Christmas Crafts: Homemade Christmas Wreath

December 7th, 2016 | The flower garden | 0 Comments

Homemade Christmas Wreath The Christmas season is a great time of the year, full of food and family. It’s also a great time to get a little crafty. To help get into the festive spirit, you can make your own decorations. You could make a homemade Christmas wreath from materials found in your garden, this could be an activity to enjoy with kids too. This post takes you through the steps to a perfect wreath. 

  • As a base for your Christmas wreath, you can use any evergreen foliage as your base. This could be combined with berry stems, pinecones and seasonal fruits. Alternatively, you could accessorise the wreath with a bow, ribbon or other festive finishings.
  • Gather all your materials, these can be from your garden to make a truly bespoke wreath, unique to your garden.
  • You’ll also need a wire wreath frame, paddle wire and some pruners.

Method:

  1. 1. Cut all your materials size, ensuring all bundles of greenery are in proportion to the frame.
  2. 2. Secure the wire to the frame by wrapping it around the frame 3 or 4 times, then pull tight.
  3. 3. Bring together your first bundle by selecting a piece of each material, creating a visually balanced effect.
  4. 4. Ensure you keep the largest pieces at the base, anything with berries needs to be towards the top.
  5. 5. Secure the bundle to the frame, by placing the bundle where the wire is secured and wrapping the wire around the bundle 3 times. Pull tight to fix it firmly into place.
  6. 6. Create another bundle and repeat wrapping the wire around the frame. Continue this around the frame, overlapping each bundle with the next, to hide the wire.
  7. 7. For the final bundle, make it smaller and tuck under the first, then secure with wire.
  8. 8. Flip the wreath, cut the wire and tuck it into the back of the frame.

Now it’s complete you can proudly hang it on your front door! If you make wreaths every year or have any different ideas, please let us know in the comments below. 

GrowVeg: How to Make a Christmas Holiday Wreath

White and not so white flowers

December 2nd, 2016 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Alyssum 'Snow Crystals'Last year, about this time, I highlighted some interesting black flowers so this year I thought I’d turn it around and look at white flowers. A white border is one of the most effective colour-themed plantings there is, just look at the white gardens at Sissinghurst and Hidcote.

Of course, most of us won’t be creating white gardens on that scale, and with annuals there’s also a great opportunity to create a white garden one year and, change it for a blue one the next. But what about white…?

So here’s the thing: not all white flowers are really white. Flowers in the purest white are lovely, but add in those in creamier tones and those with faint tints or blue or pink and the whole display somehow looks tainted.

So, which are the really genuinely pure white flowers? Cosmos ‘Hummingbird White’ is a good pure colour, and there are no tints in semi-double ‘Psyche’ cosmos although it won’t flower till very late in the season. In some alyssum the tiny creamy eye is distracting but in the larger flowered ‘Snow Crystals’ (left, click to enlarge) is is not a problem. And while ‘White King’ larkspur (below) has a green centre to every floret this only serves to harmonise with the surrounding foliage. The flowers of Agapanthus ‘Getty White’ are a pure colour with harmonising green flower stems, as is Ammi majus.

Larkspur 'White King' has a slightly greenish centre to each floret.The honeyed eyes of Echinacea ‘PowWow White’ are lovely but do those large golden central disks fit into a white border. Gaura ‘The Bride’ tends to develop pink tints, the unopened buds of lupins are distinctly cream, white verbenas tend to have a limy green eye and most white nicotianas have creamy tints. White foxgloves can be pure white, but many have a speckling of spots.

The purple rings around the eye of Osteospermum ‘Akila White Purple Eye’ and ‘Cockade’ annual Chrysanthemum either sabotage your pure white colour scheme or adds valuable sparks – it’s up to you – but beware of white ageratum: it’s a lovely pure colour but turns brown as it ages and needs almost daily deadheading.

