Archive | April 2012

The lesson from moving a tree

All the books say it; “think how large your tree/bush will grow before you plant it” and “remember the ultimate height of the tree as you don’t want to move it”, and, of course, “think how fast your tree will grow”, but do we???

Hands up the one perfect person that has always considered the ultimate height, the ultimate spread, the speed of growth and how it will look in five years time amongst its neighbours.  Right, so all of you without trees can put your hands down and I’ll admit I’m not perfect either, but I love trees.

I’ve got an Indian Bean Tree Catalpa bignonioides that I bought after seeing an amazing specimen near an old castle near Brussels that is now a conference centre.  It was astonishing with its huge leaves and the beans dropping down, it completely covered the ground with shade but it was pretty awe-inspiring and I WANTED ONE!

So, I bought one, even though it says the trunk can grow as much as 2M (6 feet) in a year, I thought “not in my garden, nothing grows that fast”. Well, one of the other things about the Indian Bean Tree is that as it grows, you can easily see a year’s growth as the trunk seems to change direction slightly each year – so let’s see what happened.   I think it was about three years old when I first got it and I could see that in each of those years it grew around 10-20cm (4 – 8inches) a year, so I didn’t worry it was going to outgrow anything.  So I planted it in the middle of a bed with other plants as I thought it would make a good focal point.

Well, if you look at the photo, I have put yellow and purple markings showing the end of a year’s growth and the figures are as follows:

Year four (first in the ground): It added 26cm (11inches).  I was really pleased.

Year five: Another 34cm (13inches). Ecstatic, this is going to be really impressive.

Year six: An additional 46cm (18 inches).  Yes, great, shows above everything else.  Though someone did say “do you think this is growing a bit fast?”

Year seven: It added another 110cm (more than 3′ 6″ – in a year!)

Hum… Now I love it, but it doesn’t look like a focal point any longer, it looks like a strange beast or a mobile phone aerial sticking out between a housing estate.  And if it is going to grow another metre or more each year, there’s no doubt it is going to be in the wrong place, so there’s nothing for it, but to move it somewhere else.  So, in the winter I dug around it as much as possible, but, of course, you can’t get up all the roots from a tree that is now above 2M in overall height by hand, but I got as much as possible, breaking through the others as far below-ground as I could, dug a great hole for it in its new home, put in masses of compost and food and talked to it nicely, apologised for the inconvenience and moved it hoping that I hadn’t killed it in the process.  (as a backup, I took a few cuttings – they all took, so I gave some away at the village show and kept one, so now I have two … anyway, where was I?)

So, the Indian Bean Tree is about last in the Spring to put its new leaves on and I was biting my nails (sorry Mum) wondering if I had killed it, well the good news is that no, I hadn’t.

But that was five years ago and perhaps it is sulking with me, but more likely it is still regrowing its roots, putting its efforts into replacing the parts of it I had amputated as each of the last five years its growth has never been above around 15cm, so my hope for a broad set of leaves rising to the sky has taken a knock-back and, honestly, its all my fault.  I should have thought ahead and planted it where it is now first time around.  OK, it would have looked frankly ridiculous for the first few years, but by now it would have been larger and probably happier.

Sorry tree, I promise to do better in the future.

As an aside, I knock off new growths down the trunk each year to ensure that just the three branches near the top and the leader grow, sadly the leader keeps angling itself in the same way each year, but hopefully it will right itself over time.  Today it is just putting on its buds for the year, so it has made it through another winter (unlike the arbutus / strawberry tree which sadly is looking worse), so now I just hope it will go back to growing 50cm or more each year; come on baby, reach for the skies!

Bean Tree showing yearly growth

Bean Tree showing yearly growth



Variegated ground cover – purple and white

A few folks came around the garden yesterday and pointed out these as lovely, so not much to say but to show you a picture.

They are Ajuga Reptans, and have been showing purple and white spikes all winter – a relatively slow-growing ground cover that happily fills out a little space between flagstones and spreads around.  I think it cost me something like 50p last year, and this year I’ll split it around and place it repeatedly along the side of the path and grass.  A lovely little plant, no bother, in full sun.

Ajuga Reptans

Ajuga Reptans

New Peach Tree – One for my cold garden

I love peach tree blossom, though I probably love almond blossom even more, I had an almond once, but let it die one winter – hopefully the peach will be happy, I will try harder to keep it alive.

As I am sure you know, the peach and almond are from the same family (prunus) as the cherry (also plums and apricots) – what an amazing family to belong to – lovely and pretty, produce great fruit and nuts and small enough to have one in every garden.

So, when I saw some apricots in the garden centre, I knew I had to have one.  But instead of picking the ones most in flower, I decided to choose the one that was actually the last – its got lots of buds and if it flowers later than the others, I am less likely to lose the blossoms in frost – well that’s the plan, anyway.

