Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Rhubarb in the Garden - and other uses

Even the most well balanced and eco-friendly garden requires a bit of pest control. I am finding that a lot of people ask about how to tackle insects that are eating their non-edible leaves of plants like root vegetables, tomatoes, beans and radishes. As these plants are grown for things other than their leaves there really isn’t any need to take any action. If pests are eating your broccoli or munching their way through your favourite ornamental like a hosta or begonia then you might need to take a bit of evasive action to keep the damage to a minimum.

I have what I think is one of the easiest and most versatile of solutions. Rhubarb .

Rhubarb doesn’t just taste delicious; amongst other things, the leaves of the plant can also provide a natural pesticide for your garden.

(Rheum rhabarbarum), is easily grown here as we have a cool climate. The plant itself originated in Asia over 5,000 years ago and was initially cultivated for its medicinal qualities.
Rhubarb has been used for centuries in traditional Chinese medicine. The dried roots of the plant are used to treat a variety of ailments, including constipation, liver and gallbladder complaints and poor blood circulation.

Rhubarb Pesticide
Rhubarb leaves are poisonous and contain oxalic acid which is highly effective in the garden. The oxalic acid in the leaves can help to control aphids, particularly on roses.
The recipe here includes soap, which I personally won’t use. It is added as a surfactant to spread out the liquid on the leaf but I don’t think it needs it. Dogs might lick the soap solution too and it won’t do them any good.

What You’ll Need
  • An old pot, stirring spoon that won’t be used again for food preparation.
  • A clean bucket and a spray bottle.
  • Water
  • Dish detergent or soap flakes – do not use laundry detergent
  • Storage jar or bottle
  • Trim the stalks from the leaves.
  • Put the leaves into the pot.
  • Bring the leaves to the boil and then reduce to a simmer for 30 minutes.
  • Strain the solution into a clean bucket.
  • Discard the leaves in your compost.
  • Pour the strained solution into a spray bottle.
  • Add 1 tspn of the detergent.
  • Label as ‘POISON’.
Using Rhubarb Pesticide
Use this pesticide for controlling aphids, slugs and caterpillars that crawl on the leaf of your decorative (non edible) plants.
It might be a good idea not use this pesticide on edible crops. Though a good wash may remove the poison, I would not recommend testing it.
Remember though that this method is a last resort in the garden.  Healthy plants are much less susceptible to damage from insects. So remember to feed the soil every year with well-rotted manure and compost. 

Other uses for Rhubarb
Rhubarb isn’t only for pies and making a spray though. Here are some other uses for this versatile plant.

Cleaning pots and pans
Use Rhubarb to clean your pots and pans. If your pots and pans are burnt, an application of rhubarb over the afflicted area will bring back the shine in next to no time.

Hair Colour
This is a fairly strong dye that can create a more golden hair colour for persons whose hair is blond or light brown. Simmer 3 tbsp. of rhubarb root in 2 cups of water for 15 minutes, set aside overnight, and strain. Test on a few strands to determine the effect, and then pour through the hair for a rinse. Usual disclaimers apply – I’m not responsible for the outcome!

Making paper
The fibre in rhubarb is a nice additive to handmade papers. 

Rhubarb planting
Rhubarb needs an open, sunny site with moist, but free-draining soil and doesn’t like being waterlogged in winter. Avoid frost pockets as stems are susceptible to frost.
It can be grown from seed, but it's more common to plant dormant year old crowns between autumn and spring. Prepare the ground by some well-rotted manure, then spread out the roots and plant so the tip of the crown is just visible above the soil.

Pot-grown rhubarb can be planted at any time, but will need plenty of water during dry spells. Space plants 75-90cm (30-36in) apart, with 30cm (12in) between rows.
Rhubarb can also be planted in very large pots at least 50cm (20in) deep and wide.

