforced dormancy is due to diverse factors such as lack of the stimulus of light, lower levels of oxygen, low soil temperatures and much more. It is essential for its own survival that seed does not germinate buried deep in the ground. The effect of digging and other deep cultivations is to bring weed seeds to the surface where when released from natural inhibitions they germinate as soon as weather conditions suit. It is fundamental to good weed control that such weeds are killed before they self seed. It is not for nothing the old adage, ‘one year’s seeding, seven years weeding’. If you stop bringing dormant weeds to the surface, then over a few years you build up a cycle of virtue so that every time the soil is gently disturbed you do not get a mountain of weeds. In a previous post I suggested how under such a regime in the vegetable garden you can broadcast seed such as carrots and leeks. You do not need rows to actually find them and hoe between them!

Under minimum cultivation regimes the surface soil is very fertile. It is near the surface that seeds germinate best. Nature has very efficiently adapted self sown seed to insinuate itself into the soil. Natural cracks, decaying surface litter and a receptive seedbed due to casting worms are some of the natural factors that make the undisturbed soil ready to receive and germinate seed. Zero cultivation is even better than methods where even shallow cultivation might scrape away unnoticed seedlings. After many years of minimal cultivations I can now readily spot any exciting new seedlings and not kill them when I weed.
There are other techniques used by minimal cultivators that encourage self seeding success. Organic mulches, for example are very receptive to seed. Gravel mulches with their superb water conservation properties are particularly ideal - providing they do not overlay plastic!

Plants that self seed in my own gardens

I have written before of self seeding hardy annuals, biennials and short lived perennials. Today I will say no more about them other than they serve a significant role. Here are some less well known examples of self seeding plants. Needless to say, there will be no seeding after thoughtless dead heading!
  • Bulbs. My dwarf tulips really love their gravel mulch and clumps of many varieties grow bigger each year. Naturalised lenten lilies, winter aconites, scillas, chionodoxas, crocus and anemones readily self sow in my borders. I am particularly fond of a patch of an accidental but fortunate mis-planting, where triteleia has prolifically self seeded amongst my agapanthus. Misrepresented by suppliers who wrongly mislabel triteleia as ‘minature agapanthus’, it looks really good flowering between the real agapanthus foliage before its own flowers appear. Fritillaria meleagris now grows everywhere in the moister parts of my garden. There is galtonia and so much more.
Even agapanthus self sows itself
  • Hellebors. Most species freely self seed and germinate as if they were mustard and cress every Spring. Helleborus orientalis is a particular favourite.
  • Dicentra. As holder of the National Collection the prolific germination in February of Dicentra  formosa can make it a weed. I have in the past grown-on such seedlings to select some fine plants. Seed raised Dicentra formosa are different from their parents!
  • Cyclamen. C. neapolitanum, and C.coum with the help of the ants are all over the place.

These cyclamen had a little help from me when I scattered the seed
  • Tender annuals and perennials. Some such as Ipomoea, Nicotiana sylvestris and Dahlia merckii are opportunistic and if there is a warm wet spell for example in April, they germinate freely. Most are destined to be killed by frost! I regularly furcul out and pot up seedlings of Dahlia merckii that go into my unheated greenhouse to sell on my open day a month or so later.

This self sown copper foliage dahlia has been undisturbed for three years
  • Shrubs and trees. Cotoneaster horizontalis, Daphne mezeurium  and Piptanthus laburnifolius supply me with stock of new plants.

This pittosporium has sown itself into a lovely long suffering prostanthera

  • Climbers. Some clematis such as Yellow Clematis tangutica and wonderful long flowering Eccremocarpus scaber are very welcome but can be a bit of a nuisance.

This Summer-long flowering climber gets everywhere

  • Vegetables. Today on 1st November, Brenda has just produced a beautiful starter of juicy conference pears, laced with a blue cheese sauce and laid on a copious bed of rocket served with balsamic vinegar. I am too lazy to sow rocket, coreander and spinach beet in my vegetable garden but they give me a degree of continuity when they self sow themselves and are there when the cook requests them! You will have gathered from my vegetable posts that I am not very tidy and I reclassify otherwise unwanted self seeded plants as a green manure! My self sown parsley and some of my seed raised asparagus reside in my flower garden!

