What to do in the garden in May

May 1st, 2017 | News, The flower garden, The vegetable garden | 0 Comments

Plug plants - MayThings really step up in the garden through May. For much of the country, threat of frosts are gone by the middle of the month, meaning planting for summer can really begin, though the further North you are, the longer you’ll have to have frost protection at the ready – even into Early June for parts of Scotland.

For those without indoor space for early sowings, this is the month to sow outside in earnest – pretty much all hardy annuals and even the half hardy types can be sown outside this month in the warming soil. Those that do make an early start will have windowsills, cold frames and greenhouses brimming with young plant waiting to go outside.

Whether you have flower and vegetable sowings to undertake, young plants to prepare for planting, or are simply looking for some green-fingered inspiration for the month ahead, we’ve got some simple pointers and ideas to get your plants and garden set for summer.

Preparing young plants for the garden
Plants raised under glass or on windowsills will be looking lush and ready to plant through May, but their soft growth is not ready for outdoor conditions. Some acclimatisation is needed for successful establishment out in the garden. Plants should be placed outside by day (unless conditions are really cold, wet and windy) and brought back under cover in the evening over a 10-14 day period, adjusting them to cooler temperatures, lower humidity and increased air movement. This toughening up process is called ‘hardening off. All young plants started from seed or plugs this spring, and any plants overwintered under glass should go through this process. Even plants classed as ‘hardy’ will need this treatment to establish them outside.

Keep new plugs under cover
Any plug plants delivered in late April, and those due to arrive this month, should remain on the windowsill or in the greenhouse until early- to mid-June, giving them time to grow to a suitable size for the garden. Plug plants destined for borders and veg patches can be grown on in small pots or cell trays. Plants for the patio can go directly into their final containers if you have the room for them in the greenhouse.

In the flower garden/on the patio

  • Spring perennials – get a second flush of colour from early flowering perennials such as pulmonaria and doronicum by cutting out flowered stems to encourage strong regrowth. Sadly this doesn’t work on early flowering dicentra – simply cuts plants down as their foliage fades and allow summer varieties to take their place.
  • Move spring flowering violas to shadier parts of the garden for continual displays through summer. Cut back plants by half and offer a feed – they’ll bounce back within two weeks or so for a really strong summer show.
  • Keep on top of seasonal growth on climbers. Tie in new stem growth with wire or twine. New shoots on self-clinging types can be tucked into their support frames to keep the summer display neat and tidy.
  • Cut back trailing spring flowering alyssum and aubrieta as blooms fade, to keep the plants tidy. Use shears to cut back hard, which will encourage a new tight cushion of foliage growth.
  • If fading spring bulbs are in the way of your summer planting plans, lift them once flowers fade. Drop them into pots of compost and allow them to die back naturally before storing in cool, dark conditions for replanting in autumn. If leaving in place, remove spent flowers but allow foliage to die back naturally. You can also apply a dressing of sulphate of potash to build up their energy stores for nest spring’s display.
  • Mulch around mature trees, shrubs and perennials to retain soil moisture.
  • Direct sow hardy annual flowers right through May
  • Direct sow half hardy annuals in the second half of the month. This is particularly useful when it comes to These are a garden favourite but they do not like being transplanted from pots to soil. Far better results (albeit later flowering) will be had by sowing them in situ where roots can grow undisturbed.

What to prune in Mayshutterstock_563939443
The majority of spring flowering shrubs flower on the previous year’s stem growth, cutting them back this month as flowering finishes gives them a full season to put on new shoots that will carry next spring’s flowering display.
No matter the variety, all pruning cuts should be made just above a healthy bud point using clean, sharp secateurs or loppers. A pruning saw may be needed on thicker stems. Once you are happy with the overall size of the shrub, you can get among stem bases to remove older wood, improving air flow and light penetration to the center of the plant.
Common shrubs to prune now:
Daphne odora

shutterstock_338531273PLANTING PROJECT: Create a hanging veg garden on the patio

The warm, sunny locations often reserved for hanging basket displays are ideal places to grow a wide range of fruit and vegetables –simply swap your summer basket flowers for your favourite summer crops.
Many fruit and vegetable plants have pretty flowers so you don’t have to give up on good looks, your edible displays can be as pretty as your floral ones. Don’t forget that many flowering plants have edibles blooms too, so you really can get creative.

