Beautiful living willow tunnel…..

I renovated  this willow tunnel a couple of years ago, each season it puts on incredible growth providing a lush play space. Willow domes, screens, dens and arbours are planted during the winter months, until around the end of march, whilst the stems are dormant. Email now to register your interest or to book an individual installation. enquiries@reneebrailsfordgardens.co.uk

Time for Tulips, Daffodils and Alliums – tips for planting bulbs

‘Choose colours to compliment your early flowering alpines, spring blossom or hard landscaping.’ 

Tulips lift an emerging spring garden with a riot of colour and are well worth planting in bulk – so often I see gardens with a handful of bulbs here and there, but whenever I come across a more generous display the results are staggering. Even a small garden will benefit from drifts across several smaller borders to extend your flowering season, bring the garden together and will hopefully lure you outside to enjoy the magical fresh spring air. I often suggest to people that they plant tulips in old plastic plant pots, to plant them out into the garden, pots and all, once the shoots emerge – thus placing them perfectly without disturbing other plants and lessening the chance of disturbance.

To ensure good flowering each year – it is best to treat tulips as bedding – ie; replace each year with new stock or perhaps try species tulip which will naturalise (return each year and spread) given the right setting. Mid to late season tulips tend to be more robust and will withstand the often turbulent weather. The classic red tulips are always a wonderful sight, also pale creamy tulips with green tinges give a fresh calm feel against evergreens, but my favourites are the almost black ‘queen of the night’ and slightly curled, purple ‘blue parrot’.

Daffodils aren’t really considered fashionable by some, but honestly who can really resist that traditional seasonal lift they bring? Ever since living in Derbyshire, I have come to look forward to the early colour that daffodils bring against all the grey stone walls of a long local winter. Although they don’t technically work with my colour schemes, I find that they are early enough not to coincide with the palette that follows. Another bonus with daffodils is that they are very reliable and need very little attention. You can plant them almost anywhere in the garden and simply forget about them – they’ll keep coming back each year. I like the miniature variety ‘tete a tete’, and there are many beautiful varieties; some bold, some dainty – check out http://www.blomsbulbs.com for a wide selection.

Alliums now, are considered very fashionable, almost de rigeur for many a show garden. Typically globe shaped clusters of flowers on long stems, these ornamental onions are enjoyed for elegance and early summer colour, with the added bonus of lovely delicate seedheads for winter frosts. Some are just plain whacky like Allium ‘hair’,’purple sensation’ is the classic purple headed globe, I’m keen on ‘sphaerocephalon’ at the moment for a more natualistic scheme

Plant tulips, daffodils, alliums anytime from september to the end of december for flowering next spring. Choose colours to compliment your early flowering alpines, spring blossom or hard landscaping. The key is to be generous  – you’ll thank yourself.

Boggy border? Planting ideas for heavy wet soils.

Ok, so I won’t pretend that this one is easy….. Heavy clay soils are backbreaking and even heavier when wet and they can hold water for months, only to make an impenetrable cracked surface when they finally dry out.

The solution will depend on your site and requirements, often a garden on clay soil can have areas which drain better than others – In my garden, I have a spring that bubbles up when the water table is very high, and previously areas of stagnant standing water, yet I also have wonderful free draining organic matter rich borders too.

I have stabilised the area with the poorest drainage  by planting a willow dome to drink up some water. Other areas have had lots of compost added and been planted with appropriate plants. An overall site survey done at intervals over the course of a year is ideal to ensure landscaping and planting to best effect.

However you may already have an established garden with a problem area I would recommend the following three pronged attack…..

  • Once the soil is weeded, top dress the soil with organic matter and avoid digging and bringing the worst of the clay to the surface. Continue to add mulch annually when the soil is damp but not when its waterlogged or already dried out.
  • Within borders, work on boards or planks to avoid compacting the soil, lay hard paths for main routes.
  • Use the right plants – Gunnera, astrantia, Primula, Cirsium rivulare Calla, Astilbe, Houtunia, Carex pendula, Caltha palustris, Darmera peltata, Eupatorium, Iris, Ligularia, Rodgersia, Trollius and Zantedeschia, Cornus, Willow etc (some of these plants are very vigorous – choose carefully) Its always worth checking out your neighbours gardens to see what can work.