So, it is a dwarf peach, “Terrace Diamond” and it will live in this pot for a couple of years and in the winter I will bring it inside (either garage or unheated greenhouse) and wrap it up all nice and cosy – you never know, I might sneak it inside if it is going to be really cold.

I love trees!

Peach tree Terrace Diamond

Peach tree Terrace Diamond

Spiral trunk bay trees

A guy came down the drive with these, I just had to have them.

What he really wanted to sell was his van of outside furniture, but then I saw these and we did a great deal.

I have lost bay trees in winters before, so I’ll take better care of these two beauties.  Hopefully I can keep pruning them to look more alike over time, though I don’t need them to be exactly the same – its a garden and this is nature.

Spiral trunk bay trees

Spiral trunk bay trees

A lovely patch of spreading cowslips

Here’s a patch of cowslips that are spreading happily in the wild area on my heavy clay soil, probably initially planted around 3 years ago, moved from elsewhere in the garden.  I find them growing in the lawn too and dig them out and plant them around the garden ready to make further patches of light yellow heads bobbing in the breeze.

When moving some today, I saw similar-looking leaves, but darker and with small spikes on them, these are teasels, loved by birds in the autumn/winter.



Dig a Dandelion Day

Its got to be done, dig those dandelions up, and now is the best time in my view.

Most haven’t flowered in my garden and those that have, haven’t yet set seed – the ground is damp so digging down is easier, so its an hour on my hands and knees digging up the little blighters.

Its perhaps a little odd, I don’t have a bowling green lawn, nor an aim to have one, and I have no problem with clover, actually like daisies in the garden and also have various other plants (some would say weeds) and even moss in the lawn – but dandelions are just so ugly.  Of course, you can make wine, dandelion and burdock to drink, you can eat the leaves in salads (some say they have great medicinal properties) and you can feed them to your favourite rabbit/Guinea pig/mice/goat but, I just don’t want them, OK?!

The problem is that the tap roots are so long, so I have a thin and long trowel that I use, I tend to dig next to the root, then do the same from the other side before prising it up – you don’t want to hear a snapping sound because, uh-oh, that means you’ve left some of the root in to grow again.  Yes, sometimes it is inevitable, but I’d rather dig up more than I need, perhaps a complete circle of grass with the dandelion in the middle, pull it apart with my fingers to get to the root and replant the grass.  I do this together with a bucket mixture of grass seed and 66% sand:33%compost that I will put into the hole before placing the grass back on the top, and shuffle along to the next one.  ONe mistake, I should have worn a glove as I pushed down with the palm of my hand and a glove would have spread the pressure more.

Just to depress meDandelion Roots, you could think its all rather pointless, as we are surrounded by around 100 acres of fields mainly with horses and sheep on them there will be flying seeds later on in the summer ready to plant themselves for next year, however I think I am winning overall, I think I remember that in previous years there were more than now.

Of course, you could use glyphosate, but I’d rather not use chemicals if I can help it (especially with frogs, toads and newts living here), and if you do – make sure you use a weedkilling pencil and not a spray as the spray is bound to kill the grass around and you don’t want a bunch of holes in your lawn, believe me, not a good look.

The photo is just of a few of my victims to show you the depth of the roots, even for those with small tops, get down deep – it IS worth it, honest.

Rhododendron flowers early, as usual I am underwhelmed

Sorry guys, but I just find you rather dull.  Yes, I’ll admit it, I am not keen on rhododendrons.

I’m not talking about the fact that they are invasive in some UK woods and forests taking over from the native plants – though that’s clearly a problem.

I have been to some places with huge lines of them on both sides of a road – I guess that’s when they are supposed to be the most impressive, but they seem to flower for such a short amount of time, petals from some flowers already falling off (or just going soggy and green) before others are out and I want to shout out “Is that IT?  Is that all you can do?  How much space do you take up with your tedious glossy leaves hanging down, slow-growing habit and for 90% of the year you are just a bit of a mess.”

So, last week one of ours decided to flower earlier than usual and you’d think that in Spring I’d be pleased to find a splash of red amongst all the yellow, but somehow I just can’t get excited.  Yes, I’ve given them a bit of love and attention and fertilizer for acid-loving plants, but still, but still, sorry guys – you are just drab.

OK, architectural – well a bit.  The other one is taller and budding now so perhaps I’ll have a change of heart in a couple of weeks or so – but I think I should move them,  somewhere where they are just the backdrop to other plants, somewhere where they don’t have to do much to earn their keep and during the few days (nearly typed weeks, but honestly days is probably more accurate) where they do flower, we can be pleasantly surprised.  The other option would be to put them in the hedge, I’ve no problem with mixing different plants in the hedge…. there’s another option I guess, if I get really fed up, they can go to the village fete and someone else can have them.  Just don’t buy me any for a present, OK?

Sorry guys, I feel bad typing this



– better get a cup of tea and walk around the garden for a bit.