Harvest the second year after planting as this will improve vigour. Remove a few stems  for usuing but try to leave some to keep the plant in active growth. To remove, hold the stalk at the base and ease it out of the ground, aiming to avoid snapping it off. Although rhubarb stems remain palatable and usable through summer, it is best not to over crop the plant and end pulling by June. You can always sneak a few extra off as the season moves on.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Selling by the Rule of 7

 Sometimes all we need is a fork

Fact from an internet gardening page:  “Every year there are at least 7 million new gardeners.”  

That brings to mind a famous quote that esteemed garden designer Capability Brown once said, which is: “Don’t believe everything you read on the internet”   

There  does seem to be a lot of new ‘horticurious’  people around though, all wanting answers to age old questions such as slug control, composting, pruning and of course where can we get the best value for money products. 

Yes, this time of year sees a massive increase in sales of tools, plants, chemicals and ideas to make your garden a place of relaxing beauty. It’s a tough market that needs ever changing methods of attracting new and existing customers to part with their money.  

Online sales of horticultural products is a fast growing market and because of the increase in courier deliveries we can get anything from a plant plug to an industrial sized polytunnel or garden shed delivered to the door, usually at little or no extra cost. The choices are endless and many wet evenings can be used browsing the web for products.

With so much online information about gardening the line between actual information and sales pitch advertorials is a very blurred line. If you browse E-Bay then you know you are looking to buy things but how about when you are reading articles?
New gardeners need answers to their gardening questions and will often find loads of information online. This can be a great place for impartial advice but also be a platform for product placements.  Most bloggers now have adverts on their pages (me included on the garden matters blog) and more and more people either have affiliate links to Amazon, gardening sites such as Harrod horticulture or have sponsors for specific items, making them marketers of products as well as offering  both original and much copied information. 

Building Trust
I’ve also noticed a few online resources and organizations offering help and advice in a friendly “Join our Community” sort of fashion, luring us in with trendy graphics and the promise of social interaction.  

Some of these ‘communities’ have strong affiliations with larger companies and tend to put in loads of product placement which can again compromise impartial and accurate information and turn the whole process into an advertorial.  I sometimes feel their agenda is purely about gaining our trust and using us as a revenue stream in their marketing strategy.  I might be in a minority but I don’t really like being sold things.

I’m not having a moan (honestly) It’s just the way things are. As Shakespeare once wrote “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” And I prefer to stay positive and see that behind the marketing there are new and exciting steps forward in gardening.

Rule of 7
The Rule of 7 selling method is something that’s used a lot in all marketing. It’s one of the oldest methods of selling and is used in every aspect of consumerism. The method is about persistence and if we are told we need to buy something seven times, eventually we relent, usually subconsciously. This is how we can be talked into buying things we can’t afford or don’t need. One of the key methods is to gain our trust and for us to ‘get to know them’ which is why celebrity endorsements are so valuable who nowadays are referred to as “Ambassadors” of these community sites .This type of selling is very prevalent in today’s gardening world and very precisely targeted at different times of year.

No thanks
In the past I have been approached by companies who have offered me money to use this weekly article as a platform for selling goods and services. I have always gracefully declined because I felt as though I wouldn’t be able to say what I really wanted and be impartial. It’d be someone else's terms and agendas – I’d have to say nice things all of the time. Perish the thought.

Young Gardeners
Most advertising seems to be geared towards the young gardener with a bit of extra cash. Us old salts just go about with an old spade and make do; realising that it’s the process of gardening itself that is the enjoyable end result and not products that offer quick fixes. Younger gardeners might be looking for things that save them time in the garden.

I garden because I have a bit more time on my hands and it’s a form of enjoyment, exercise, mindfulness and relaxation, but the upcoming generation just don’t have the time to spare in between children and work, so things have to be done quickly. 

In the past the only reason you toiled the land was to feed the family but the garden is now a place of many uses. We also have more choice and thankfully if we are really pushed for time there’s a supermarket down the road where we can buy our provisions.

You can’t get away from it, one way or another, we’re all consumers now.