What to growSalad leaves, herbs, tomatoes and strawberries are obvious choices for hanging baskets, but there is a surprising range of dwarf vegetable varieties across our whole range that will give great results and easy pickings in baskets.

Tomatoes are the most popular basket vegetable by far, and there is still time to sow seed or pot up some plug plants this month. Look out for bush types, listed as ‘determinate’ varieties – Tumbling Tom, Garden Pearl and Cherry Falls are some of the best for basket use.

Planting by numbers – Tomatoes should be grown one per basket, as should aubergines and cucumbers. Two or three of the smaller pepper and chilli varieties can be grown together, while five is a good number for strawberries. Salads and herbs grown for ‘cut and come again’ use can be planted thickly. You could even plant six or so standard pea or bean plants and let them trail to the floor.

Veg Basket Planting tips:

  • Always use the biggest hanging basket available to you. Small baskets dry out quickly in summer heat and restrict plant growth.
  • Most veg plants will thrive in multipurpose compost, but longer lasting fruit plants like strawberries and blackberries will appreciate a 50:50 mix of multipurpose and soil-based John Innes No.3.
  • It is best to plant hanging baskets by variety for ease of up keep – salads in one, runner beans in another etc., but it is always fun to get creative, so do try mixing things like salad leaves, beet root carrots and nasturtiums together in one display.
  • Crops grown in baskets will need regular watering and feeding to maintain healthy growth. Mix slow release vegetable feed with compost at planting time. Fruiting vegetables like tomatoes, chillies and peppers will need regular liquid feeds through the season for the best yields.

On the veg patchshutterstock_539319679

  • Planting All hardy veg plants raised under glass through spring can be hardened off and planted out this month.
  • Sowing As your first plantings of quick cropping hardy vegetables go out, make your first successional sowing alongside them. It is better to sow your favourite vegetables little and often in short rows or small patches to avoid a glut of produce. Sowing every two weeks or so through to mid July, ensures fresh crops every two weeks or so through summer and into autumn.
  • Plant supports Ensure climbing supports for peas are in place before growth really takes off this month. Supports can also be organised for runner beans and climbing beans ahead of planting in late May or early June.
  • Plant Protection Wild birds are a delight in the flower garden but can become a real nuisance on the veg plot. It’s good to have an array of plant protection equipment ready to hand at the start of the season – it always pays to be proactive rather than reactive.
    Fruit cages and tunnel netting are the best options for keeping hungry pigeons off your brassicas and blackbirds off your strawberries and raspberries, but if looks or cost are an issue you might want to try these prettier, cheaper alternatives:
    – Old CDs – hanging reflective CDs in fruit trees is a common bird scaring device but it can also be used elsewhere on the veg patch. Use string or wire to hang them on or between plant supports.
    – Scarecrows – This traditional bird scaring method can be a bit hit and miss, but they are fun to make with the family and add a touch of fun to the plot too. The trick is to add an element of movement to your design. The easiest way to do this is to leave the arms unsupported so they can flap in the wind.
    – Warning colours – red is the colour of danger and will keep many bird species away from crops, but most bright colours and reflective materials should help keep birds at bay. Set lines of string over crop tops and hang with strips of red material or tin foil.

In the greenhouse/ on the windowsill

Sow frost tender summer vegetables under glass this month, ready to plant out in early/mid-June once conditions are right. With hardier plants being moved outside in coming weeks, fill the space with pots and trays of the following vegetable seeds:
French beans
Climbing beans
Runner beans
Final planting for greenhouse crops Early sown tomatoes, chillies, peppers, cucumbers, melons etc. can all be planted into their final pots, grow bags or border positions in the greenhouse. The tomatoes, cucumbers and melons in the Mr Fothergill’s polytunnel are planted into 10litre pots and grown this way to harvest. Chillies and peppers are set into 3 litre pots then set on top of grow bags to root into the compost below. These methods consistently encourage excellent yields and plant vigour.

