A green planting scheme with white highlights

March sunshine through my conservatory windows can be very warm, tempting me to get out into the garden. When I venture out I am reminded of the winter bite still present as we enter spring.  Generally Scotland is always a jacket colder than further south and I sometimes envy the gardeners who experience long balmy summers down south. I find gardening professionally during the working week in customers gardens in cold, wet and windy conditions is always easier than doing my own. My wife reminds me that from her Facebook timeline four years ago we were covered in snow so I decide to man up and get out there.

As mentioned in my garden rooms, I have divided my garden into different rooms to play with emphasis on different planting themes and colour combinations ideas.  The aim with my front garden is to use the shapes, sizes and textures of predominately green foliage plants to create a cool calming, tranquil leafy green atmosphere brightened by white highlights. The aim being a welcoming and relaxing feel when returning home after a busy or stressful day, rather than encountering vibrant exciting  hotter flower colours.

 As one walks through the various garden rooms I aim to experience different moods, in this room I want to attempt to slow the pace of the mind so the rest of the garden can be fully appreciated and enjoyed .  Green is considered as a calming relaxing colour as it is associated with the peaceful nature of the countryside although farmers may disagree with this concept.

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Today I am transplanting green and variegated foliage plants mainly from other parts of the garden which have acclimatised and shown to be quite wind tolerant and not too prone to winter leaf shredding. Foliage as the main attraction has the benefit of generally lasting longer than flowers which make a shorter contribution to a display. To act as a buffer between different shapes, sizes and textures of foliage and lighten the mood of green I am not only using white flowering plants which reflect light and brighten combination planting  but also  white  or near white variegation on  leaves.

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New planting at my front gate to create a calming tranquil feel

Today I moved the white flowered but powdery white spotted leaved Pulmonaria officinalis “Sissinghurst White” and the white margined Carex “ Everest”. The pulmonaria flowers are now succeeding  the snow drops and Leucojums which are now fading.  Snow drops have green markings which compliment the green theme but I am getting a bit artistically clever and big headed now.

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Pulmonaria officinalis “Sissinghurst White”

 As mentioned the aim eventually is to replace all  non -white  flowering plants to create a green and white area.  Although the purple crocuses I may allow to stay as this bold splash of colour after the winter is welcome.

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 Cornus stolonifera “Flaviramea” ‘s lime green stems add to the green scheme.

Work hard,playhard or grab a bargain?

The relatively mild winter has resulted in me being employed in customers’ gardens through most of January and February  albeit at a pressure free pace.  March is already hectic, this week I have had to turn down requests from potential new customers, a bold but I hope not silly decision. Last year I decided to go down to a four day week so I could spend a day doing my hobby (garden) and keep the weekends free for family life.

Already that plan is out the window with me working the normal five day week and considering the occasional weekend day to try and keep on top of the workload. However, I must not give in and defend my weekends and have a “life. It’s not easy, if I think too much of the jobs I have to get through, panicky insomnia sets in, not wanting to let down or lose good customers. I Just have to take one day at a time.

This weekend I intended to buy the bike I had identified to keep up my fitness (jogging aggravates my hips and knees too much now) and explore my local countryside perhaps hydrated or more likely  dehydrated with a half pint from an idyllically situated country pub. I side tracked myself by curiosity, wanting to know what potential garden bargains my local Home Bargains and B and M store may have.

By way of plants Home Bargains had nothing to tempt me but I noticed some good sized terracotta pots and very cheap (£4.99 and £2.99 respectively). They looked solid and were heavy, but were they frost proof? Goggling the manufacturer’s website Naylor, I discovered they are made in Yorkshire and Naylor is an established firm and they say their pots are frost proof to -15⁰. At the price good enough for me to take the risk knowing that Italian imports are fired at lower temperatures in a warmer climate and a lot more expensive to buy.

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B and M like B & Q have strong buying power and often have good plants from good suppliers but in my experience cheaper.  With regard to herbaceous perennials and alpines, they have some nice plants in one litre pots (3 plants for £5.00). As long as they have not been in the store too long and exposed to time starved staff care you can get some really good plant varieties. They do tend to be young and a bit soft for planting directly into the garden soil and contending with the prevalent climatic conditions.

After they pass my inspection of the roots, (plants I intend to buy I turn them out their pots to check there is a decent root system), I take them home and pot them into larger pots to allow a better and stronger root system to develop. Some I plant into planters as part of plant display. One has to keep them watered and fed  but after about a month they have matured substantially and have a much better survival chance to plant out in the garden.

