Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Invasive Ground Cover Plants

Expectation versus reality with the Houttuynia

When a piece of ground is difficult to get to, I usually start looking for ground cover plants. At first thought it seems to be a good idea, but give the plants a few years and I am trying to beat them back with a stick as they try to invade the rest of the garden.  I have one main offender in the garden and I didn’t even plant it myself, the ‘Houttuynia cordata chamelion’. It turns up everywhere and will even grow in water, check out the image to see the difference between expectation and reality.

Groundcover plants
I do realise the virtues of groundcover plants and they can make the garden an easier place to tend, but like all plants growing in a controlled environment (the garden) they will need to be kept in check. Most ground cover plants don’t know when to stop and have no intention of keeping to their allocated space. The plants either throw out runners, seeds, bulbs, offsets and most have the ability to engulf and destroy any other plants in their path as they spread.

Invasive plants aren’t confined to ground cover either. We have all manner of climbers which will happily engulf the house, from ivies to Russian vines and passionflowers. Trees can be a nuisance too. Leylandii doesn’t even need an explanation as I am sure you are overlooking one as we speak. Then there are poplar, sumach and cherry trees which will happily throw out offshoots along the lawn and can be very difficult to remove.

Bamboo, sedges, reeds and grasses can also take over needing a lot of annual tending to. I have a couple of large fish boxes planted up with bamboo and have no intention of letting it out into the main garden, the same goes for my mint, soapwort, anaenome and chinese lanterns. They all have their own containers.  

Perennial plants can become invasive too and will probably need dividing and replanting when the clumps grow too large. Even raspberries and blackcurrants can get out of control when not kept in check.  Horseradich and artichokes can get out of hand in the veggie patch too. 

It only takes a neglected season for some of the plants to take over.  If some have got out of control there are a few things we can do. Hoe off or hand weed seedlings when small and try to remove dead flower heads regularly to prevent seed dispersal. Some lovely plants can throw out thousands of seeds in one go. chives, fennel and Verbena bonariensis to name but a few.

Digging out unwanted plants may work for a while, but is only likely to be a temporary solution. Suppression under black plastic or weed membranes, thick cardboard and mulch is an alternative but again could take several growing seasons to be effective. 

Caution is needed removing the plants too. When disposing of invasive plants and their seed heads it might be an idea not to put them into the compost heap, as this is unlikely to reach a high enough temperature to kill off seeds, tough roots or underground stems. Instead, place them in the municipal green waste, as this is composted on an industrial scale, where tough weeds should be killed off. Burning may also be appropriate, but you might have to pick a day when the smoke won’t annoy the neighbours.

It’s not all doom and gloom though with groundcover. Some plants can be quite well behaved and if you have a garden (like me) that is allowed to run pretty wild, they are a very welcome addition to the planting schemes we design. I have loads of lawn chamomile growing and it’s spreading at quite a fast rate into the gaps and crevices of the paths. Strawberries do pretty well covering the ground in the veggie patch too. 

There are categories for ground cover. We have:

Mound forming and prostrate shrubs
Deciduous shrubs such as: Cotoneaster horizontalis  and Potentilla fruticosa ‘Manchu’.
Evergreen shrubs include: Berberis candidula, Calluna vulgaris, Cotoneaster,Ericas which do really well in our soil,Gaultheria procumbens ,Hebe pinguifolia ‘Pagei’ ,Juniperus sabina ‘Tamariscifolia’ and Taxus baccata ‘Repandens’.

Perennial plants
Herbaceous perennials include:
Alchemilla mollis ,Bergenia ‘Morgenröte’,Cornus canadensis and Geranium macrorrhizum ‘Ingwersen’s 

Evergreen perennials include: Epimedium perralderianum,Persicaria affinis ‘Darjeeling Red’
Creeping, suckering, spreading and thicket forming plants
Herbaceous: Ajuga reptans ‘Caitlin’s Giant’,Galium odoratum

Evergreen, loads to choose from including: Euphorbia ,Hedera colchica ,Mahonia aquifolium,Pachysandra terminalis ,Vinca minor

Listing types of plants such as this is all well and good but the best thing we can do is pop down to the garden centres to see what is available, and have a nosey at other gardens taking notes.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Autumn Bulbs,Corms and Tubers

                                                              Crimson Flag Lily

Albert Camus summed up this time of the gardening calendar with a quote.  “Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.”  There are so many beautiful colours about in the late sunshine. There are also plenty of delightful colours in the flowers that grace our beds and borders at this time of year.

Perennial plants continue to throw out lovely hues. Red-hot pokers are sending their toned reds and oranges into the air and tubular Penstemon are a delight to see waving in the wind. Large multi coloured annual dahlia flowers flop and hang in there as the threat of the firsts frost come upon us. You can see why dahlias are so popular for council planting as they have a really long flowering season. Asters are similar and can last even the mild ground frosts in the evenings.

