Tuesday, 27 August 2013

My Top 5 Tips!

Just a little piece of the largest meadow planting in the U.K.... at RHS Wisley - go see!

Instead of writing about such things as French or Dutch Renaissance gardens, or the loathsome nature of carpet bedding, I’m often asked to compose a blog entry giving some horticultural advice together with some practical and seasonal tips. Why have I not done so thus far? Well, to be honest, despite being an honest, down-in-the-dirt gardener, I prefer to use my blog for something a little more creative. I mean, if you want that kind of stuff, there’s plenty of those cheap throw-away ‘garden answer type’ magazines that’ll provide you with pages and pages of tips & tricks: everything from Chelsea Chopping to chitting potatoes. 

Personally, I would rather wax lyrical about the asteraceace family, or get all fired up over a new perennial yellow daisy. How camp did that sound!? 

Anyway, after much badgering from friends and colleagues, maybe it is time I did give you a few practical pearls of my own horticultural wisdom.  

At first, I did think I would compile a list of my top 10 do’s & don’ts…. But to be honest, I could only think of 5 good ones. So here they are….

In at #5 -  Give gardens & gardening a rest. Even the biggest of gardens can cope with a little respite. Springtime is obviously a very busy time in the garden... as is autumn. But during the extremities and peaks of weather (the baking dog days of August; ice-laden drives of January) simply let the garden be. They needs to sigh and sleep a little. You can overwork a garden. Plants and gardens know when to rest… and so should you. Having said that, if I do maintain your garden, please ignore this advice... I still need to eat at Xmas y'know!

# 4 - Don't worry about moss in your lawn. We have a dampish climate here in England, and moss likes it damp. Unless you can pick up that particular piece of grassland and move it to a sunnier, more open part of the garden, then don't waste your time and money trying to eradicate it. Unless of course, you view lawn care companies as charities and as such they simply must be supported otherwise all those mossy missionaries will starve to death! If you can improve the drainage, eradicate all traces of shade and improve the UK’s rather murky climate then go for it! If not, don’t waste your money.

Unless your lawn is set within the treeless grounds of a golf course, you're going to get some moss!

 # 3 - Laying down that awful black fabric material to stop the weeds. Some people go bird watching. Others spot train carriage numbers. I on the other hand, like nothing better than to sit in a garden centre car park on a sunny Sunday morning and do a spot of amateur gardener twitching. Binoculars in hand, I sit, awaiting the thrill of seeing the purchase of a roll of black ‘weed-suppressing’ fabric. Amateur! I shout, and tick off another box on my sheet. Great fun!

Let’s be honest, that fabric stuff….it simply doesn't work! Feeling all eager and horty-like you go home, clear a bed of weeds, cut out some fabric, peg it down, and lay something vaguely attractive on top, just to make it look all nice. However, the moment you turn your back on it, like shifting sands, the bark (gravel, slate, shingle etc) slowly-but-surely moves away and off the fabric revealing the awful matting underneath: quite literally, tufted black blots on the landscape crying out to be either seen or tripped over!

Look! 10 minutes that's been down and it's exposing itself already!
And what’s more, it doesn't even work... Well, not in the long term. Okay, for a nano-second you might feel the slight glow of  self-satisfaction as you suppress the odd dandelion or bittercress, but believe me, for the weeds that really matter, it provides no barrier.

If you can breathe through it, weeds will grow through it! AND, don't even get me started on the nitrogen cycle…. or its absence once this stuff has been laid down!

If you do want to put a layer of something down to suppress the weeds as summer approaches, at least make it organic and to the ultimate benefit of the plants and the soil.

# 2 – Don’t weed out everything you see. By all means get to know your proper weed seedlings and get rid of those a.s.a.p. But for those you’re not too sure about, leave them be and see what they grow into. You’ll soon get to know the friendlies from the enemies. There are so many different approaches people take to their gardens. Yet one of the best and most effective methods I’ve seen is the ‘let’s allow this garden to grow itself’’ approach.

Honestly, some of the best gardens I’ve worked with are those where a plant is rarely purchased – except to fill the obvious gap made by the expiration of another -  and one where ‘happy accidents’ (as Christopher Lloyd called them) are very-much encouraged. Okay, it’s quite a high maintenance approach, but by getting to know your seedlings, you can simply weed out those things you don’t want, leaving in those that you do. That way, the garden really does grow itself…. The plants that like it there will simply stay there and multiply: it will result in a happy, well-balanced garden. Quite naturally you will end up with a very loved and nurtured garden, and one that you know intimately.

A somewhat 'looser' approach that will always result in more fuller, relaxed borders.  

 And lastly…. At # 1 – Develop your garden! I really have left the best advice for last.

Of course, it is this particular subject that fills shelf upon shelf of horticultural libraries.
Look, there are 3 ways in which you can treat a garden! You could leave it to turn to a rack-a-ruined jungle. Rusty old bikes and Citroen CV's resting atop piles of hardcore. Lots of people do take this approach, though I doubt (if you’re reading this blog) that you are one of them.

Or... you can simply maintain it; do all the usual stuff gardeners do: weed it, mow it, stake it, and maybe replace the odd dead plant. It’s not a bad option and one that I estimate around 90% of garden owners take up. It’s certainly preferable to option 1.

Or…. You can develop it! I believe – witnessed through years of personal observation – that the best gardens are developed and created over time. I guarantee you, I can walk into any garden, sniff the air and instinctively know if a garden designer has had a hand in its creation. I’m guessing it’s the same with interior design. A furniture showroom is not a home. It may point the way as to what the bare bones of a home could look like, but compare that to a home that’s full of cherished and loved furniture, selected for very individual and unique reasons; hopefully a love of the articles themselves; some personal attachment to the items or some history behind their acquisition.

It’s the same with plants and gardens. A garden that has been designed can of course look stunning. Chelsea is full of wonderful designs! But I believe the best gardens evolve over time, and that they have to be developed with at least some degree of care, interest and attention. Believe me, given both time and those 3 elements, you will have yourself a fine garden.  

... and adding to that, lavish some love on it as well, and you’ll have yourself an amazing garden!
Oh well, I think I’ve probably said enough for now. As soon as I start to go all mushy over gardens (and mention the 'L' word) I kinda know it’s time to retire.

It’s late August and still very summery outside. We haven’t had a bad summer at all really!

So, until next time then.


Nicotianas & Verbenas grown en-masse at Hampton Crt this past weekend. A great combination me thinks!

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