Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Ground elder and Fuchsia

I’ve spotted some ground elder in the garden.  I thought I have removed it all when we put the polytunnel up but it looks like I missed a few roots and there’s now quite a row of it along the back plastic of the tunnel.  I should go around there more often but I tend to just let the area do its own thing to attract wildlife. I might need to be a bit more vigilant in future.

Ground elder(Aegopodium podagraria) goes under a few names, gout weed, bishop weed and jump-about are all good names (it’s used as a remedy for gout and sciatica) and the ‘jump about’ one fits when you see where it’s popped up in my garden. It’s an herbaceous, invasive, perennial weed. It spreads via rhizomes (underground stems), which can regenerate from a just a tiny fragment left in the ground, which is what I must have left four years ago.

Ground Elder Habits
Spreading by rhizomes, ground elder can easily creep in from a neighbouring garden or nearby wasteland. It can also be unknowingly introduced with new plants if pieces of its fleshy, white rhizome are hidden within the compost of the rootball or are tucked away among the roots of the plant.

As its rhizomes are close to the surface of the soil, it is possible to reduce infestations of ground elder by removing it carefully with a garden fork or trowel. However, eradicating it completely needs vigilance as the smallest portion of root left in the soil will result in a new plant growing.
Non-chemical control
  • Tackling large infestations of ground elder in a well-planted bed can be difficult. To get rid of it completely requires time and patience. Here are some non-chemical approaches:
  • Lift cultivated plants and carefully remove and destroy any pieces of ground elder rhizome from around their roots.
  • After you are sure it has all been removed, replant your garden plants in clean soil or pots.
  • The ground elder can now be evicted by digging, or by covering the ground with black polythene to starve the weed of light. It may take several seasons until the ground elder is completely destroyed. I have found this method to be the least effective as it can grow through a hole the size of a pinhead in the plastic.
  • In new lawns, ground elder will usually be starved by repeated mowing, and shouldn’t persist for long.

 We’ve a few very attractive small fuchsias growing in pots. Some survived the winter as we really didn’t get any frost and some we bought as annual bedding plants. They aren’t the hardy red types, but all come from the same family. 

A Bit of History
The first fuchsia was bought to our attention by Fr Charles Plumier, a French Catholic priest and botanist who came across the plant that is now classified as Fuchsia triphylla while on a plant-hunting expedition in the Dominican Republic in 1695.

He named it in honour of the 16th-century German doctor and herbalist, Leonhart Fuchs. Plumier's samples were lost in a shipwreck, but he published drawings of them in 1703. Most of the plants originate from natives of Central and South America - occurring in the interior of forests or in damp and shady mountainous situations, so they are ideal for our climate. Fuchsias have two natural homes, in Latin America, which is home to 120 or so species, and New Zealand, which has just four.
The first species of fuchsia cultivated in England, where it was long confined to the greenhouse, was brought from South America by Captain Firth in 1788 and placed in Kew Gardens.

Sailors Story
The red flowered hedgerow plant lines many of our roadways. A popular variation and more commonly told story is about a sailor who sailor brought the flower from South America in the late 18th century as a present for his wife. James Lee, a nurseryman, saw it in the couples’ window and persuaded the sailor’s wife to part with it.  From this plant he raised 300 cuttings, which he sold at a guinea each in 1823 which would be €116 euro each in today’s money, a bit more than the 6 for €3 now. I think the plant is often called the Sailors Slip, or I might just be making that up! So like most weeks, don’t believe everything you read.

Other plants-people set to work. By 1842 the first white fuchsia had been raised and the first tricolour appeared in 1872. Since then many varied types have appeared practically every year. The numerous hybrid forms now existing are the result chiefly of the intercrossing of that or other long-flowered with globose flowered plants. You might even have a unique variety in your own garden.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Tree Removal

A treated stump

Sometimes you just have to take drastic action in the garden. 
I know I usually spend all of my time trying to spare things in the garden; I’ll even trip up trying to avoid stepping on an ant. But there has come a time when one of the neighbours many self-set ash tree just had to go. 

The trunk of the tree over the years has undermined one of the walls of our garage and has started to push the blocks inwards, cracking the joints. A builder assessed the damage it was doing and labelled it as ‘critical’ it’s not the first time attempt with the tree. Four years ago the main trunk was cut down but because it wasn’t killed off, the side shoots shot up with a vengeance as ash trees actually like being coppiced. These offshoots were again pushing at the garage foundations and are too close and too large for us to dig them out. 

This time, all of the growth has been cut back and plugs have been inserted into drilled holes in the tree. These plugs contain glyphosate mainly so I had to look away as the tree surgeon put them into place. He topped it all off with a bit of tarry looking liquid just for luck. 

These types of plugs are becoming very popular now for tree control and it’s claimed they are less harmful to the environment that some of the more ‘natural’ methods. These can include pouring salt into holes, adding the much overused Epsom salts to all the cracks and crevices, pouring bleach over the stump and the one we see more than any other, a few buckets full of diesel poured everywhere.
Trees can be dealt with either with the foliage in place with sprays, which can cause problems, especially when the wind blows. 