It’s not only perennials that delight in autumn. There are a lot of bulbs coming up now that add to the myriad of colours. 

Bulbs, Corms and Tubers

Crocuses are some of the best known of the autumn bulbs for the garden. These jewels of the autumn force their blooms through the fallen leaves to create a festival of colour, even before their foliage appears.
Slightly different from the annual types, these striking blooms of these tuberous plants start to open in summer, but are at their best from August to September, bridging gaps in borders as other perennials begin to fade.
One of the hardiest autumn flowers.  A bold block of cerise pink nerine flowers make a breathtaking sight on a bright autumn morning. These South African plants are unscathed by cold weather and surprisingly easy to establish.
Crimson Flag Lily
The most common one around here is the 'Major'. This hardy and vigorous clump-forming perennial grows to 60cm in height, with grassy light green leaves and erect stems bearing lax spikes of up to 10 crimson-scarlet flowers 5-6cm in width, from late summer. They are similar to nerines in their growing habits and the fact their origins are from the South African plains.
Similar to Crocus, Sternbergia make excellent bulbs for autumn colour at the end of the year. They love full sun.
The tall, slender stems come into their own in early October. They will need a bit of TLC though and be dug up before the hard frosts so not everyone’s favourite.
Tuberous Begonias are the most glamorous bulbs for adding a bright colour accent to shady patios. Their beautiful flowers are produced over an incredibly long period, from summer all the way through to the first frosts in November.
Cyclamen are actually corms and are very useful for brightening up those dry shady areas beneath trees, where other plants struggle to grow and make excellent woodland autumn bulbs. Cyclamen hederifolium is the usual choice for autumn flowers .For later flowers the Cyclamen ‘coum’ is often used.  Braving the cold winter weather as early as January, the pretty pink blooms emerge ahead of the foliage which later forms a carpet of silver-marbled leaves., Cyclamen coum enjoys a damper soil than it’s cousin, thriving in moist shade beneath trees and associating beautifully with snowdrops.
With so many different species and varieties to choose from, the snowdrop has gained almost fanatical popularity and galanthophiles pay enormous sums for a single bulb. But you don’t need to break the bank to enjoy these winter beauties. Try the Galanthus elwesii, the giant, honey-scented snowdrop or Galanthus nivalis ‘Flore Pleno’, the double flowered variety. For natural looking drifts, gently cast the bulbs across the planting area and plant them exactly where they land.               
Winter Aconite
These cheery winter aconite bulbs produce golden, cup-shaped flowers surrounded by a green collar of leaves - just like buttercups in the depths of winter! Not for the tidy gardener - Winter Aconites almost demand to be grown in bold natural drifts where they can be left undisturbed to die back naturally in spring. They love a moist soil and a shady position, so they’re perfect for under-planting among woodland trees

Monday, October 3, 2016

Signs of Summer Ending

 Old sweetcorn and powdery mildew courgette leaves

When you think about it there are hundreds, no, thousands of signs around telling us that the summer is ending. I am noticing that walking the dogs tends to be in the dark, there are more leaves on the ground and the ones left on the trees are turning quickly. There’s also a nippy breeze and I am wearing a hat for warmth instead of sun protection. Blackberries are there for for picking and the apples are ripe on the trees. Thankfully I haven’t seen any Christmas advertising yet but I’m sure that’ll be here soon. 

The back garden is where I am seeing most changes to the season. My courgettes are still trying to grow, they have new flowers coming on the stems but the plants have succumbed to powdery mildew due to the cooler, damp weather so I doubt any more courgettes will appear.

My tomatoes are staying green and their leaves are also going brown so I will be taking the fruit off and ripening them up next to a banana on the windowsill (I’m not making phallic images, the bananas are supposed to speed up the ripening process) All of the pea plants have gone and the bean plants are hanging in there but the runner beans are getting a bit blotchy with the cooler winds.

I have one lufa surviving in the tunnel. The earwigs have nibbled every other one. This is a bit too late though as mildew is getting to the leaves so the solitary back scratcher probably won’t grow any larger than a pencil before the season ends. I’m not sure if I will grow lufas next year as I can’t really think of a way to keep earwigs off the plants and I couldn’t be bothered with something really high maintenance that I would have to keep vigil every night.  I like the simple to grow, high yield vegetables and lufas are not in that category. Neither are sweetcorn. I harvested the last two today and although they look well they were really tough and inedible, even after liquidizing. Somehow the resulting goo had the ability to suck all of the moisture from your mouth and you were chewing it for hours. Not nice, I don’t think they will be on my wish list next year.

Preparing for winter

Apart from just watching annuals decay and roses just staying as buds and not opening in the garden, there are some things I could and should be preparing for. My first job will be to move the cacti indoors. I have repotted them so they will be happy for the winter as long as I keep the frost off them. I didn’t put most of them indoors last year and they survived as there wasn’t really a frost, I doubt I’d be that lucky this year. My other frost sensitive collection is air plants. Most of them have survived the summer in the tunnel but there have been a few casualties. Maybe it was too wet or not humid enough, you really can’t tell with these plants. 