Here is the original draft of the article. I mentioned companies by name and didn't think it was suitable for the local paper.

Fact from an internet gardening page:  “Every year there are at least 7 million new gardeners.” 
That brings to mind a famous quote that esteemed garden designer Capability Brown once said, which is: “Don’t believe everything you read on the internet”  
There  does seem to be a lot of new ‘horticurious’  people around though, all wanting answers to age old questions such as slug control, composting, pruning and of course where can we get the best value for money products.
Yes, this time of year sees the retail outlets bulging with tools, chemicals and ideas to make your garden a place of relaxing beauty. It’s a tough market that needs ever changing methods of attracting new and existing customers to part with their money.

Rule of Seven
As the famous French landscape designer André Le Nôtre once allegedly posted in an online gardening forum in 1650 -
“For the public to buy your new gardening products and stuff every year, you need to apply the rule of 7” 
This Rule of 7 is about marketing persistence. It’s one of the oldest methods of selling and is all around us. It’s very prevalent in today’s gardening world and very precisely targeted at different times of year.
How does it work?
If the buyer doesn’t need the product now, they might do next week. The price might be too high for something but you could be convinced about the value being offered and buy over your budget. You might not know or trust the advertisers so it’s in their interest to let you ‘get to know them’.
Why am I mentioning this I hear you ask?  It’s because I have been watching a few videos created by  a new initiative called GroMór who you might of heard about this year. One tagline for GroMór is “Getting the Country Growing!” which has a pleasing ring to it and is a very noble sentiment. 

GroMór in association with Bord Bia, is an initiative of Garden Centres and Nursery Growers, focussing on younger families and first time buyers. Expert  ‘Ambassadors’ Kevin Dennis, Fiann Ó Nualláin, Jane McCorkell and Ciaran Burke are involved too as the face of the project.
On the face of things this looks to be a great recourse of information and community but I have a few reservations. Is the set up really about giving impartial advice about the world of gardening? When I look at the videos they have put up on their site I get a feeling a few of them are not put there to inform us, they are there to sell Westland horticultural products. 
Westland is one of the main sponsors (Bord Na Mona the peat excavators are another) and the video about tree planting I watched, advised using both Westland peat and bark mulch when I feel as though they were totally unnecessary. I did make comments pointing that it seemed to be product placement which could be made clearer that it was a commercial advert. The comments were deleted from the youtube video. 

Westland are a big employer, with 400 people working for them with a turnover of £100million, buying up Unwins seeds, the William Sinclair brand, Cranswick Pet Products,  distributing Silvaperl products as well as going into the chemical weedkiller market, so it makes sense for the company to find new markets and customers. 

It’s just that I feel things could get compromised if the hidden agenda for GroMór is purely about gaining trust and using us as a revenue stream for companies in a growing market.  I know in the past I have been approached by companies who offer money to use this weekly article as a platform for selling goods and services. I have always gracefully declined because I felt as though I wouldn’t be able to say what I really wanted. It’d be someone else’s terms and agendas.

I’m hoping that the collaboration between our celebrity gardeners, company sponsors and food board can all work closely together to offer a full spectrum of impartial advice and without the need to be using the Rule of 7 on us. I understand that initiatives such as this needs sponsors, but I for one don’t want to feel that the only reason I am being acknowledged is because I am a potential customer.

I tweeted a comment that sums it up back in the 1980’s that said:    “You can’t get away from it, we’re all f****** customers now”

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Diversification and Unity in the Garden

As we get that bit older, most of us gain a little more independence. Hopefully this is passed on to our children. My lads for example now have their own modes of transport, one, a car and the other a rather lovely boat he moors on the marina in Derry. It wasn’t long ago since I was pushing them around in prams, now they are making my life more mobile driving me places in their different modes of transport.  

I’m finding that nurturing the garden over the last five years has given it a certain amount of independence as well. 