Sowing flowers You can continue to sow hardy and half hardy annual flowers inside, but to save on maintenance, you may prefer to start sowing outside. This will free up space for early sowing of biennial and perennials for planting out in autumn or next spring.

shutterstock_1503542696 essentials tasks for the greenhouse

Open greenhouse doors and windows each morning. Day temperatures can still fluctuate in May – think about adding automatic openers to roof and louvre windows so they close when temperatures drop too low. Close windows and doors each evening.
Raise Humidity
With good ventilation it is safe to raise humidity around greenhouse plants, helping to keep them cool during the hottest part of the day. Wet all hard surfaces in each morning. The water will evaporate and raise the humidity level around your plants.
Young plants growing under glass can quickly frazzle under direct summer sunshine. This can be prevented with shade paint or shade netting added to the south side of the greenhouse. Newspaper can also be used as a temporary fix.
There should be no need for daytime heating in May, but in case of overnight frosts it is worth keeping an electric heater on its frost guard setting, or setting a paraffin heater in place each evening though to June.
Water Wise
Prevent potted plants drying out during the day by setting them in trays lined with capillary matting. If pot compost dries, water is drawn up from the soggy matting via the pot drainage holes.
Pest Watch
Set sticky yellow traps just above the foliage of greenhouse plants to keep an eye on potential pest problems. As soon as troublesome pests like aphids or whitefly are spotted, action can be taken before a major problem occurs. Have appropriate spay controls ready hand or be ready to order biological controls.

What Happened In May At The Mr Fothergill’s Trial Ground

May 26th, 2017 | News, The flower garden, The vegetable garden | 0 Comments

Hard to believe it’s almost June already, time does seem to fly at this time of the year!  Frosts should be at an end now so there’ll be nothing holding us back from filling the trial field with all the more tender young plants from the polytunnel.

Over the last few weeks we’ve finalised the planting plan and we now have a much clearer idea of what will be going where and how much space we’ll have for each trial which helps with putting together the list of items to include.  It’s still a bit flexible of course as things can change on a day to day basis and the plan will continue to evolve as we get through the next month.

One important job completed over the last week was to put together the tubs and troughs to decorate our stand at the Chelsea Flower Show.  It was great to see them go off.

Trial Ground – Carrots

The first signs of green growth are now appearing everywhere out on the trial field, the carrots and parsnips we sowed in April are well up, helped by the first decent rains we had for weeks – 13.8 mm on one day last week certainly broke the dry spell we had all through April.  The sweet peas too are now showing themselves and we’re checking daily to see if there are any lines that need a re-sow.

Trial Ground – Hardy Annuals

The direct sown annuals were sown a couple of weeks ago, with the ground so dry we had to water for a couple of days prior to the sowing date to give them a good start, but we were saved further watering by the perfectly timed onset of the rains.  Just occasionally it seems that nature is on our side!  The green shoots of many lines are already poking up through the soil and with the warm weather predicted this week we’ll expect them to romp away from now on.

Brian always delays the sowing of some species of hardy annual, the eschscholzias and calendulas in particular, as they are so fast growing that they would be past their best by our big open day in August so they are due to go in over the next couple of weeks.

We’ve now planted out the exhibition onions that were started indoors earlier in the year, they need some of our best land to make sure we see the biggest and best bulbs later in the summer.  They’re sharing a patch with a trial of Alstroemeria plants which we’re reviewing for future introduction.  Some of these plants are already showing buds so we’re looking forward to a great show over the summer.

Plants sown indoors for the half hardy annual and first year flowering trials have now been moved outside onto the mypex covered area.  Brian has kept some fleece on hand just in case we get late frosts, it would be a disaster if we were caught out by a cold snap at this point with over 500 trays of young plants at stake!

Trial Ground – Polytunnel

The polytunnel is now in full production, sunflowers, sweet corn and annual climbing flowers are all happily growing away in the protected conditions ready for planting out later.  With the big temperature rises forecast for the end of this week and over the bank holiday we need to get as much as possible outside in the open or they will start to suffer from the excessive heat.

Next it will be time to plant up the hanging baskets, sow the cucumbers and melons and prepare the sugar snap peas, runner and French beans ready for sowing.  We’ll start off the runners indoors but the French beans and sugar snap peas will be sown directly into the ground outside.  The brassicas sown earlier in the month now need pricking out into separate pots.  Unfortunately, the welcome rain also brings the dreaded weeds – they love these conditions as much as our crops – so it’ll be out with the hoes to keep on top of them, especially around the newly germinated rows of carrots, parsnips and direct sown hardy annuals.

Chelsea 2017: Sumptuous New Roses

May 26th, 2017 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

New Chelsea roses 2017: 'Papworth's Pride' (left), 'Deben Sunrise' and 'James L. Austin'

Roses used to dominate the Chelsea Flower Show. Eight or ten specialists staged elaborate displays of cut roses and, if the weather was unusually hot, they’d all be replaced half way through the show to ensure the exhibits looked their best until the last moment. Then they were sold off at the end of the Show. It was impressive; it was the traditional way but became out-dated, old fashioned and nurseries started dropping out.