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Good roots system essential

Although a little more labour intensive growing plants on in pots and planters  allows me time to get to know the plants more intimately so I can meet their needs and team them up with companions they will associate well with. Comparing my grown on plants with prices of the same plants sold in 2l and 3l pots in garden centres at prices commonly now exceeding £10.00 each. This little effort is worth it.

So I have spent much of my weekend gardening but with the pleasure I get is work?

 

Plants: £2.99 or 3 for £10.00

This was a slight error I made when promoting some herbaceous perennials I had bought in to upsell to my customers. Apart from the above mistake (Should have been 4 for £10.00), the idea was to buy in plants in 1 litre pots and although they had a lower individual profit margin, their low retail price would result in volume sales making the money.  Any plants that did not sell would be re-potted into 2l or 3l pots, held over the winter and sold the following year at a price covering the extra compost and time to look after them. Pots are never a problem as over the years I have built quite a collection.

A steep learning curve later, including customer plant loses, the time needed to look after them and rabbits and mice enjoying their nourishing growth over the winter. I abandoned the idea in favour of buying to customers’ orders, leaving nurseries to look after them.

 Cheap young plants in 1l pots are popular with many retail customers, however their foliage and root systems are often not developed enough to withstand the harshness of garden conditions compared to their molly coddled nursery conditions. The result being that many plants do not make it to a second season.  I have lost plants in my own and customers gardens this way and it would be interesting to find if there are any statistics on nationwide losses. I understand that the UK plant sales industry is over 1.5 billion so I am sure failure to establish must run into the millions every year.

Not including plants such as annual spring and summer bedding which are bought as throw away plants by the end of their season. Herbaceous perennials and shrubs are better bought  in 2l or 3l pot sizes as they generally have a bigger better root system, less likely to dry out and able to  establish quicker in their garden environment.

At the start of every season the wholesale cost of plants rise and recently I have noticed this price jumping even higher.  This year’s increases have affected my profit margin on sales already made as I try to keep my plant prices customer friendly. Although this weekend I  did cross reference with the prices of some popular online suppliers.  I now feel much better as the prices have jumped across the board justifying my price increases.

The HTA (Horticulture Trade Association) magazine confirms the increase with import factors contributing including Sterling’s weakness against the Euro after Brexit and rising import costs. UK growers are also affected by minimum wages rising, pension contributions, transport costs and increased costs in composts, labels, etc.

However I remind myself and my customers that plants as opposed to many other commodities such as cars and clothing actually go up in value as they age and if one spreads the cost of a perennial plant over the years one has them they work out  a good investment.  I like the extra positive thoughts of another online gardener ,that  as long as we buy cleverly many plants do not go out of fashion and as they age, like us, gain greater character and increase in value. Many plants such as mature magnolias, camellias and Japanese maples used for instant garden landscaping can cost thousands of pounds each.  With this in mind I think I can convince my wife when I invest in more plants, as by the time we retire our garden may be more valuable than our house.

A useful job for March

Spring continues to make its presence felt, days getting longer, a bit warmer and the earliest flowering bulbs providing a boost in garden colour. At this point I not only enjoy their beauty but also scan a critical eye over things I could have done better or different.

Towards the end of the growing season when the spring flowering bulbs hit the shop shelves, the garden is still in full bloom and often one cannot think where to place these bulbs in their attractive pictorial packaging and their price not too bad.

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When the garden is in full bloom and the bulbs are on the shop shelves one can find it difficult to think of the garden during the winter needing an early splash of colour. 

At this time of year I am able to note areas that would benefit from a splash of spring colour and equally areas where bulbs don’t look right. Here is where my note book and camera phone comes in handy (see Items I always keep within reach).

My favourite place to naturalise spring flowering bulbs are under deciduous trees and shrubs. I also plant hellebores and primulas here where they do not get in the way later in the year when no longer performing centre stage.  Colourful bulbs beneath the bare architectural framework of woody trees and shrubs enhance the picture. When they pass over they are protected by the emerging leaf canopy. Under shrubs and trees they are left relatively undisturbed to colonise and increase in number as their protectors mature. Here there is much less risk of them being weeded out or dug up during planting operations and randomly replanted which often results in them looking like tiny out of place colourful islands in barren sea of winter soil.

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Snowdrops “naturalised “under a newly planted decidious shrub enhancing is bare look. As the shrub matures the snowdrops will bulk up with it.

Now is the time I lift these loners and replace them in better positions. Most of us know it is safe to lift snowdrops in the green but I happily lift daffodils, crocuses etc in flower which I think are in the wrong place and immediately re-plant them elsewhere successfully. Sometimes they look a little bedraggled but perk up fine the following year, a benefit perhaps of our moist free draining soil.

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Snowdrops naturalised next to the groundcover Waldsteinia ternata. As both mature the snowdrops will come through the 10cm tall  Waldsteinia which latter in the year is covered in masses of small yellow flowers. 

