Thursday, October 30, 2014

POTS - Scale and Proportion

I’m starting this week off with a plug. It’s not the small plant type of plug though, it’s about my lad setting himself up as a ‘Gadget Man’. (Stay with me here though as I have linked it to horticulture) He’s decided to turn his passion for all things computer based into helping people who are a bit out of touch with new technology by giving workshops to show how to get the best from mobile devices such as iPads. He’ll sort out most other things too but he has found one of the biggest issues people have with these things is setting them up in the first place. A lot of things are cloud based now so it’s handy to have these in place to back up the treasured family photos and selfies when you are out and about, or is that just me?

To get the word out on the street I have been giving Ronnie a hand distributing leaflets advertising the service. The leaflets are small A5 size and are large enough to list of what he is offering but also small enough to fit into the letterbox. 

I’ve probably been to a few hundred houses so far and it’s given me a great opportunity to be nosey and have a look at other people’s gardens, some of which you just don’t see from the road. Postal delivery people are so lucky; they get to see them every working day. I noticed that some houses have  metal post boxes on the front gates to save having to venture down long drives, but I ignore them  and walk down anyway hoping it’s not because of a big angry dog they have a gate box. I’ve been lucky so far.

No two gardens are the same. They all have their own personalities, be it a pile of neglected car parts and intrusive couch grass or highly manicured gardens with not a blade of grass out of place. There are a lot of gardeners who place planted up plant pots around the house, some of them look very attractive, but a majority of the ones I was in my travels had a collection of dead plants in them. The main reason this has happened is that people didn’t keep an eye on them in the dry spell and they died through lack of watering. The only plants that seem to survive seem to be self-set black willow trees or reeds, again self-set. 

This tells me a few things.
·         The owners intentionally let the annuals die off and the pots will eventually have winter bedding such as pansies put into them.
·         The owners need to get a watering system installed, especially if they have loads of pots and baskets.
·         The owner’s lifestyles are too busy to notice the plants are dying as they dash to the car.
·         The plant roots have been eaten by vine weevil.
·         There’s a cat in the garden using the pot as a toilet.
·         The pots are too small for the plants
·         There are too many plants in a root restricted area and they dry out too quickly.

It’s not a criticism though before anyone sends me an email, as I have plenty of dead plants in pots too. My reason is a bit of all of the above and also because I have too many to check, especially the pots that have been buried under massed of summer growth. The plants that stand the best chances of survival are the ones where the roots have escaped from the drainage holes in the base and fixed themselves into the soil. This is a good way to keep the pots upright too I have found. Of course it won’t work if the pot is sitting on a concrete path or driveway.

Another observation about the pots (and I stress observation, not criticism) is that most of the pots aren’t in proportion to their surroundings. It can look a bit odd when I meandered down the drive of a big house and find loads of tin 20cm pots around the patio or front door. The proportion issue doesn’t end there either; some other garden features are just too small for their places. I think it might be something to do with impulse buying in the shops, especially the Euro shops or Lidl. You see something that looks great close up and in the picture and has the added benefit of being able carry it out of the shop and into the car.

Most pots and garden ornaments for bigger areas can’t really be carried in a bag. It reminds me a bit of the Father Ted sketch. Father Ted was telling a confused Dougal about the use of perspective and scale with the use of a plastic cow whilst on a caravanning holiday in a field.

“These are small, but the ones out there are far, far away”

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Houttuynia - Is there anything more invasive?

When we moved into our house there was an attractive groundcover plant in the garden, near the back door. It’s called “chameleon plant” (Houttuynia cordata ‘Tricolour’) after its multicolour foliage. It reminds me a bit of English ivy with a kaleidoscopic leaves of red, pink, yellow, and green. It sports pretty white flowers too. If it stayed where you planted it all would be well.

Invasive Plant
Usually planted as a ground cover, pond marginal plant or a colour plant for the shade, the Houttuynia spreads by every way imaginable. Thick networks of roots snake through the ground. Pieces that fall on the ground take root. If you bottle it up inside a basket or container, surprise! The flowers form seeds and seedlings sprout all over. There is no containing it.
I did a bit of stonework where the plant was and as it was winter the plant had died back. As I innocently spread the dug out soil around various parts of the garden I didn’t realise I was spreading parts of the plants roots around too. I know now. This invasive plant has now sprung up everywhere. Not since Japanese knotweed and Horsetail have I seen anything so invasive. At least with the Horsetail you can clean pots and pans with their abrasive silica based leaves. These Houttuynia don’t seem to have any redeeming features whatsoever.