I have tried to add as much plant diversity as possible and without the aid of any sprays or chemicals I have managed to settle down most invasive species so they aren’t really a problem anymore.  My main weeds are now tomato plants growing in large mats all over the tunnel floor, and annual nasturtiums which tend to appear from nowhere every five minutes. Neither of these are difficult to compost and if I do leave them too long I am rewarded with beautiful flowers, a great place for greenfly to live so they keep off my edibles and bright red cherry tomatoes. So it’s all good.
It generally takes a new garden at least 3 years to settle itself into a pattern. In that time there might be a need to keep an eye on anything that seems to be taking over.
On new ground it’ll be the plants such as creeping buttercup. I even have a few of those around just to keep the diversity. They are easy to pull up in small quantities and do help the local visiting wildlife that are moved around because of urban sprawl. 

It’s interesting to hear that trees and plants in cities are now producing seeds heavier that their country counterparts. This is their way of adapting and surviving as a place to germinate in a city is far less than in an open environment so the heavier seeds are just falling straight down onto the floor where there’s a chance of survival as opposed to floating aimlessly in the air and landing on a block of concrete. 

With natural mulching of compost, other beneficial insects and worms grow rapidly and when no chemicals are added to the healthy ground, this diverse garden will be able to tolerate all wildlife having a nibble of the greenery as the plants will be strong enough to cope.
This healthy diversity in the garden will help to keep the plants happy as unhealthy plants attract pests. Healthy plants can withstand infestation which will do away with having to use the word “pest” in the garden again as everything will be welcome.

There’s a lot of negative news about the use of chemicals in the garden. Products such as Roundup get a really bad press.  The counterculture in this debate tends to go for the ‘unregulated’ types of solutions when using pesticides or insecticides, which in itself can cause huge problems to the environment. The overuse of seemingly safe but unregulated chemicals like vinegar, salt and Epsom salts all have negative effects on the microorganisms holding the soil together.  A recent experiment in a US town showed organic alternatives to glyphosate to be more dangerous to the environment, expensive, toxic than their chemical counterparts. 

All Inclusive
My suggestion this week though is for us to create our own piece of gardening heaven without the need to use ANY chemicals on the garden regardless of being seen as harmless picked onion vinegar to a chemical that was used in warfare. 

Changing Ideas
The arguments for and against any chemical use are totally pointless if the methods of HOW we see and work with gardens are changed.  Our mind-sets can easily alter to include EVERYTHING in the garden and not treat things as detrimental enemies. It’s in the interest of the chemical companies for us to stick with this artificial method of caring for the land in much the same way that pharmaceutical companies are happier when we are ill.

There are a few Buddhist philosophies that spring to mind with this week’s ramblings.
There isn’t really any need to kill anything, but if in the enthusiasm of weeding you happen to kill a few slugs, hope they have a rebirth as a human and have a happy life and keep their suffering to a minimum.

Look at the beauty of everything.  Everything is the garden is a wonder: Plants being recycled back into the compost heap, falling leaves, insect infestation of the salad vegetables, cabbage white butterflies leaving eggs under your brassicas and even next doors cat. They are all delights and also give you a purpose keeping the balance.  There’s always room for a spot of weeding and keeping a close eye on anything that might tip the scales.

If we allow nature to do its job everything will find a balance, which will leave me a bit more time for sunbathing on my lads boat.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Summer Bedding... Unchallenging and Reliable Top 10

It’s a while since I did a Top 10 list so I thought this week is as good as any to put one together.  I’m having a look at the joys of growing annual plants this week, which seems really late in the season to be doing it. That being said, I have only just put my annual bedding out into containers…In June! Who’d have thought it, garden centres are still selling multipacks.

Top 10 Annual Bedding
It is actually impossible to do a top 10 on plants as it’s all down to personal taste, colour preferences, location soil, time you are prepared to look after them and a host of other factors that need to be taken into consideration.  For this reason I’ll stress that it’s my list so feel free to disagree. I enjoy a heated debate.