Now, only three rose exhibitors remain: David Austin Roses from the West Midlands, Peter Beales Roses from Norfolk, and Harkness Roses from Hertfordshire.

All three have established a tradition of launching their new introductions at the show, although Peter Beales have only been developing their own varieties for a relatively short time.

I don’t think David Austin have ever produced a bad rose since their first, ‘Constance Spry’, was introduced in 1961. One of my favourites of theirs, that I’ve been growing for twenty years, is a the dainty kittle ‘Pretty Jessica’ – but they no longer sell it as they don’t feel its up to current standards.

I found it difficult to choose between this year’s three Chelsea three newcomers. ‘Dame Judi Dench’ features red-tipped buds opening to lovely, rather blowsy, rain-resistant, tea scented, rich apricot flowers with pale rims and peach centres.

The arching growth of ‘Dame Judi Dench’ contrasts with the upright habit of ‘Vanessa Bell’ which is a paler, soft lemon yellow and, again, paler at the edges and with a scent of green tea and lemon. The large rosettes of ‘James L. Austin’ are deep pink, unusually weather resistant, with a rich fruity fragrance and, in the end, that was my pick of the three.

It’s only relatively recently that Peter Beales have been breeding roses, for many years their only focus was on popularising old varieties, now they often associate their newcomers with charities. This year they have two: ‘Margaret Greville’ and ‘Papworth’s Pride’.

‘Margaret Greville’, named for the benefactor who donated the Surrey property Polesden Lacy to the National Trust, is a semi-double coral pink with a bold boss of golden anthers and an engaging cascading habit. The plants of ‘Papworth’s Pride’ I saw were very impressive, with large semi-double flowers like huge peonies in rich raspberry red. It supports Papworth Trust, a charity that helps the disabled.

Finally, from Harkness, ‘Deben Sunrise’ combines good health and powerful fragrance with creamy white flowers that are blushed in bud. It’s happy pruned hard to make a dense bedding rose or less severely to create a taller more open plant more like a shrub rose. I also liked their beautifully scented new single flowered ‘Simple Yellow’, the latest in their Simple Series of natural looking varieties.

I’ve been back and forth between the three Chelsea exhibits, checking on each of these newcomers, and my favourite is ‘James L. Austin’ (with ‘Simple Yellow’ in second place) for its combination of opulent flowers, rich colouring, fruity fragrance and a useful, slightly upright habit. My plant is in bud in its first season, I’m looking forward to the flowers.

New Chelsea roses 2017: 'Simple Yellow' (left), 'Margaret Greville' and 'Vanessa Bell'

Images © GardenPhotos.com, David Austin Roses, Peter Beales Roses, Harkness Roses.

Chelsea 2017: Taming Invasive Plants

May 25th, 2017 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Japanese Knotweed (Fallopia japonica) smothering a building.

Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica) is a terrifying plant. Its presence in your garden will reduce the value of your property, lenders may refuse a mortgage and, if you have it, you’re required to tell potential buyers. The  Environment Agency describes it as “indisputably the UK’s most aggressive, destructive and invasive plant”. And, of course, it smothers native wildflowers.

In its instructive, rather chilling – and very popular – Chelsea exhibit entitled Finding Natural Solutions to Invasive Plant problems, the Centre for Agriculture and Biosciences International (CABI) shows how they’re getting away from simply spraying invasives with weedkiller – usually more effective on nearby wildflowers than invasives – and exploring natural solutions.

Japanese knotweed is the worst invasive plant we have; walls, floors, drains and foundations – nothing stands in its way. But the exhibit reveals that a sap-sucking, aphid-like insect from Japan, a psyllid that kills knotweed, may be the answer.

“The first insects were released in 2010 but the first release didn’t go well,” Dr Dick Shaw, Country Director UK for CABI, told me. “They’d been bred in the lab for 140 generations and were not as effective as we’d liked. Now we’ve secured new stocks from high altitude in Japan and we’re very confident they will do the job.” They will not attack related plants in our gardens or in the countryside; the closely related Russian vine, also known as the mile-a-minute vine, is not affected.

