Archive | February 2012

Chinese Lanterns – Just one reason why I don’t cut back everything in winter

I like to leave many plants standing through winter. For some plants, the seeds attract and feed the birds and small rodents, for some plants leaving last year’s growth on can help protect next year’s crown of new leaves.

In mid-winter, I really like the spears of stalks rising to the sky, often with frost or snow making gorgeous spires, the various shapes adding interest to the garden. I feel a garden that has been over-tidied is a sadder place in the winter for missing all of this.

A great example of this is the Chinese Lanterns, physalis alkekengi, well known for the orange papery lanterns during the autumn, but don’t cut them all off, leave them in place and you’ll see the lanterns turn into a wiry skeleton surrounding the fruit, that you can still handle.


I’ve only got one plant, so have just planted some of the seeds, let’s hope I can plant and have a few of these unusual plants around the garden next year.



How many snowdrops in a patch?

I love bulbs (not as much as I love trees), they can be planted and forgotten and happily come up year after year and surprise you.  I especially love those that fight through the winter months and poke their heads up in the new year; crocuses, muscari and, of course, snowdrops.

I have so many bulbs (later tulips, gladioli, fritallaria – of course probably a few too many narcissi) that I often find that wherever I dig I find one, but then, I just move it and have continued to spread the beauty around the garden.  I like the bulbs mixing with each other and in between other plants, so happily find that near the end of a day’s gardening I have a bucket of bulbs ready to be replanted somewhere else.

Anyway, on to the snowdrops.  I love snowdrops planted in the grass, as they can flower and start dying back before I need to mow, but the question I was asked the other day is “how many snowdrops makes a good patch?”

I guess the obvious answer would be “as many as you can afford”, but happily they multiply and spread over the years, so I guess have a look at your neighbours and see what you like then decide how long you can wait.  I tend to find in my garden that snowdrops double in number (and flower) in around 4 years, don’t forget a little bit of food as they die back and perhaps you’ll do even better, sometimes you can find a singleton has produced a new friend even on year two.

But how many make a nice spread?  I have to admit that a single snowdrop looks rather sad to me, so I’m not likely to spread them around so widely that they look like individual white spots on the lawn.  I recommend that you should plant a block of at least ten at a time, but definitely the more, the merrier.

This photo contains around 150 flowering snowdrops and I have four similar patches around the garden, but it is never enough.  So, I just bought another 1,000 bulbs online for 60UKP, come on that’s only 6p each, plant once and you’ll never regret it – that will easily make another 5 or 6 big patches that will continue to spread in future years.

To plant them I simply get a normal-sized spade and dig two sides of a triangle down to around 12Cm or 4 inches and peel the lawn back, throw in a few bulbs and push the grass back – “’tis but the work of a moment”.

Can’t wait for them to arrive…


Brambles: A little hard work is all it needed

My blog entry of Jan 29th “Sleeping Beauty’s forest needs a trim” showed Dave’s allotment and the huge infestation of brambles that needed to be cleared.

Well, after a few weekends, phase one is finished.  The most useful tool by far was the sickle, swung with gay abandon and yet neither of us managed to cut off the feet of the other.

Allotment "after" image

Of course, nothing comes for free and the brambles did their best to get their own back – we are both covered with scratches, but we’ve got phase one finished, now just the roots to deal with.

He’s going for digging them up, perhaps I am just impatient, but I think I’d recommend rotovating the whole area and deal with the new growths as they come up.

Still, there’s more to do as he has a second area that he has taken on next month – still it will be great to watch and record his progress, and help out occasionally.



Plastic topiary – I feel a rant coming on …

OMG what? What? What?

Can I believe it? Well I suppose so.  Plastic topiary; it looks horrible, it certainly doesn’t look natural, its horrible to touch, and its bloody well more expensive than the real thing!

Yes, here’s a photo (and I apologise for making you see it) of a £25 bunch of green plastic on green plastic feet of course that you too can plonk on your patio and make yourself the laughing stock of all your friends.