Start spreading the news!

Sorry for misleading Sinatra fans this is not about his song New York New York. It is about a recent article I read in the 2017 Jounal of the Royal Caledonian Horticultural Society, (The Caley), by David Knott , the curator of living collections at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, entitled Plant Health Matters.

The article highlights and goes into some detail on pests and diseases which are killing many trees and shrubs with the knock on consequences to the wildlife which depends on them, Although the article focuses on Scotland its significance applies throughout the UK and the world. I think we as gardeners should be aware that some pests and diseases pose a bigger threat than others and have an idea, should we become suspicious, how to act as well as the steps to reduce the risk of spread.

Why is plant health such an important subject? On the grand scale rural economies and the natural environment are affected. In Glen Trool, Scotland large tracts of larch forests have been wiped out by a fungus known as Ramorum blight, affecting both the timber trade and the wildlife within the forests. Pests and diseases such as Ramorum blight are notifiable and must be reported it to the relevant authority.

The relevant authority is DEFRA (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs). They have plant health officers who regularly visit growers, monitor foreign plant imports and work closely with organisations such as the Forestry Commission on monitoring forests etc.

On the smaller scale, within our gardens we can inadvertently contribute to aiding spread such as buying plants from untrustworthy sources and irresponsible disposal of garden waste. For the average gardener remembering the symptoms of each pest or disease is not feasible. We should be suspicious if any of our garden plants look unhealthy, showing weak, wilting growth,  browning or blackening  foliage crown die back etc.  and is failing to contribute to the  overall ornamental picture. Having ruled out obvious common likely causes as drying out in times of drought or masses of greenfly on fresh growth we have to decide if we need to contact DEFRA.

 On phoning DEFRA to ask what the procedure is I was told that gardeners suspecting a notifiable pest or disease should phone 03000200301 putting them in touch with the Plant Health Team. I have to admit I would not want to call in the cavalry in fear of the embarrassment of the plant suffering from a common problem such as vine weevil damage I would be inclined to err on the safe side and dig it up and burn it  on site which is the usual practice that plant health officers would state to eradicate the problem.

Buying from reputable garden centres etc. is recommended on the assumption that they are behaving responsibly and sourcing their material from responsible growers.  However there is no harm in being vigilant. Visual examination of a plant at a retail outlet (rather than online) allows us to see if a plant looks healthy enough, however, remember many pests and diseases are difficult to detect as they may be in a dormant  phase and not rear their ugly head till planted in our garden. Keeping hold of receipt is a good practice as it can be useful  to get your money back  from the retailer from an infected plant.

Those of us wanting to know a little more can read or download comprehensive information sheets on specific pests and diseases from https://fera.co.uk/plantclinic/plantpestdiseasefactsheet.cfm.

There is also a downloadable poster at, a must for every garden shed

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Those of  you interested in joining the Caley can do so  by emailing: membership@rchs.co.uk

Backlot Tour

Firstly a quick thankyou to the people who are following me, an appreciated confidence boost to the newbie blogger. The weather this past week has not been particularly favourable to gardening and in eager anticipation of conditions improving soon, so I can get down to the business of planting ideas, I will give you a brief  insight of my  garden service area.

To hold the reader’s attention and desire to return, blogging advice tells you that you must ask yourself after writing a blog the question. Is this useful to the reader? If not re- write it.

Being organised is useful and keeping an area aside for growing on, composting, storage, washing lines etc. maximises the potential and space in the rest of the garden for its main desired function (be it productive for fruit and vegetables, play and entertainment or in my case primarily ornamental,) without cluttering it with garden utilities, left out tools etc.

My backlot is where I have my potting shed, glass house, cold frames, composts bins water butt and general holding area for plants, empty pots etc. I find empty pots left near beds always draws my attention away from surrounding planting making me wonder what they held.

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Looking barren over winter in the near future my holding area will be full of colour. (Hopefully not from clothes on the washing line.)

Over the winter my project was to build a couple of raised beds constructed from local stone and filled with top soil. I intend to use this area as a holding bay for plants I lift in my garden, (I keep putting them in the wrong place,) before I decide where they may contribute better. Here I can also experiment with plant colour and texture combination ideas before I plant them out into my existing planting schemes.

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New raised beds ready for planting.

Items I always keep within reach

During my many gardening years I have learnt many good tips from my gardening peers, customers, garden books etc. Often these gems of advice are found tucked within a dialogue or piece of writing and easily missed without realising how useful they are. I want to record those as I remember them because they make gardening easier and more enjoyable.

I find gardens and gardening relaxes my mind allowing ideas to flow and observations to be made which I want to be remember for consideration and possible inclusion, removal or change at future times.