 Self sown weed in my veg garden
  • Wild flowers - often bird borne You might imagine that because I spray glyphosate in my cemetery gardens there would be few wild flowers. You would be completely wrong. They are all over the place and I am sure I will be posting about them one day. Just a few of dozens of examples include honeysuckle, alpine strawberries and violets. When I look around these gardens I find that I have planted very few of the plants!
Unwanted self sown plants

  • Wind blown weeds. Epilobiums are the bane of my life and dandelions are generally unwelcome.
  • Over prolific garden plants. It there are too many of an otherwise desirable self sown plant they become weeds. Treat them as such. It is ironic that in one place you treat them with tender love and care and a few yards away you kill them. Dead head if you do not want any at all!  There are many examples of such unwanted plants. Here are a few. Bluebells, chives, lychnis, campion, poppies, Corydalis luteum, nigella, antirrhinum and limnanthes. Don’t get me wrong, I love them all but  I don’t want too many!
  • Trees. The wonderful soil surface created by long term minimum cultivation provides superb conditions for seedling trees. Willow, hawthorn, birch, sycamore and buddleia need to be ruthlessly removed before they take over. I know many gardens overgrown years later by an unwelcome originally unnoticed self sown forest tree.

I amazed myself when I took this picture of a section of my gravel garden that nine different  plants had put themselves there

I met a reader the other day who did not realise that the highlights in the text are links

Tuesday 19 November 2013

Short post about short posts - wooden statues

The talent of Mick Needham

Our former neighbour popped round today. Mick carved the cat, now decaying with fungus, that I portrayed in last week’s post. He has been recuperating from quite a serious operation and had been bored. He is now pinky-perky, I have never seen him so well. He brought me these beautiful pictures of how he has been amusing himself at home.
I mentioned the rotting stump in Cathi’s garden next door. He said “what a shame” and went on to comment, “these things are not cast in stone”. He paused and realised how appropriate his remark. He is himself both a gifted sculptor of stone and a very fine stonemason.

He also works in lead and when he and Janet departed for South Lincolnshire gave us a fine lead mask for our garden.

I could not resist showing you these two pictures of Janet's chickens.

Wednesday 13 November 2013

I have honey fungus in my garden and am unconcerned

Armillaria mellea, Honey fungus, bootlace fungus. These three names describe the fungus that bring a shudder of fear to most gardeners. To read the gardening press honey fungus is the kiss of death to a garden! The story goes that black rootlike, shoelace-like, fungus strands invade the whole garden from dead tree stumps roots as they spread to new hosts. It is true, it does spread that way as it insinuates it’s way through the soil. But I consider that in most gardens armillaria does very little harm.
There are some significant exceptions and many gardeners will say I am very complacent!

My oenothera is being strangled

Girdled with black rhizomorphs
I am grateful to former student and landscape designer Davy Blakemore who spotted  fungus fructifications on the stump of a dead tree in my garden. I was lifting some plants for him and we found this fantastic example of a seemingly strangulated oenothera garlanded with a beautiful necklace of the toadstool spore-fruiting body. I could sense Davy draw his breath and noticed the look of fear in his eyes. Dare he refuse the plants that his former tutor was giving him? Clearly he had not attended my lectures!

I was thrilled to find this rare example of a plant in the process of being invaded. The next morning I rushed down the road to show it to plant biologist Peter Williams. Like a good scientist he suggested we wash it to examine it more clearly, and then to dissect it. He immediately set to work with his scalpel. Anticipating the likely controversial line in my blog I casually observed that the infected oenothera looked healthy and vigorous. Could it be that rather than being a harmful fungus invasion, that it was a developing mycorrhizal association? Peter is an expert on mycorrhiza and quickly dismissed my suggestion  He is too nice to be rude and after consideration explained why this was a rather silly idea.