Do NOT buy this

Worse still, I see some larger ones at £65.  Amazingly the same DIY store has real ones for sale that are lower-priced and alive.

I’m trying to be charitable and think when it might be appropriate…. thinks …

Inside at an exhibition?  No – it makes you look cheap.
Inside a shop? No – everyone will assume your products are similarly tacky.
In your own house? Please, not unless it is part of a train set of huge proportions.
In your garden or on your patio? Absolutely not.
In a conservatory? Only if you have dogs that kill anything alive.

If I ever see anyone buying these, I might have to rugby-tackle them to the floor and shout in their ears “What the hell are you doing, you idiot?”

Understanding USDA Hardiness Zone outside the USA

If like me, you read articles about gardening written by our US cousins, you’ll probably find reference to the United States department of Agriculture hardiness zone.

You might immediately switch off as there’s no equivalent map for the UK and so you’ve no idea which one you are in. Here’s a bit of help and then you can read these articles too. Perhaps if enough people ask, I’ll try to work out an equivalent UK map and post it here, let me know.

So, what is it?   Their text says this:

Plant hardiness zone designations represent the average annual extreme minimum temperatures at a given location during a particular time period. They do not reflect the coldest it has ever been or ever will be at a specific location, but simply the average lowest winter temperature for the location over a specified time. Low temperature during the winter is a crucial factor in the survival of plants at specific locations.

And happily, the map has both Celsius and Fahrenheit.

The USDA has just updated its map (January 2012), see press release here:

The map itself is here:

I would say that in my garden in North Bucks, the average lowest Winter temperature is around -8C, so that puts me in region 8B (between -9.4 and -6.7C).

So, now I know and I can read gardening articles from the USA with more understanding of the likely success of plants in mine, any plant that is considered hardy only in regions with a higher number than 8B are likely to be a problem for me.

My dry wild corner

Gardens are much more alive with insects, birds and animals in it.  The sounds of the birds chirping, the buzz of the bees, watching butterflies flit around all make gardens magical.

We are lucky enough to have wild ducks, moorhens and pheasants hiding in the trees and bushes, they come out foraging for food during the day, common and great-crested newts in and around the pond and the occasional montjac deer in early mornings nibbling at the young trees – and that’s all fine, live and let live.  One year we had a pair of Canadian geese who raised 5 goslings, I was less thrilled about that – as they poop once every five minutes that part of the garden was getting messy – happily one day they just disappeared and when the pair returned the following year, next door had got a new dog who knew who belonged in the garden and who didn’t – so though they hung around for a couple of weeks landing and looking around, the dog tried chasing them back to Canada and they haven’t returned since.

Anyway, where was I?  Oh yes – wild areas.

So, I tolerate nettles in parts of the garden (not everywhere, I’m not mad!), don’t fastidiously tidy up, allow branches and leaves to rot on the ground in the wooded areas, have an area overrun by brambles and I have my dry, wild corner – a great place to throw unwanted bricks, broken pots etc.  Hopefully the toads, beetles, spiders and newts like it – I am sure the snails do (its a long way from any garden flowers or veg) – all part of sharing my garden with the rest of the animal kingdom where they can get a bit of rest, a bit of shelter and perhaps the newts can sunbathe in the summer sunshine

dry wild area

Dry wild area

Don’t say there’s no plants in Winter

Snowdrops, hellebores and cyclamen!  Early flowering trees (viburnam), periwinkle, heathers, various alpine plants, then the coloured leaves of so many plants, the architectural pieces of last year’s stems, personally I think there’s lots to see in the garden in winter – maybe the reason so many gardens look sad is that in previous winters the owners didn’t wrap up and go to the garden centres to see what was out and available.  So off you go, buy something now and it’ll look good next year.

What else is there to say?  All looking lovely, take a look.

Winter blossom on vibernum





hellbores (and Hart's Tongue Fern in front)