Chameleon Plant
There doesn’t seem to be a place where the plant doesn’t grow in the garden. It grows in sun. It grows in shade. It grows in normal soil. It grows in wet soil. It even grows in water. To make things worse, it often reverts to a solid green which eliminates the sole motivation you had for planting it in the first place. If you see the before and after picture I have you will see that when the leaves are new and fresh they look lovely. All of the rooted cuttings in my garden are coming out a dull green and are really unattractive as they smother other plants. Leaf eating insects don’t really seem to like them either and as yet I haven’t seen a slug anywhere near them. 

Is there a natural solution?
I’m sure there is a powerful chemical that could rid the garden of this invasive plant, but it’ll probably kill everything else off at the same time. My only solution in my garden will be to be very thorough when I dig up the roots, making sure I get them ALL. Clipping the ones that are growing right back before they set seed will control the spread a bit too. In about three years I hope to have them gone so it’s a long term plan. I will not be composting the roots or throwing them into the bin either because they will either come back to haunt me or it’ll be someone else’s problem as I would be spreading them around. I’ll burn them.

Keeping sharp.
I have had a great knife for nearly twenty years now and it does everything in the house and garden. I have used it for chopping vegetables in the kitchen, opening bags of coal, pruning back plants, opening cardboard boxes, sharpening pencils and even cutting plastic bottles and tins and it’s never had to be sharpened. It’s a fantastic knife that has also been composted quite a few times as it’s thrown out with the newspaper full of peelings. I have taken it a step too far this week though and thought it could cope with cutting heavy duty electrical cable. I’m in the process of setting up electricity into the cabin and have some really thick cable laid as it need to go underground outside for part of its journey. The cable was really thick and took some sawing to get through, there were different types of metal too so I’m not sure if it was the copper or steel that did the damage.
I didn’t realise just what a difference having a blunt knife makes to your day. Onions are like leather and are tough to get through; even carrots break up and crack when you try to chop them. My usually beautiful dinners with their lovingly sliced veggies have a more rustic look to them.  I do have an oil stone so I think it’s a job to do this week to try and bring the knife back to its former glory. I’ll test it out by slashing a few Houttuynia down.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Here Comes the Rain

 Collecting's free of water charges!

I, for one am very pleased the cooler, wetter weather has come. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy watering as much as the next gardener, but it’s far more satisfying when I can collect the water from a butt that is full from a fresh downpour. The plants love it too and respond far more to the trace elements in the rain than they would with the tap water. Rain is free too. 

The onset of autumn, which also brings the wind, has another added benefit for me too. I’m (nearly) as sociable as the next person, but over the past few months I have seen a massive increase in the amount of people who use our local park. This type of social activity is generally relished by myself and I love the idea of standing around on a sunny day passing the time chatting. The issue I have is that my dogs don’t feel the same and it makes what should be a relaxing jaunt through the park, a major obstacle course as I attempt to avoid other people with pets.  My two, normally friendly dogs have taken it upon themselves to attack any other dog that comes near them. I say “any other” dog, what I really mean is anything four legged a lot smaller or older than they are. I think if they were humans they would be antisocial bullies. I do hope in this case that their owner isn’t like their dogs. Chips, our eldest dog, who has one eye and the brain the size of a walnut, tends to aim for cyclists too and will be guaranteed to trip over at least one jogger a day. The other dog Bow will charge up to anyone who has got food, and rummage around until he has scoffed the lot, much to the annoyance of picnickers. So as you can gather I don’t get much time for relaxation and pondering my day around the park when the sun shines. When it rains though I can go for an hour without seeing anyone. It might be a bit lonely but I get my day planned out, the dogs don’t get into fights and no cyclist has been run off the path. Getting outside makes you realise that it’s never really as bad as it looks from the comfort of the warm house when looking through the window. When I get home I’m set up to keep working, regardless, you only get wet once.

Jobs to do in the rain
The title might be a bit misleading here, what I really mean is what to look out for if it’s been really wet over the week. I’m not expecting anyone to go out and work on wet ground, neither of you would be happy.  Instead look for damage that rain might be doing.

Washed away. Check that soil isn’t being washed away. You could build up a raised area to contain the soil or better still find plants that will hold the soil together with their fibrous roots. Smaller areas can be saved by simply adding a bit of winter bedding or if it’s in the veggie patch some winter nitrogen fixers such as mustard.