I have bought quite a few packs of annuals this year and only grown a handful from seed. I find that the specialist growers do a far better job than myself and buying them in packs gives me an opportunity to buy less of one type and more variety.  I have quite a few old rusty containers to fill and I do like a bit of variation.

1. Begonia
One of the most versatile summer bedding plants, Begonias are well loved for their large flamboyant blooms in a wide range of colours, and their ability to thrive in both sun and shade. Flowering continuously throughout summer up to the first frosts, Begonia bedding plants can be upright or trailing and are suitable for beds, borders, hanging baskets and window boxes. I have a few corms so I didn’t have to buy annuals this year.
2. Sweet peas
Sweet peas make fantastic cottage garden bedding plants. Let them scramble up obelisks, wigwams or netting where they will reach heights of 1.8m (6') or alternatively try dwarf sweet peas for groundcover at the front of beds and borders. I have bought some delightful fragrant types for the beds and in this case I grew them from seed as I get more for my money this way.
3. Busy Lizzie
Incredibly valuable for shadier beds and borders, Impatiens summer bedding plants produce large flowers in a range of fruity colours, from pinks to reds through purples and white. New Guinea Impatiens have replaced the previously popular Impatiens walleriana due to Busy Lizzie downy mildew, but share the same desirable characteristics – a long flowering period, bushy mounding habit and a preference for partial shade. Forming big spreading plants, Busy Lizzies are superb for ground cover in beds and borders or will quickly fill patio containers with colour up to the first frosts.
4. Geranium
A common bedding plant and one I have quite a lot of. These sturdy, sun-loving plants are well suited to hot, dry conditions and flower all summer through to the first frosts. Pelargoniums, commonly known as Geraniums, are versatile bedding plants for summer and include trailing, climbing and upright varieties which are perfect for beds, borders, patio containers, hanging baskets and obelisks. I find they are really useful in baskets as they tolerate dryness.
5. Antirrhinum
Much loved for their architectural flower spikes and incredibly long flowering period, Antirrhinums have fascinating mouth-like flowers which open when squeezed, making them a particular favourite with children. If you’re looking for bedding plants that attract bees, Antirrhinums are a good nectar source, being most popular with bumble bees. I tend to put these in containers as they are tall and structural.
6. Lobelia
My sister in laws favourite. The dainty flowers of lobelia create wonderful dense waterfalls of colour in hanging baskets and containers, or grow the upright varieties for edging beds and borders. Easy to grow and long-flowering, they complement any summer bedding scheme and look particularly pretty mingling with bedding plants in hanging baskets.
7. Petunia
Petunias are popular for their large trumpet flowers in a fantastic array of bright colours and patterns, including stripes and picotees. These vigorous half-hardy annuals can be trailing or upright, and look spectacular spilling from hanging baskets, window boxes and containers, or massed in beds and borders. They are my guilty pleasure!
8. Rudbeckia
Annual rudbeckias, also known as coneflowers, make robust and cheerful garden bedding plants. Particularly useful as late summer bedding plants, rudbeckias flower from July through to October .Not only do they look fabulous in the garden, rudbeckias also make excellent, long-lasting cut flowers for a vase indoors.
9. Fuchsia
The fuchsia flower is a beautiful, exotic flower with striking two-tone colours and a favourite for my fire buckets. The fuchsia flower is quite unusual with regard to its shape and the fact that they are really delicate. These beautiful flowers are great just about anywhere in your garden. However, you will find fuchsia growing best in hanging baskets on the patio.
10. Verbena
I’ve sort of saved the best until last. If you’re searching for long lasting blooms that perform during the hottest days of summer heat, consider verbenas. The annual or perennial types both ensure summer flowers when planted in the sunniest and possibly driest area of the garden. I have them in nearly all of the pots and their tolerance to drought and mildew make them perfect ‘Plant and forget’ plants.

More stories

Related Posts with Thumbnails