What to do in the garden in December

December 1st, 2016 | The flower garden, The vegetable garden | 0 Comments

December bulbs

December is traditionally one of the quieter months in the flower and vegetable garden. Winter vegetables really come into their own now, especially once parsnips and brussels sprouts have had a frost or two to improve their flavour. While most spring-flowering bulbs should already be in the ground, there is still time to plant tulips, which actually benefit from this later planting. Many are well suited to growing in containers too.

Remove all plant debris from round the garden or on the allotment, as fallen foliage and the like encourage pests and diseases to over-winter and cause us problems next spring and summer. This is particularly important if you grow roses.

Flowers

December - Sweet PeasIf you made a sowing of sweet pea seeds back in October and have them in the greenhouse or a cold frame, pinch out the growing tip after two pairs of leaves have formed; this will encourage the development of side-shoots and bushy growth through the winter, and stop the young plants becoming ‘leggy’. They will then make steady progress and be ready for planting out early next spring.

House plants make attractive features through the dark winter months. The compost of azaleas should be kept wet, but never saturated. Poinsettias, on the other hand, should have compost which is only just moist. If you are yet to buy these Christmas favourites, always choose plants from stock which has been kept in warm spot indoors in a shop; never buy plants from outside, as they will not thrive when you get them home, and may well die.

Where containers planted for winter displays are close to the house or other buildings, check them regularly to see whether they are receiving enough moisture from rainfall. If not, water them to prevent the compost drying out. It can be easy to forget them at this time of year because they tend not to need as much watering as summer containers.

Keep a look-out for pale blotches and grey mould on the foliage of violas and pansies, as these are the symptoms of downy mildew. The affected leaves will gradually die. Unfortunately, there is no chemical treatment. Remove infected leaves as soon as the discolouration appears.December - Pansy 'Cool Wave Mixed'

If the weather remains relatively mild this month, you may see that some spring-flowering bulbs start to show above ground already. In fact we have noticed this happening already! There is no need to be concerned about this, because as the weather becomes colder their rate of growth will slow accordingly and they will still flower when we expect them to.

Vegetables

December - First early potato DivaaMay we remind you that it is not too early to order seed potatoes, especially if you are keen to grow particular varieties. We begin despatch from January 2017 onwards. Please have a look at our new varieties. Elfe is a second-early with yellow flesh and a rich, almost buttery flavour; it’s really great for making mash or for baking. Gemson is another second-early, and we recommend this for its large crop of smaller tubers. It boasts the famed Maris peer as one of its parents, and has excellent disease resistance. The tubers have a firm, creamy flesh, and are perfect for steaming, boiling and as a salad potato. White and pink-skinned Pink Gypsy is a maincrop, and this one is particularly versatile, being superb for mashing, baking and roasting.

If you enjoy growing large onions, whether for the kitchen or for the showbench, do consider trying our new variety called, simply, Exhibition; this splendid strain was bred in East Anglia from The Kelsae, the most famous of all onions. It produces large, flask-shaped bulbs with a golden skin colour and a deliciously mild, sweet flavour. It can reach 454gm (1lb) in weight with very little care, but considerably larger specimens are achievable with a little ‘TLC’. Seed of Exhibition can be sown in gentle warmth from December through to February. It’s well worth growing!

Now is a good time to dig over any part of the vegetable garden or allotment which is not in production. This is best done when the soil is not too wet and certainly never when it is frozen. Dig to a spade’s depth (a spit), and leave the soil in clods as it falls to be broken up by frost and rain action in the weeks ahead.

Fruit

December - Raspberry Polka canes from Mr Fothergill'sAutumn-fruiting raspberries can now be pruned back virtually to ground-level. This will allow next spring’s new shoots to develop strongly, allowing them to flower and fruit next autumn. If you like the idea of some summer raspberries from the same plants, leave two or three of the strongest canes tied into the framework, and these will provide you with some tasty summer berries ahead of the autumn harvest.

This is the best time to give fruit trees and bushes that have been subject to attacks by pests such as aphids a spray with a ‘winter wash’; this should see off any over-wintering pests and their eggs. Modern winter washes use surfactants and natural oils, rather than being tar-based like the old-fashioned remedies. This treatment should mean a healthy start to next year’s growing season. Winter washes are available from good garden centres.