Dr Shaw and CABI are also working on other natural ways of eliminating invasive plants including a type of rust fungus that attacks Himalayan balsam. There’s also a fungus to kill the stumps of buddleja after the top growth has been cut off; buddleja is an increasingly troublesome plant that can obscure signals along railways. A similar treatment for invasive rhododendrons is being investigated.

It’s heartening that we’ll soon be able to deal with these worst of invasives in a natural way and without covering our gardens and countryside with weedkiller.

Sap sucking psyllid versus Japanese Knotweed

* CABI works around the world, in particular helping farmers in less developed countries combat invasives of all kinds that affect their crops. This short video explains how.

Chelsea 2017: Celebrating Peter Seabrook

May 24th, 2017 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Peter Seabrook in his 40 Sunbury Road garden at Chelsea 2017

For some years Peter Seabrook has helped mastermind exhibits in Chelsea’s Great Pavilion that are focused with some determination on, as you might say, the many gardeners and not the few. This year, the front gardens of Sunflower Street have been replaced by the back garden of 40 Sunbury Road.

As always with Peter’s projects, the 40 Sunbury Road garden celebrates the best in British horticulture but this year – the clue is in the name of the garden – it also marks Peter’s forty years as Gardening Correspondent of The Sun. He joined The Sun when he was hosting BBC TV’s Gardeners’ Peter Seabrook's first column for The Sun in March 1977! World and his very first column (right,  click to enlarge), in March 1977, recommends growing potatoes in pots – decades ahead of his time – and he’s still there every week with good practical advice.

Peter has also had a weekly column in Amateur Gardening magazine for more than thirty years! He writes regularly for the trade press, too, and this year began a weekly gardening podcast!

His wisdom, his understanding of what’s important to gardeners across the country, his easy authority that’s always down to earth and that fact you can always depend on his guidance being exceptionally well informed has ensured that his advice is valued by gardeners everywhere.

His 40 Sunbury Road garden shows what anyone can do with  an average sized space. “It’s everyone’s back garden,” he said. “I’m trying to inspire people and show what can be done in a limited space.”

Peter’s exhibit includes a toy car, a washing line, a shed and a barbecue and Peter enlisted the help of school kids to grow vegetables for the exhibit and help create a fairy woodland.

A wide range of new varieties available from British nurseries and garden centres are included on the exhibit. Many have been developed by British plant breeders such as the petunias I featured here a few weeks ago and two new felicias (below), all bred in Cambridgeshire.

Peter’s exhibit was awarded a Silver Medal and is proving very popular  with visitors who appreciate how well the ideas and plants can be used in their own gardens. Just as Peter wanted.

British bred Felicia 'Friends Blue' and 'Friends White'

Chelsea 2017: Plant Of The Year

May 23rd, 2017 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Mulberry 'Charlotte Russe'

Looking at the advance write-ups of the original thirty five entries to this year’s Chelsea Plant of The Year competition a week before the show… Well… I was a little underwhelmed. There seemed to be nothing as outstanding as the 2012 winner ‘Illumination’ foxglove. That just shows how descriptions in print can fail to convey a plant’s true worth.

For when it came to the Sunday meeting to slim down the entries to a shortlist of twenty, some proved to be outstanding. Although it was also striking that some of the specimens entered were very poor – including a poppy with no open flowers at all!

The winner, a new long season easy-to-grow hybrid mulberry from Japan, clearly had the best story. It was developed over forty years by a dedicated Japanese breeder with the aim of creating a mulberry that anyone can grow, even in a patio container. ‘Charlotte Russe’ looks a fine variety – but there were no ripe fruits to be seen or tasted.

The most impressive specimen was the rose ‘James L. Austin’ but the three features assessed for the award are innovation, potential for long lasting appeal and the quality of the specimen entered on the day. The rose entered was a fine specimen but, as another in the long list of excellent David Austin roses, not an innovation.

The astonishing Clematis ‘Taiga’ was certainly innovative, but the fine specimen covered with utterly unique flowers suffered because a clematis won last year and some of the judges were reluctant to give the award to a clematis two years running.

I voted for what turned out to be the runner up. Salvia ‘Crystal Spires’ is a lovely pale blue hardy perennial salvia – a colour breakthrough – and was in full flower and very well grown. This is a plant that will surely have lasting appeal.

I’ll be growing it, to be sure.

Impressive entries for the 2017 Chelsea Plant ofThe Year award award.