Dainty daisies for autumn and spring

November 15th, 2019 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Bellis (Daisy) 'Bellissima'

I once found a dainty little double flowered daisy in my lawn. Well, patch of grass (and weeds, clearly) would have been a better description but I dug it up and kept it going in a pot for a couple of years before it faded away.

Double flowered lawn daisies were already grown in gardens and given long winded Latin names as long ago as the 1600s and it’s from these distant cousins that today’s double daisies are derived. And what great spring flowers they are.

Some, I have to say, carry flowers that are so huge that they collect rain and weigh down the stems after just a shower. ‘Bellisima’, though, has medium sized flowers that combine impact with self supporting stems. There are four colours: deep red, rose pink, white and a pink that fades to white. They won’t reach more than about 15cm in height at most and, unlike most other double daisies, they have one other special feature. They might well already be in flower.

Most of these dainty little daisies need a cold spell to prompt them to flower, so they don’t usually get going till spring. Not so ‘Bellisima’, which flowers without a cold snap. It’s usually in flower in October and November and in a sheltered porch flowers will keep coming through the winter before developing a second peak in spring.

And if Mr F have any dwarf tulips or chionodoxa left, slip them in between the ‘Bellisima’ daisies when you’re planting.

Give Pests the Boot!

November 13th, 2019 | News | 0 Comments

A gardener tending to their garden in the winter

Tidying up the garden for winter is a balancing act. On the one hand, you don’t want to leave hiding places for pests to overwinter. But on the other, you want to ensure that beneficial bugs – including pest predators – have somewhere safe to sit out the cold so they’re about for the next growing season. The advice we’re given to banish pests often has the unintended effect of discouraging beneficials too. So what is a wildlife-friendly gardener to do?

Read on or watch the video and we’ll help you to achieve that all-important balance.

Should I Cover or Expose Soil?

Perhaps the greatest area of confusion lies around whether or not to cover the ground or leave it exposed to the cleansing effects of frost and hungry birds. In general, it’s best to follow nature’s lead and keep soil covered during winter. Lay thick mulches of garden compost, leaf mould or other organic matter over the surface to stave off soil erosion and sustain beneficial soil dwellers such as earthworms and ground beetles.

An interior shot of composting leaf mulch leaf mould in a wooden compost binIn areas of the garden where pests have been a problem a good compromise is to delay laying down organic matter until midway through winter, or rake back mulches during cold snaps to temporarily expose ground. Raking or lightly forking the soil will help to reveal lurking grubs both to frosts and insect-eating birds, helping to dent their numbers before spring. This is a particularly good technique to use around fruit trees, bushes and canes, where leaves of any plants that were affected by pests or diseases should also be raked up and removed.

To Weed or Not to Weed?

When it comes to weeding, the best course of action depends on the type of weeds you’re dealing with.

Late autumn and early winter is a good time to get rid of perennial weeds, whose growth should hopefully have slowed enough for you to finally catch up with them! Be thorough and remove all of their roots too, otherwise they’ll just regrow again.

While weeding clears growing areas ready for springtime sowings, don’t be too hasty. Annual weeds like bittercress and deadnettle can be left to provide insect habitat and protect the soil over winter, before hoeing them off in the spring. Just be sure to remove them before they produce seeds.

Where possible, seedlings of self-seeding flowers such as calendula or nigella should be left to attract next season’s beneficial bugs because they’ll flower earlier than new sowings. And clumps of nettles left untouched in an out-of-the-way spot are a great food source for many beautiful butterflies and pest-hungry predators such as ladybirds.

Stop Pests Overwintering on Fruit Trees

A glue trap on a fruit tree in winter to deter pests such as winter moth caterpillarsThe bark on fruit trees offers good hiding places for pests like aphids and scale insects. Once all the leaves have dropped you can apply a winter tree wash to bare branches. This is a natural plant or fish oil-based treatment which should be sprayed on a windless day to avoid drifting. It will help to control pest numbers while causing minimal impact to other wildlife. But as with all treatments, it’s best to only use it if you’ve experienced pest problems on your trees during the previous growing season.

Paint tree barrier glues, or tie on grease bands around the trunks of fruit trees to help prevent damage caused by winter moth caterpillars. The sticky barriers prevent the egg-laying wingless female moths from climbing up into the canopy from ground level. Grease bands work best on trees with smoother bark where moths won’t be able to simply crawl under them, while glues are best for trees with deeply fissured bark.

Clean Greenhouses and Cold Frames

Winter’s a good time for a thorough clean of greenhouses and cold frames. Move everything out and clean greenhouse staging, all equipment and dirty pots and trays too. Leave it to dry while you then clean the glass using water with a little added natural disinfectant or greenhouse cleaning solution. Be sure to get into every corner, crack and crevice, any way you can!

Spaces for Beneficial Bugs

To keep beneficial bugs onside leave the rest of the garden a little wilder during the colder months. Allow grass to grow longer so caterpillars and other bugs can bury themselves into the thatch. Hollow stems and fallen leaves should be left where possible to provide habitat for all manner of insects. Old seed heads give shelter to ladybirds and other pest predators – and food for hungry birds. Cut them back in spring just before growth resumes. Hold off digging in ornamental borders until spring too – and then only if absolutely necessary – so that insects such as bumblebees can sit out the winter in peace.

You can provide additional homes for beneficial bugs by dotting bug hotels – big and small – around the garden, and, as long as you’re not in an area with termites, by creating log or stone piles, which will also prove popular with small mammals and amphibians such as toads.

So tackle pests where they have been an issue, but hang back from being too tidy to give the good guys have somewhere safe and secure to bed down for winter. Do you have any tips for booting out pests while giving beneficial bugs a helping hand? Comment below or head over to our Facebook and Twitter page.

