Saturday, 21 August 2010

Too big for your roots


To keep the garden looking good all year round it is not enough to put in the hard graft without a fair bit of planning ahead. Tasks performed now will ensure the garden continues to look good next spring and summer.
My past career in horticulture has taken me all round the UK so I have had numerous gardens to design, plant and care for. I don't rush into the task but consider carefully all the different elements I want to incorporate into the garden. I may want flower beds, roses, heather garden, herbaceous border, annual border, flowering shrubs, garden trees, climbers, vegetables and fruit and most likely a greenhouse and sunny sheltered patio.

Shasta daisies
Initial garden design
Nearly all existing gardens have some redeeming elements that are worth preserving, then give a lot of thought to what parts get the most sun, shade and shelter and the need for paths.
Often there is a need for privacy with a sunny patio to relax on, steep banks to stabilise and shelter from wind may be needed. 
If some trees, appropriate to the size of the garden, can also be planted it will give the garden scale and a backdrop within which to set out the different elements.
All of these features need to be thought out at the beginning to save moving plants around later on, but don't worry if things do not go quite as planned. That is quite normal, but make sure you have the best place for your sunny patio to relax on with a wee drink (non alcoholic, of course) while doing all this planning.

Every time you visit a garden centre you are likely to come away with that special plant that needs fitting into this great design and that's when problems begin, or you often find that you want more plants than the garden can hold. Also many plants get too big for the space you thought was sufficient for them. It is sorting out these continual problems that makes gardening a year round affair.

Seasonal tasks

Now is the time to tackle some of those tasks.
Flag Iris
Flag Iris
This is a good time to split up flag Iris when the clumps have grown large and flowering starts to deteriorate. There is always strong young rhizomes around the outside of big clumps that can be dug out for replacing. Flag Iris like a sunny position with good but free draining soil and do not plant too deep as the rhizomes grow on the surface of the soil.

Another plant I grow in a fairly dry border is a large drift of Lavender. It started off as an informal planting ten years ago of about twenty plants that eventually merged into a bold sweeping group. Very impressive at flowering time but now a bit sprawling even though they have been regularly pruned every year after flowering.
I will take a batch of cuttings about six to eight inches long and put them into a shallow tray of free draining compost kept in a shady sheltered spot outdoors. They usually root very easy and will be ready to pot up in late autumn then overwintered before planting back into a drift in spring. The old drift of Lavender will be dug out and the ground dug over, working in plenty of garden compost.. 
Lavander and heather cuttings

A similar situation has arisen in my heather garden where a large drift of gold and bronze Calluna vulgaris has got too straggly. However these require different treatment for propagation by cuttings. I will take strong young shoots about two to three inches long and space them out about an inch apart in shallow tray in normal seed compost which will then go into a covered propagator with bottom heat. This will retain moisture to keep the cuttings sturdy. They should be ready for potting up by the end of autumn or sooner, and again these will be planted out in late winter or early spring.
Heathers can remain in great shape if they are trimmed over with garden shears after flowering, but do not cut into the old wood otherwise they may not recover. However the Irish heath Daboecia will grow again very easily when severely chopped back into old wood after flowering.

Another plant that needs looking after is the Himalayan blue poppy. These give a fantastic display as a woodland edge plant when in a large informal drift. The plants will flower themselves to death over the years so new plants must be propagated from seed saved from the drift. I leave some seedheads to mature after flowering but remove them in July.
Let them dry off before shaking out masses of seeds. These can be sown in trays and left outdoors in a shady spot over winter, but do not let them dry out and protect them from birds who may dig up the compost. They require a cold period for a decent germination so provided the winter is fairly normal this should be ok and provide you with numerous young seedlings in spring. It is usually another year before they are big enough to flower.
Poppies come in numerous types as annuals, e.g. Californian, Ladybird, and biennials e.g. Iceland and perennials, e.g. Meconopsis and Orientals.
It is the biennial Iceland poppy that can be sown now from seed saved from those that have flowered from early spring and continue to provide a fair bit of bright colour.
I sow mine in plug trays with seed compost and keep them in a warm but shady position and make sure they never dry out. Hopefully they will germinate and get potted up in late summer to produce plants for planting in autumn or spring.

Iceland poppies can also be sown direct into the soil in August or September and will overwinter as young seedlings ready to flower in spring.

Feed the topsoil

To get the best out of all your plants you should make sure your soil is in excellent condition. Winter digging as early as possible and leaving the surface rough lets the weather break down the surface, and this is the best time to incorporate garden compost, manure or any other organic material to hand, even old growbags. This will improve drainage, warm up the soil, and increase microbial and worm activity which enhances availability of nutrients.
Every good garden should retain all waste plant materials for adding to the compost heap. I add grass cuttings, leaves, kitchen waste, shredded paper, and even tree and shrub prunings that first go through a shredder. Only things to get rejected are perennial weeds and any diseased plants. Good compost can also be used as a mulch on plants with surface roots that do not like soil disturbance, e.g. Azaleas, heathers
At this time of year waste from harvesting crops provides ample material to compost and it is a great idea to turn over the compost heap to allow even decomposition. It is hard work, but an excellent exercise with great benefits for all.


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