The first and indispensably useful tip is always keeping a note book, pencil and camera on my person or within easy reach. So whenever I venture out into my garden or anyone else’s thoughts and observations can instantly be recorded. I also use mine to take notes of ideas I fancy trying in my garden from gardening books, blogs etc.  It’s amazing how quickly I forget great ideas and it’s not till I am flicking through my past notes I see things I have not got round to yet.

Photographing particularly attractive and pleasing associations which one observes at different times of the year is easy with the cameras on mobile phones.  These remind me of satisfying plant combinations or alterations which can be done to enhance, extend and merge planting combinations and successions at suitable times.

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This photo reminds me to move the Harts-Tongue Fern Asplenium scolopendrium so it is not lost amongst the more dominant  surrounding foliage.

If you are ever stuck for a gift for a gardening friend, a note book and pencil is a perfect gift and if you’re willing to spend a little more a waterproof note book and pencil is even better. If not give them a clear plastic bag also; for those damp days.

 

First contact/Mission statement?

Initially I wanted to write a blog about my garden. Why? I am a keen self-employed gardener but gardening, in particular plants and how to combine or associate them is also my hobby. Visitors to my home regularly comment on how good my garden looks. Well I am a professional and spend a lot of time working on it. I wanted more people to see it, enjoy it and get a few more pats on the back for my efforts.  Its a normal average sized garden and not suitable to the heavy foot flow of numerous visitors.

Writing a blog about it seemed  a good idea. So doing a little digging, excuse the pun, I realised I could, if I built up enough readership, make some money along the way. So I thought no harm in looking for a bit of recognition from other keen gardeners and industry peers as well as promoting my knowledge, skills  and services.

There are many garden bloggers especially in southern England but as far as I can see not so many here in Scotland where the climate tends to be a little colder and season shorter. So my focus or niche is writing about my experiences of adapting gardening and planting practice to our seasonal climates and making it interesting  to readers by relating this to mini garden projects and plant combination ideas.

By this time next year I hope to have built up decent following whereby I may get some extra plant or planting related projects to work on and perhaps noticed and  asked to write some media articles.

 

 

My garden rooms

My garden is divided into themed rooms to explore. Garden designers recommend that separate outdoor garden rooms should have a unifying link generally obtained by repeating plants throughout the garden.  Most of my room ideas are separated by garden arches which emphasise the separate rooms and unity is achieved by columnar evergreens. These do not take up too much space, in the average size or small garden where space is at a premium. Their shape also provide winter interest.

I refer to my rooms  loosely as:

 Leafy and Green. Green is the most common colour in the garden and here I want to create the feeling of airy tranquillity as achieved in many Japanese gardens  using a minimal number of plant species and  paying attention to harmonious use of  leaf shape and shades of green. This is the first room entered from the hectic outside world and is intended to calm the mind so the rest of the garden rooms can be enjoyed more.

 The structural garden :Although there are plants with strong evergreen shape repeated.  throughout my garden. Here they are more densely planted  in a relatively small area emphasising their strong plant shapes, particularly useful for winter interest.

Monet borders:  Taking inspiration from the painter Monet, who blended pleasing harmonious colours this area houses my attempts to emulate his style. My favourite colours are between the red and blue primary colours which on mixing them can give violet, purple and indigo. Adding white as a flower colour in the scheme softens the look  Lightening the colours by adding white gives pink for me also a pleasing colour.. Here I want to play with these colours, lifting the impact of the flower colour with strong architectural leaf shapes. This part of my garden is sunnier and more sheltered than most of my garden. The hope being not to lose my strong architectural leaf plants to brutal winds.

Exotic border: This should be sunniest and most sheltered part of my garden it is a small area but I hope to give this area vibrant tropical feel.

Woodland area. Similar to my leafy and Green area but with a few trees to  give a woodland effect with early bulbs and candelabra primulas to give a colourful spring followed by ferns and grass species taking centre stage as the season progresses to provide a calming cooling contrast to my exciting hotter exotic border at the other end of the garden.

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The Backlot: This is where I have my potting shed, glasshouse , cold frames , compost heap etc. It is also my palette area, as a painter uses his palette to mix colours  before applying them to canvas  I experiment and trial plant association ideas in pots and a raised bed before transplanting into the garden.

 Metallic plants: I have another area which at the moment is a mix of steely blue, silver and grey. As yet not sure what I am looking to achieve, it may change to another theme but at the moment. Metallic  is as good a name as any.

 I Hope this was not too long winded but I wanted to give readers of my blog and overview of my garden aims, which may change. I intend to add photos of the areas as they become available and in later blogs expand on my ideas.