Sunday, 13 March 2016



My life in the gardening world has taken me all round the country. This has given me the experience of working with a huge variety of soils, sites, climates and problems which had to be solved with a suitable plant cover. Some sites around the coastal areas were very dry with soils containing a lot of sand; others down south were shallow and overlying gravel beds or chalk. In the midlands there is a lot of deep but fertile clay soils in the country areas but many industrial towns had no soil what so ever. It was normal practise to buy in top soil for our landscape works in the Midlands, and the north east had stiff heavy clays that could hold too much water. Some coastal areas suffered a lot of wind exposure and salt sprays which could desiccate the leaves of vulnerable plants. The south east (the fens) has a lot of flat peaty soils reclaimed by draining, and some areas around Manchester have very deep peat soils with drainage problems. In Scotland we have a lot of boulder clay soils left over from the last ice age, but when well managed they can be very productive. However our country is not flat so we have the added problems of dealing with gardens on a slope. Shade from buildings and tree cover needed solutions. Building often created wet shade while trees often created dry shade, as the roots absorb moisture from the soil which is then lost through transpiration from the leaves.
Cistus Silver Pink
Most plants are very tough and adapted to growing in their own environment. It was our job so sort out the best plants for each situation. I worked as a garden designer for large scale local authority projects, but also got involved at individual garden level. Whatever the location, soil, or problem it was our job to find plants for all these situations.
Many areas exposed to the coast can suffer gales as well as salt spray. We all see the affect of this salt damage on grass verges along the highways after winter as the road salt usually kills out vegetation a few feet from the kerb. In gardens we can plant up those plants known to tolerate wind and salt to some degree. Escallonias, broom, sea buckthorn, holly, willow, eucalyptus and tamarix, and at ground level use pinus mugo, senecio, rosemary, lavender, delosperma or euonymus and for flowers the shrub rose rosa rugosa, cistus and red hot pokers will all have a place.
Red Hot Pokers
Most of these plants can also be used on soils away from the coast but still suffering from dry conditions. Other favourites can include the hardy outdoor fuchsias, all kinds of heathers, cotoneasters which vary from ground cover to small trees, gorse, and for the exotic garden try the yucca, New Zealand flax or the palm tree, Cordyline australis.
Many gardens suffer steep banks that make maintenance a problem so we tend to plant them up with ground cover which also smothers weeds. Heathers, camellias, dwarf rhododendrons and evergreen azaleas are useful but if the garden gets too much shade you can use variegated ivy, euonymus, London Pride, dwarf pines, pernettya, mahonia and viburnum davidii. However if the steep banks get a bit of warmth and sunshine this allows another range of plants. Flag iris, Helianthemum, the dwarf rock rose, senecio, hardy fuchsias and flag iris will all enjoy a steep well drained bank in the sun.
Outdoor fuchsia
Wet soil problems vary from damp soil to ponds and each has its own range of plants adapted to the degree of wetness. Cornus, willows, aronias, ornamental elderberries, bamboos, spiraea and snowberry are all fine as long as they do not get too much waterlogging.

Wee jobs to do this week

All fruit bushes and trees can benefit from a mulch of rotted manure or compost about two inches deep. Make sure all weeds have been removed before spreading the mulch. It will conserve moisture and add nutrients as it rots down. The plant will also benefit as surface feeding roots will not be disturbed or killed by hoeing. The mulch is also useful under gooseberry bushes to assist prevention of sawfly maggot infestations.


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