How and why to compost…

Time to mulch the bare soil in your borders while the soil is wet and warming. Mulching is great for improving your soil condition, feeding your plants, reducing weeds and conserving water. Simply apply a layer of your chosen material to the top of your soil. Bark, gravel, slate etc work well as a weed suppressant between shrubs but don’t enrich the soil. Well rotted manure is great but the ideal medium is garden compost. Home made garden compost is free, rich in nutrients to feed your plants and organic matter to improve the physical condition of your soil. Plus you don’t need to source it or transport it so it’s a truly ‘green’ thing to do.

Last year I gained a garden shredder through the wonders of freecycle. I gave away an old garden shed and karma supplied me with a fully working garden shredder to call my own. Using the shredder to chop the garden waste takes a lot of effort out of composting and speeds the rotting process tremendously. This year the results have been brilliant and with my heavy clay soil I am really keen to add good organic matter to my garden each spring.

How to compost? I use a traditional wooden bays made from old pallets, these are big enough for to hold a years worth of waste and generate plenty of heat but there are smaller, tidy bins available for smaller gardens. It’s good to have a hard standing surface that you can sweep. The basic principle is to balance soft green matter such as grass cuttings with brown matter such as twiggy dead herbaceous prunings. Too much of either is problematic. Then to keep the heap moist and aerated. Take care not to compress the compost.

You can compost cardboard, chicken manure, used tea bags, veg peelings, egg shells and old compost from pots. Always trying to maintain a balance between green and brown. Avoid cooked food and meat which will attract vermin. Also avoid thorny prunings and perennial weeds such as couch grass or bindweed, although a really large heap will possibly hot enough to kill dandelions etc.

For more composting info http://www.gardenorganic.org.uk/composting/index.php

For recycling visit www.freecycle.org or search for your local transition group who organise swap shops.

If you do not have any compost ready to use you can buy in local well-rotted manure – speak to a farmer, use bagged compost or manure which although more expensive will have been heated to guarantee not to carry weeds.

Sow seeds, take cuttings and get new plants for less…..

Inspired by a visit to a beautiful nearby garden. I am sowing seeds with childish excitement.

Louise’s garden (above 1, 2 & 3) was cottagey and naturalistic, incorporating lots of pinks and purples with  aqualegias, sweet rocket, ragged robin (all easy to grow from seed). The hedges, blousy with honeysuckle, work with the old apple trees to frame an idyllic view of lush green hills and Carsington resevoir. I came away with two gifts – some angelica plants (below) and a wild desire to sort out my front border.

I routinely sow veg seeds and a few favourite annuals each year from Jan to April but once these are all hardened off and out of the greenhouse I tend to forget about seed sowing. This year I’m sewing aubretia for a client who needs masses of plants to cover a new area and while I’m at it I’m sowing some black cow parsley (Anthriscus Sylvestris, ‘Raven’s wing) to bring a sense of the hedgerow to my newly widened front border (above centre).

My border includes a red and pink Knautia, Cotinus, Stipa tenuissima, Sedum ‘purple emperor’, hardy Osteospermum, Verbena bonariensis, Stachys byzantine, Veronicastrum virginicum, Centranthus ruber ‘Albus’, Geranium ‘Kashmir White’.  This year I’m adding Stipa Gigantea, Lavatera ‘Barnsley’, Sanguisorba, Angelica and possibly Polygonatum if I can squeeze some in….

In my mind the most captivating thing about horticulture is raising your own plants from seed – its also a great way to save some money. Now is also a good time to take softwood cuttings from shrubs like Buxus and cuttings from Sedum etc. Plants can be far too expensive from your garden centre – it’s well worth learning how to propagate early in your gardening life to build stock of plants for your garden and to swap with others…..

Plants which will seed freely without any effort from the gardener include knautia, centranthus, stachys, verbena – all shown above.

To start…the year of the dandelion…

Thanks to the months of hot dry weather, everything has run to seed – all at once and the beautiful yet beastly dandelion has really made a show. The fields are full of the spent heads and our gardens are clouded with the misty seeds.

I guess this is a romantic way to look at it, I am worried too about what is to come. In about a month there witll be billions of baby dandelions in borders up and down the country – Look out for them and nip them in the bud!