There are some that claim if you use paving right up to the trunk this will kill the tree. Copper or brass nails are sometimes suggested but I have never actually seen that work. It’s a favourite suggestion from people who want to kill a neighbour’s tree without the neighbours knowing. A bit sneaky and thankfully the neighbour and I worked closely together in a friendly manner when this ash tree was taken down. Removing the bark around the diameter of the tree can kill them too so it’s important to keep the strimmer away from young trees in the garden as the thin bark can easily be damaged.

The whole process of removing the tree wasn’t an enjoyable one and to spare me going into more details about how we can kill them off I thought as a mark of respect I would quote the poem by Gieve Patel, which highlights the lengths a tree will go to to survive, after all, ash trees can live to 400 years old. Hopefully in the near future I will be planting a few more trees to offset the loss.

On killing a tree

It takes much time to kill a tree,

Not a simple jab of the knife

Will do it. It has grown

Slowly consuming the earth,

Rising out of it, feeding

Upon its crust, absorbing

Years of sunlight, air, water,

And out of its leprous hide

Sprouting leaves.

So hack and chop

But this alone won’t do it.

Not so much pain will do it.

The bleeding bark will heal

And from close to the ground

Will rise curled green twigs,

Miniature boughs

Which if unchecked will expand again

To former size.


The root is to be pulled out —

Out of the anchoring earth;

It is to be roped, tied,

And pulled out — snapped out

Or pulled out entirely,

Out from the earth-cave,

And the strength of the tree exposed

The source, white and wet,

The most sensitive, hidden

For years inside the earth.

Then the matter

Of scorching and choking

In sun and air,

Browning, hardening,

Twisting, withering,

And then it is done.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Three Weeds

 Cleavers and chickweed next to the frog pond

3 Weeds
There are loads of uninvited plants in my garden. I think they are all great but try to keep them from going to seed as some can be a bit invasive.  Some plants I have such as St John’s wort, spearmint, red clover, evening primrose and honeysuckle, all have medicinal properties that our ancestors would have been very familiar with. I have an ever growing selection of ‘weeds’ now and I  have chosen the three most vigorous uninvited plants to demonstrate just how useful they really are. Knowing more about these plants really makes me feel as though I should be inviting more plants to come and stay.

Cleavers, also known as: goosegrass, catchweed, stickyweed, robin-run-the-hedge, sticky willy and more recently Velcro weed, has a long history of use as an alternative medicine and is still used widely by modern herbalists. It is used both internally and externally in the treatment of a wide range of ailments. It does get everywhere though and our dogs are covered with the seeds in summer, but we could eat it!

Cleavers Edible Uses
It is edible raw though quite unpalatable, it’s used as a pot-herb in some countries and can be added to soups. Using the plant as a vegetable has, some people claim, a slimming effect on the body. Cleavers seed can be used as a coffee substitutes like chicory, it needs to be dried and lightly roasted to release the coffee like flavour.

Cleavers History and Folklore
Cleavers was used as a love medicine in the past.  The infusion of leaves was used as a bath by women to be successful in love. It’s also been used as a hair tonic, apparently making it grow long. Several Native American Tribes used an infusion of the plant for infectious diseases. A red dye is obtained from a decoction of the root, it is said to dye bones red. Cleavers was also believed to remove freckles. They have been used as a remedy for snake bites, spiders and all venomous creatures. A thick matt of the stems, when used as a sieve for filtering milk, was said to give healing properties to the milk and is still used in Sweden for that purpose.

The whole plant is used as a medicinal herb internally and externally.
The fresh juice of Dandelion is applied externally to fight bacteria and help heal wounds. The plant has an antibacterial action,
The latex contained in the plant sap can be used to remove corns and warts.
When placed in a paper bag with unripe fruit, the flowers and leaves of Dandelion release ethylene gas ripening the fruit quickly. A liquid plant food is made from the root and leaves. A dark red dye is obtained from Dandelion root. A cosmetic skin lotion made from the appendages at the base of the leaf blades distilled in water, is used to clear the skin and is effective in fading freckles.
Dandelion is a perennial herb thought to be introduced from Europe and Asia. It is now naturalized throughout the Northern Hemisphere. No one is sure exactly how the dandelion has spread so widely, and there is some debate on the origin of the plant, but one thing we know for sure is that it grows really well in Inishowen.

Chickweeds are medicinal and edible plants. They are very nutritious, high in vitamins and minerals, can be added to salads or cooked as a pot herb, tasting somewhat like spinach. 

The sleeping plant
Chickweeds are an annual herb, widespread in some form. Chickweeds have established themselves all over the world, possibly carried on the clothes and shoes of explorers. They are as numerous in species as they are in region. Most are succulent and have white flowers, and all with practically the same edible and medicinal values. They all exhibit a very interesting trait; (they sleep) termed the ’Sleep of Plants,’ every night the leaves fold over the tender buds and the new shoots.

The whole plant is used in alternative medicine
A decoction of the whole plant of Chickweed is taken internally as a circulatory tonic for hundreds of ailments. The usual disclaimers apply here though. Don’t ingest anything unless you are totally sure you know what you are doing. It’s used to relieve constipation; an infusion of the dried herb is used in coughs and hoarseness, and is beneficial in the treatment of kidney complaints.

New research indicates Chickweed's use as an effective antihistamine. The decoction is also used externally to treat rheumatic pains, wounds and ulcers. Chickweed can be applied as a medicinal poultice and will relieve any kind of roseola in young children and is effective wherever there are fragile superficial veins or itching skin conditions. Again, disclaimers apply!

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.

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