Fascinating facts and figures about Broad Beans

December 1st, 2016 | The vegetable garden | 0 Comments

Broad BeansThe broad bean has a very long history of cultivation, although it no longer exists in the wild. We believe it originated in north Africa and south-west Asia. It was well known to the ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans, and it had reached Britain by the 17th century. The ancient Egyptians regarded it as a food of the lower classes.

The Greek philosopher and mathematician Pythagoras forbade his followers from eating, or even touching, the beans because he believed they contained the souls of the dead. In Rome, beans were prepared at the annual Lemuralia festival (9, 11,13 May) as a dish to appease restless spirits that were haunting households.

In Luxembourg, the national dish is Judd mat Gaardebounen, which is smoked pork collar and broad beans. The Dutch often eat broad beans flavoured with the herb savoury. Broad beans are high in protein and fibre, an excellent source of folate and a good source of other B vitamins. Around 10,000 tonnes are grown commercially in the UK every year. In the USA they are known as fava beans, derived from their botanical name Vicia faba.

There are two main types of broad beans – longpods and Windsors. Longpods are hardier, so well suited to autumn and very early spring sowings and their seeds are kidney-shaped. Windsor types produce rounder beans in shorter, broader pods. Several of the cultivars we still grow today have a long history. For example, Green Windsor was introduced in 1809, Bunyards Exhibition in 1884, Aquadulce Claudia in 1885 and White Windsor in 1895. A small-seeded variant of the broad bean, known as the field bean, is extensively grown as feed for livestock.

It was once widely believed that rubbing a wart with the furry inside of the broad bean pod would cause it to shrivel and disappear. In some parts of the UK, and particularly in Suffolk, the scent of broad bean flowers was said to be an aphrodisiac.

Broad beans grow best in reasonably fertile, well-drained soil into which plenty of well-rotted compost or manure has been incorporated. A sheltered site is best for autumn sowings, but spring sowings are fine in an open, sunny part of the garden. It is not advisable to grow broad beans in the same spot two years running, as this may encourage soil-borne foot and root rot diseases. In many gardens broad beans are often the first fresh vegetables of the year and, picked young, are a real treat when little else is ready.

To browse all the broad bean varieties we have on offer at Mr Fothergill’s just follow this link to the broad bean seed section of our website

Royal Horticultural Society

This article was first published on the RHS website November 2016. 

Read more on the RHS website about growing your own broad beans.

Sooty Sweet Williams

November 25th, 2016 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Dianthus barbatus 'Black Adder'Traditional Sweet Williams are amongst our toughest and most resilient biennials. Which is just as well because it takes a while for them to grow to flowering size. So the result has to be worth it.

In recent years “black” flowered varieties have become more popular and the latest of these is ‘Black Adder’. And this really is worth waiting for.

OK, the flowers are not actually a true black – few, very few, flowers are – but they are the deepest and richest deep deep crimson red; a lovely sultry shade. What’s more, the foliage is infused with red and this is especially noticeable in the rosettes that carry the plant through the winter as cooler weather enriches the colour.

I say that it takes a while for ‘Black Adder’ to reach flowering size, but that’s not necessarily so. The traditional approach is to sow in June or July, in a row outside, thin to 5-10cm, and transplant the plants to their flowering sites in the autumn.

They settle in, develop their rich foliage colour through the winter and flower the following May, June and July – looking good with hardy geraniums (below). But you can also sow them in the same way in March or April. Transplant them in June and they’ll flower later the same summer.

Either way, shear them back hard after flowering and they should flower again the following summer, with the addition of that rich foliage colour in between.

How you go about it is up to you, depending on where and how you prefer to grow them.

One final word: Sweet William ‘Black Adder’ is a fine cut flower. Cut the stems when most of the flowers in the head are open and, in the house, keep them away from bowls of fruit as the ethylene that fruit gives off shortens their life. They should last about ten days.

Dianthus barbatus 'Black Adder' with Gernium endressii