Black bootlace has emerged from the ground

Case study 1. My first experience of armillaria

Forty five years ago when we moved into our new house in Bolton Percy we called our home Betula and planted a Young’s Weeping Birch! The house adjacent was called Corylus. Much subtler as the family name was Hazel! The house across the narrow country lane was called Ashdown. The relevant ash was in my new garden, it had been cut back to a huge five foot bore stump. It was the start of my lifetime experience of cutting down trees as close to the ground as one could go without damaging a chainsaw, but not wasting energy digging  them out or hiring a stump grinder. I resolved to make the stump an attractive garden feature by covering it with clematis and other scrambling plants. I suppose it was the  start of my mingle-mangling! I feared the stump might eventually get honey fungus.
And sure enough after five years I saw the first fructifications on the tree stump and very soon later armillaria toadstools appeared in my lawn. Not being confident of my identification - I still fear to eat a wild common mushroom - I took it to college. My botanist friend Mike Ashford walked into my office, declared “nothing wrong with that” and took it home and ate it. Apparently armillaria fructifications taste quite delicious.
An so the saga started. Bootlaces threaded everywhere. I was already a no dig gardener and rarely encountered the fungal rhizomorphs but they were to be discovered up to forty yards away from the stump. When Tim and Ben were toddlers we took up our plastic lined pond and converted to a more childproof bog garden. The underside of the plastic was covered with a beautiful matrix of grasping fingers. They looked rather like the tentacles of a Doctor Who monster clawing to emerge from a subterranean grave!

This acacia was killed in 2010 by the cold. I cut it to the ground and for no good reason it was covered with soil. When I removed the soil it exposed these invading ‘claws’ 

The point of my story is that in the next twenty years I never lost a plant. I did joke that perhaps I lost a flag iris and having seen the top picture I can now envisage it’s demise! I rationalized my experience by concluding that plant death is often a syndrome; a combination of susceptible plant species, plant age, soil conditions - especially  drought and poor drainage - and the actual pathogen. Further research - we could not google then - suggested that there might be more virulent strains.

Case study 2. No plant harmed by the fungus, killed by a bureaucrat’s pen.
Chestnut avenue was a beautiful track lined by sixty magnificent old trees. A new road was to be constructed in our village of Bolton Percy.There were two alternative routes.The crux of the affair and close to the heart of the whole village community, was whether Chestnut Avenue was to be widened with the necessary demise of the trees. It was due to go to court where the result would be decided in a typical British way.
One hired ‘expert’ found strands of armillaria. The trees were doomed! Such is the reputation of honey fungus, the case never came forward and the trees were felled. Dammit, where-ever there are old trees there will be signs of armillaria. Old trees and armillaria go together like chalk and cheese. The fungus was doing no significant harm. The trees were good for another sixty years. What a shame.

Somebody found black bootlaces

Case study 3. Very real damage
We were on a student tour and visited a famous parkland in Cheshire. It had a very fine grove of ancient one hundred year old rhododendrons. The whole avenue was gradually dying, killed by armillaria. The manager was beside himself. He cursed and feared armillaria with very good reason.
Some plants such as rhododendron, lilac and privet are particularly susceptible to honey fungus when they are very old. Honey fungus will gain some kind of ascendency over the years when soil conditions are bad. Often poor drainage will create bad aeration and root death. Dead roots and woody organic material sustain the fungus and the death of deep roots  make the effects of periods of drought more severe. It’s wet enough in Cheshire at the best of times and some of their soils are heavy. It had been a particularly wet season. Who knows it might have been a particularly virulent fungus strain? 
I would argue that it is rare and very real events such as this one that gives rise to the fearsome reputation of this normally ubiquitous and often insignificant fungus.

Case study 4. A new on-going case
So my old friend has returned at the top of my new garden. It must have been with me unnoticed for a few years now, growing from the stumps of any of a dozen cut back trees. All my plants in the infected part of my garden (bar one) are healthy. I have also discovered black fungus rhizomorphs next door in Cathi’s garden where I am in the process of replanting. Sorry Cathi I have not yet broken the alarming news to you that your soil is a seething mass of black bootlaces but I assure you that you have  nothing to fear. 