They don’t wilt like rooted plants, they just dehydrate and die, or go mouldy overnight, or the leaves just drop off. The ones I have left are the survivors and won’t require much winter care. I’ll be sticking them to the bathroom tiles with rubber suction cups until spring, that should keep them happy every time we have a shower they will get some moisture so I won’t need to spray them with water very often, if at all.

There are outside jobs to do as well before things get darker and colder. If you have a barbeque that might need to come indoors before it rusts to bits. Frost sensitive posts will need to come in and if there are any hanging baskets left dangling outside the front door, these might need taking down and composting too. I’ve tried to delay the inevitable with baskets some years but they have a tendency to just give up at this time of year and look very bedraggled. 

As it’s getting wetter the paths will need clearing and cleaning. I have a lot of overwintereing broccoli and after lifting it up today I found a lot of slippery slime on the concrete path. In summer having to walk off the path and onto the lawn to get places isn’t an inconvenience but when the large leaves are wet and droopy you get wet brushing past them and the grass can be very slippery so it’s a priority to keep access clear. It might be a week or two until we need to be up the ladders clearing the guttering of leaves but it’s worth keeping an eye on the downpipes to see they are flowing well. We’ll be collecting leaf mould very soon.

It might be an idea to prepare the tools for winter as well although you might still need a few of them for planting evergreens and hedges. There is always something to do in the garden and if this winter is anything like the last one, I’ll be cutting my grass once a week until next summer.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Talk about the Weather

Being in a queue isn’t an issue for me anymore.

Having a smart phone with 4g means that I have access to all sorts of information (usually Facebook) and can keep myself not only occupied and entertained until it’s my turn to be served.

I will occasionally chat about the weather if someone brings the subject up. Usually it’s because of concern for the sales staff that has to endure a cold icy draft from the exit doors of the supermarket throughout their shift (why don’t shop designers put checkouts in warmer places? No need to answer that as I know really) 

Talk about the Weather
I do find myself coming out with a few old wives tales to other people in the line about the state of the weather, most of these ‘passed down the generations’ old sayings are pretty accurate and come from a time when looking up at the sky was the only way of seeing what nature was going to do next.
"In the morning mountains, in the afternoon fountains" I’ll chirp to the person behind me with a trolley load of food. I happen to know the meaning for this one, although I rarely have to explain as it’s usually greeted with a nod and a smile, although I’ll tell you. - The phrase comes from when clouds building through the morning are often followed by thunderstorms in the afternoon. If atmospheric conditions are just right, clouds will rapidly grow into towering cauliflower-like mountains. By the afternoon, the clouds will have reached the dizzy heights of the top of the atmosphere, resulting in rain and lightning below. Now you know and can pass on the phrase.

Dropping in
There are a few more I can quote too, which also make me sound like I have been dropped into the shop from medieval times to entertain shoppers. 

"If a circle forms 'round the moon, 'twill rain or snow soon" I’ll say smiling at a confused looking stranger.  This saying comes about because of a layer of ice crystals in the night sky that can create an optical phenomenon called a ‘lunar corona’ - a circle of colours surrounding the moon. Hence, the idea that a weather front is approaching and rain is on the way.

"When the wind is out of the east, tis neither good for man nor beast" I reply when someone comments on the wind coming through the supermarket door, again sounding like I should be in a period drama.

Rain before seven, fine by eleven, Cold night stars bright, are others which although come from a time before mobile internet and the meteorological office are still quite accurate although I wouldn’t hang my washing up just to be safe if it rains before seven as that one in particular can be quite unreliable

Red Sky
The saying is most reliable when weather systems predominantly come from the west as they do in Inishowen. "Red sky at night, shepherds delight" can often be proven true, since red sky at night means fair weather is generally headed towards us.

A red sky appears when dust and small particles are trapped in the atmosphere by high pressure. This scatters blue light and leaving only red light to give the sky its notable appearance.
A red sky at sunset means high pressure is moving in from the west so therefore the next day will usually be dry and pleasant. "Red sky in the morning, shepherds warning" means a red sky appears due to the high pressure weather system having already moved east so the good weather has passed, most likely making way for a wet and windy low pressure system. 

I have tried to explain this to people in the checkout queue but by the time I have finished they have pushed the trolley to the car, loaded up the boot and driven off, leaving me standing alone, mid-sentence in the car park. 

Still at least it’s not raining and even if it was it wouldn’t last long as "Three days rain will empty any sky" 

If I am in a really slow queue and have someone interested about old weather sayings I’ll drop out a lesser known one “Mackerel sky and mare's tails make tall ships carry low sails” I say with theatrical projection. 

 Like the person driving away in their car, they’ve usually lost interest by this time so I resort back to staring at my phone screen to check the weather.

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