Run off. Check buildings for water run off. Walls of sheds and the house don’t like water dripping on them constantly so see if all of the drainpipes and run offs are in good order.

Plant damage. Heavy rains can cause plant damage, and extended periods of wet weather can lead to plant diseases such as powdery mildew, or other bacteria. After a big downpour, check your plants. If only a few leaves have been damaged, you can remove them, or if a plant has been bent over from the force of the rain, you may be able to stake it back up. If the stems are snapped they can go into the compost bin. Check the roots to see the soil hasn’t been washed away too.

Replenish Nutrients. Rain and flooding can carry much-needed nutrients away from your vegetable plants. After severe storms, it is a good idea to replace those nutrients by adding compost or an organic fertilizer to your soil.

Check for slugs. We need to do this all year really but slugs and snail love this weather so check under the old pots and containers. 

Some weeds also love the wetter weather so keep an eye out for ones taking over. Best to keep off the soil though until things dry up a bit.

The main thing is to relish and enjoy the wetter weather. The more rain, the more we can collect and use for ourselves.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Playing in the River

Week two of my art course. This week we found ourselves in Ness woods drawing bits of nature and playing in the river. It sounds like fun, and it was, especially the water bit. 

We partnered up and were given a piece of paper with some images from naturalist artist Andy Goldsworthy and then told to go and create something ourselves from what was lying around. The other two teams did land sculptures, one of a fox made from a dead tree stump (it did look like a fox too) and the other team made a floating hoop made from ivy and fishing line. My partner and I opted for the water and made a large circle from the river stones and then a smaller one on the inside. We called it “Going with the Flow” as we thought that didn’t sound pretentious at all.
I realised our piece fell into three art categories. Firstly we drew what we had done, next we made a piece of disposable art (the next heavy rain will see to that) that will catch people’s attention as they walk the dogs and also we made something that wouldn’t have looked out of place as a permanent feature in a garden. It didn’t have to be in the water either; a feature such as this could be filled with herbs or perennials.

Linking art with garden design is even more apparent with the classroom assignment. We have been asked to research and write about the Paris based 19th century Impressionist Art Movement, which include masters such as Monet and Renoir. Their style of painting was more fluid and painters enjoyed getting out and about experiencing real life situations such as people going about their working day or industrial scenes as well as landscapes as opposed to working from pictures in studios. 

Communal parks were becoming popular for the middle and working classes and this is where a lot of the artists hung out. So the landscapers were instrumental in creating the artists backdrops for their work. Monet himself drew a Japanese bridge hundreds of times, which was actually created in his own garden for convenience. There was a garden designer behind installing that and planting the lilies in the pond too.
Impressionist art, like garden design isn’t linear. The ideas and paintings came from every direction; Turner and Constable were seemingly painting impressionist art some 50 years before the Paris movement and before the phrase was coined and this is just one of millions of examples going all the way back to cave paintings. 

The Impressionist artists were influenced by their surroundings and they were products of their environment (such as the coffee shops in Paris where the Impressionist met up) by travel and each other. 

Like landscape designers, the impressionist artists shocked the world by their radical designs and use of bold colours and apparently unfinished pieces. As new paints were being created and put into tubes for convenience as artists liked to paint outside, so the botanists were travelling the world looking for new plants to brighten up our gardens. Initially they would have been for the upper classes, but eventually filtered down to the folks on the street. This was shocking in its day that these rare and wonderful plants could get into the hands of the working classes Impressionists like to use brash bold strokes to reflect movement and unlike their predecessors who painted smooth, detailed images of religious stories, the Impressionists painted people bathing and doing everyday things like hanging up the washing (Laundry, Berthe Morisot 1875) Shocking stuff indeed.

The structure of groups of individuals getting together and creating new ideas is something else that is open to all of us. I’m sure most of us are part of a group of some sort. Even in our own gardening clubs we can come up with some pretty radical new ideas. They may not become a movement that will influence the world, but they are important in the grand scale of things never the less. 

My influence presently comes from some of the Impressionists who, as they got older, simplified their paintings by not putting in anything that wasn’t needed. A figure could be reduced to one brushstroke and a sky could be made with just a few flashes of grey and blue paint. So in my quest for gardening excellence I’m planning to design a complete garden and just put one solitary plant in it. 

That should shock the gardening world.

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