There are a lot of dead tree stumps in Cathi’s garden

Hot off the press, now that I am suddenly recognizant of this invader I have noticed another dead stump emitting the characteristic melliferous smell at the bottom of my garden!
Now I have found armillaria invading my garden I must look again at a rather tired looking old lilac, a known susceptible genus. For some years now I have pondered it’s removal. Perhaps I should start to panic, another susceptible species, an old flowering cherry is just a few boot steps away!  It is extremely healthy. Over the last twelve years I have established about seventy  different uncommon trees in my garden. Can I be certain that in another ten years they will  still be there?

You can see that I have already in effect written off this lilac by allowing ivy to invade. 
Am I being too complacent?

No, not in my own garden, but yes in terms of being a worldwide problem. I would have liked to merely report that armillaria is a force for good in nature’s carbon cycle and a desirable mycorrhizal host for certain wild orchids and other rare plants. Unfortunately I cannot deny in certain sectors of forestry and orchard production it is a significant scurge. You can see on the net sections of hillsides where hundreds of tree have been killed by this fungus. Large financial resources have been invested in investigating it’s control. Some areas of land are infected with huge bio-masses of infective fungal rhizomorphs. In some cases they are hundreds or even thousands of years old, repeatedly refreshed by new generations of trees. Some of these biomasses are genetically identical, in effect a huge monster.

Armillaria mellea and it’s many relatives - there are at least seven British species, not to mention individual strains - can be a real problem.
It’s just that I want to suggest the world is a very big place and that there are millions of acres including your own garden, where the fungus  will be present and need not be a cause for concern.

 More armillaria

 Armillaria bootlaces have been likened to fibre optic cables of parallel strands of fungus hypha

Photographed on our recent Tyne walk, Amonita the fly agric fungus has a symbiotic relationship with birch 
Photographed on our recent Tyne walk, Amonita the fly agric fungus has a symbiotic relationship with birch 

Can anyone tell me if this is the Turkey Tail bracket  fungus growing on a cut back birch in Bolton Percy churchyard?

Thursday 7 November 2013

What is a biennial?

Biennials explained

Many gardeners don’t ‘get’ bienniality. They know that a biennial is a plant that completes its life cycle in two years, They know that it germinates, grows and accumulates resources in the first season; overwinters, flowers, sets seed and dies in the second.
It then gets complicated! - I will contrast these variations
 * Forget-me-nots set seed which germinates immediately and new plants flower and set seed the next year.
 *Parsley sets seed that naturally germinates in the following Spring. It makes a strong plant in the first season and after the Winter’s cold makes a vigorous flowering plant that sets seeds and dies. Inexperienced gardeners sometime sow parsley in Autumn and get runty little plants with unwanted  flowers!
 * Honesty seed (like parsley) only matures at the end of the season. If it is mild in Winter some seed germinates and its cold requirement is satisfied and it produces  flowers on tiny plants in Spring. Such premature germination is best avoided by collecting seed and sowing in Spring
It is the consequences of the biennial life cycle to practical growing that we need to understand.

 Biennial echium produces ten foot spikes in its second and final year

Evening primrose in the year of germination and setting seed the following year

To be fair if we are to go by definitions in the botany books - such as the one I have given - biennial plants don’t understand  bienniality either, (and perhaps I should mention ‘bienniality’ isn’t  even in the dictionary!)  Many biennial plants just do not behave like the book says!

I used to explain the meaning of biennial by using vegetables such as carrot, swede or parsnip as examples. Such plants accumulate reserves in their roots which they ‘spend’ when they flower the next season. In most cases we eat biennial vegetables before they flower, set seed and die the next year! 
Most biennial plants need the Winter’s cold to prime them to flower later in the year. This cold requirement is an example of vernalization which literally means ‘preparing for spring’. 

Seedsmen need their biennial vegetables to flower to get seed!

Although most biennials store reserves in their root, any part of the plant has potential for food storage. The onion bulb is a kind of underground/surface bud, and above ground a brussel sprout is also a bud. Biennials like parsley store food in their stem and leaves as well as their roots. A cabbage is a tight cluster of leaves. All of the above vegetative structures store food for the next year. Nature is endlessly resourceful although in the case of many vegetables it is with the help of the plant breeder. In cases such as brassicas, plant breeders have sometimes bred out the bienniality and for such as cauliflowers, not only are they grown like an annual they will  actually complete their life cycle in a single year.