Vital violas for winter and spring

November 8th, 2019 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Viola 'Sorbet Mixed'

There are two kinds of violets. Some are propagated from cuttings and although the flowers are very pretty and come in a wide range of colours and combinations their season tends to be short and the plants become straggly. But they’re hardy perennials and last for two or three years in the garden.

And then there are the seed-raised types which are more compact, more prolific, flower in winter and spring and come in a wonderful range of colours, with new ones added almost every year. But after spring, when they’re done, they really need to go on the compost heap.

Most of us have room for both types but at this time of year it’s the winter and spring flowering varieties that we need to get ordered and planted, they’re ideal for containers by the front door, and there are three lovely new colours released this season. All are from the Sorbet Series, by far and away the best of the neat and bushy violas.

‘Sorbet XP Yellow Blue Jump Up’ has yellow flowers with purple-blue tips to the tops of the petals and a neat little purple-blue chin. ‘Sorbet XP Neptune’ has a slightly more rounded white flower, whiskered in the centre and with a bold deep blue edge. ‘Sorbet Honeybee’ is a blend of pale terracotta, honey, gold and rich yellow with black whiskers. If you prefer a more traditional mixture ‘Sorbet Mixed’ is the one to look for.

The plants are often in bud when they arrive, plant them straight away and they’ll flower through the winter hitting their peak in the spring. The Sorbet violas are the best bushy violas on the planet. Give ‘em a try.

Christmas Gifts for Gardeners From Mr Fothergill’s Seeds

November 7th, 2019 | News | 0 Comments

Christmas is nearing once again! If you are thinking of what to buy for your friends and family, Mr Fothergill’s has got some great growing options for kids and beginners or experienced gardeners. Widely stocked by garden retailers and online, you can choose from a number of innovative gardening gifts from windowsill kits to fun ‘grass head’ kits for youngsters, which make perfect stocking fillers.

For anyone new to gardening, Mr Fothergill’s offers the patented GroBox (RRP £6.99) range of easy-to-grow, pre-sown gardening products. GroBox is a bio-degradable cardboard box containing four varieties of pre-sown vegetable or herb seeds in compost, which is planted, covered and watered in the garden or in a container. The range also includes a children’s flower garden and a children’s vegetable garden.

The GroBox collection - Childrens vegetable garden, Childrens flower garden, Easy herb garden and Easy salad garden

There are four windowsill kits – Herb Garden, Fragrant Garden, Strawberry Garden and Sunflower Garden – each comprising a galvanised metal windowsill container, seeds, compost and instructions. Each has a recommended retail price of £7.95. The Herb Grow Kit (RRP £10.95) has three galvanised pots on a tray, basil, parsley and chive seeds, plus compost discs, while the Grow Your Own Pesto Kit includes basil seed, compost discs, a ceramic pestle, mortar and instructions on how to make the much-loved Italian sauce for pasta. It has a recommended retail price of £6.95.

GroBox windowsill kits - Herb Garden, Fragrant Garden, Strawberry Garden and Sunflower GardenGroBox Grow Your Own Pesto Kit

Eye-catching grow kits in the caricature form of various animals would make ideal stocking-fillers to encourage youngsters to take an interest in growing from seed. The ceramic egg cup-style planters known as Munakuppi (Finnish for ‘egg cup’) Hair Grow Kits have a recommended retail price of just £3.95. Each Munakuppi includes two sachets of seed – basil for short ‘hair’ and ryegrass for long ‘hair’ – plus compost and growing instructions, so anyone can simply sow, water and watch the green ‘hair’ grow. The six hand-crafted animals, including a frog, dog, pig, duck, seal and cow are becoming collectables. Children would also enjoy any of four smiley faces or four adorable cats. These gorgeous kits come with a pot, coir pellet, grass seed and instructions. These ceramic characters can be used again and again.

Munakuppi Hair Grow Kits

For chilli lovers, there are Chilli Pepper Grow Kits available for classic, great tasting, fiery red chillies or juicy medium-hot green chillies, perfect for pizzas. Available as complete kits, with an RRP of just £4.99.

Mr Fothergill’s range of seeds and kits is available from garden centres, supermarkets and leading DIY stores throughout the UK.

Patio sweet pea mysteries

November 1st, 2019 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Sweet Pea 'Balcony Mix' and 'Teresa Maureen' (inset)

Something slightly odd has been happening with sweet peas recently. It’s not so very long ago that the genuinely dwarf varieties, especially ‘Cupid’ and varieties like it that only grew about 15cm high, were widely popular. I remember going to visit a wholesale grower a few years back and he had many thousands of potfuls ready to go to garden centres. But they’ve mostly disappeared.

On top of that, the medium height patio varieties reaching about 90cm and ideal for tubs and other containers… Well, they haven’t disappeared altogether but there are far fewer around then there used to be. But there are some.

One of the prettiest of all sweet peas falls into this category. ‘Teresa Maureen’ (inset, above) reaches about 1m in height and although the flowers are small they’re both prolific and strongly scented – and such a lovely combination of purple tints, veins and picotee set against a white background.

The other patio sweet pea to look out for is ‘Balcony Mix’ (background, above). This is a blend featuring fragrant white flowers prettily patterned in a range of stripes and streaks.

The other unexpected thing about these plants, apart from the fact that relatively few varieties are now available, is that they’ve been particularly recommended for sowing later than other sweet peas. Sow now, by all means, but seed can also be sown in January as long as you have a cold frame or even simply a cloche (not to mention a mousetrap and organic slug pellets) to provide protection.

For these shorter varieties that have a less extensive root system as well as shorter top growth, I sow five or six seeds in 12cm pots and plant the whole pot in a container in spring. This is the way to grow sweet peas in small spaces.