Sprouting broccoli normally produces edible shoots and subsequent seed the following year. Not this one which has behaved as an annual.

If you want your biennials to make strong plants for their second season, perhaps for a strong head of flowers, or in the case of vegetables to eat a lot more parsley leaves or brussel sprouts they must be sown sufficiently early. It is vitally important that they have time to build up their reserves. A good guide is to sow hardy biennials such as Canterbury bells, evening primroses and many others when they naturally set seed. In many cases it is even better to let them sow themselves. If in doubt when to sow seed of biennial flowers sow them in late Spring. Beware some biennial vegetables such as beetroot which if sown too early are vernalized by the cold and flower - described as ‘bolting’!

Brussel sprouts, a very interesting biennial
As mentioned they store their reserves in the buds. ‘Food’ no doubt is also stored in the thick stems as well as their leaves. If it is a good winter the leaves continue to photosynthesize and make extra nourishing sugars. Do not  eat the tops too soon, their continued activity will support further sprouts in Spring. In fact you get a feast in late Spring when the sprouts start to shoot and make flower - as biennials are programmed to do. They would not sell in Tesco but the sprouting sprouts and flower buds are the very best vegetable I know. Manipulate the bienniality  of ‘brussels’ to get six months of Winter and Spring vegetables from a single sowing! 
Sprout plants are botanically very interesting when they are invaded by disease such as common brassica downy mildew. Their genetic aim is to flower next year using stored resources which are mainly in the sprouts and tops. Old leaves on the stalk are an expendable resource especially as they are shaded and winter light is poor. Rather than fight invading mildew with ‘resource expensive’ natural toxins they let these leaves yellow and die. They conserve their stored food reserves and keep the buds healthy. In my view it is foolish if in a good season when their is no downy mildew to remove lower leaves - as is common practice - when they are green.

Biennials not ‘getting’ bienniality 
Plants do always comply with botany books and most can behave as an annual or perennial if the mood takes them! These are some common causes of biennials not being biennial.
  • Honesty sometimes germinates from the current years seed in late Autumn. It does not have time to make a strong plant as it would normally do. It overwinters as a seedling and is stimulated by the winters cold to try and flower in Spring.It does this rather pathetically but may set a few seeds. Strictly this still qualifies as a biennial but in my opinion it is more like an annual that spans one year to the next.
My variegated honesty gives two season’s of interest

Variegated honesty is green in its first season if it germinates in early summer but it will have beautiful variegated leaves when it flowers  in Spring. If these scruffy leaves are cut back now it will still flower but not as well as if you leave them alone..

The honesty seed of the current year has just germinated in October. It will flower in Spring but it will not be special.
  • Foxgloves are a law to themselves. They seed everywhere, even in very heavy shade. I once had a student who sowed them abnormally early in a heated glasshouse in January for his plot project. When bedded out they were magnificent that Spring. In fact nowadays there are some annual strains that you can buy from the seedsman; that’s not to mention those foxglove strains that are short lived perennials. Even the ordinary foxglove behaves as a perennial and flowers for at least one extra season if it is thwarted in flowering - perhaps chopped back early and not allowed to set seed.
  • Some biennials if they fail to make a strong plant in their first year take an extra year, sometimes even two, before they flower and die. My featured giant ferula behaves in this way.
I collected  and sowed this ferula seed last year and these pathetic plants are all I have one year later. They will not have the resources to flower next year.

But in 2015 they will be quite magnificent.

  • I used to say that wallflowers were perennials grown as a biennial. I think I was wrong. Most common bedding wallflowers seem to be genetically programmed to flower in Spring and die. There are of course many other lovely wallflowers that are ‘short lived perennials’ and the yellow one featured cannot decide what to do.
Both the wallflower and the forget-me-not self seed each year. Neither are quite sure whether to flower again the following year and be a short lived perennial!

Lychnis coronarius is usually a short lived self seeding perennial!

Forget-me not and Love in a mist will both flower next year. Why is the mysotis a biennial and the nigella an annual? 

Annuals that span two years
I have recently mentioned  annuals such as nemophila, and limnanthes (the poached egg plant) that set seed and die between May and July and germinate in August/September. They make very few flowers in Autumn but flower magnificently the next year.I have currently got tiny seedlings of self sown nigella (love-in-a-mist) which will  bravely overwinter. Many annual house plants such as cineraria and calceolaria also span successive years, usually flowering  about Christmas time and dying in early Spring. I would suggest that none of these are examples of biennials. But I am not sure I can give you an adequate explanation why! Perhaps someone will embarrass me by enquiring why on the above criteria I do not regard ‘forget-me-not’ as an annual! Clearly I don’t ‘get’ biennials either!

Growing parsley, parsley all year round
If you let your parsley set seed in its second year it will sow itself and the young plants will give you continuity of production. Because nature plays the odds to maximize its success all the seed will not germinate at the same time, nor will you have much control where the seedlings appear but I promise there will be plenty. As one who now admits to not ‘getting’ biennials I have a small difficulty here. I really cannot remember whether the seed in my parsley bed germinates in the year of production or the following early summer. I suspect both and this ensures that each year there is seed in the ground to provide renewal of my plants.
Now I do not claim to have parsley quite all of the winter. It depends on the year. Brenda will sometimes request parsley in January and I might scrabble around and in triumph find a handful of leaves not killed by the cold. (The parsley will probably be for my parsley and chopped egg sandwiches which I love when I get back from bridge late every Tuesday night). By February the parsley has grow some new leaves and is a little stronger. From then on it  goes  from strength to strength. By June we are embarrassed with parsley and the plants start to prolifically flower and seed. On a few of the plants I cut off the attempting seed heads to ensure continuity of my sandwiches! Eventually the mature plants die (or perhaps a few of those I did not let seed do not?). By this time we have lots of strong new plants that germinated in Spring to continue the cycle.Brenda is delighted that a few of the seedlings have ‘reverted’ to the none curly type which she says have greater flavour.

Current years germination of parsley. Last years plants have by now scattered seed which will provide next year’s plants.

Photographed in November, this seed will not germinate until next Spring

One tip if you are growing parsley for the first time. It takes up to about six weeks to germinate. Some gardeners won’t find their seedlings among the weeds! Sow a few seeds in a small pot and a few weeks after germination pop the complete rootball of seedlings straight in the ground.

Seaton Ross village plot will be a sea of blue forget-me-nots in April
I get carried away with my Brussels sprouts
I have a soft spot for the poached egg plant, an annual that spans two seasons

Friday 1 November 2013

Open day photographic competition

A big thank you to the five of you who entered my photographic competition. Here are some of their lovely photographs of my gardens in September. I have taken the liberty of adding a comment about some of the pictures. Davy Blakemore had a slight advantage as he came to the garden later in the month when there was more Autumn colour. I have nominated at the end of this post an overall winner rather than a single picture.

Miles Harris

My dwarf sedums are often unobserved by visitors but not by the bees

John Little

This aquatic  in my pond is a bit of a thug
Clematis fargesioides in Bolton Percy cemetery. It more or less dies down in winter and from July flowers all Summer and Autumn. It also seeds itself around 
Short lived perennial which prolifically sets seed

David Blakemore

An interesting hybrid between an aster and a golden rod

All forms of Sedum spectabile are wonderful for buttterflies and bees

Evening primrose I extend the flowering season by giving it a late Chelsea chop

Only survived the 2010 Winter on my best drained soil
This aquatic euphorbia grows well on poorly drained soil
It has been a struggle with the rabbits but we are winning now.

The cercidophyllum tree on the left has a long lasting and powerful candy floss smell.

Don’t neglect the Autumn colour of herbaceous perennials such as hostas

Jenna Brogden aged 12

Agapanthus likes sunshine
Phlox growing in a very narrow border next to the house, most of its roots are in the hardcore of the drive


The annual amaranthus and ornamental grass were sown in April in my cold greenhouse

and the winner is Jenna Brogden

A ten pound voucher is on its way. Thank you Jenna, your imaginative photos show a  real talent.

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