My last post was about the start of the growing season being an ideal time for planting young trees and shrubs for structure, shelter and privacy giving them time plenty of time to establish before the winter sets in. Shrubs in particular are often too small to plant directly into a border as they can look out of place or be smothered by faster growing herbaceous perennials.
These young shrubs as well as herbaceous perennials and climbers can if a suitable location is not available or prepared be grown on by potting them up in larger pots giving them time to mature. This also allows me to experiment with combination ideas by placing groups of containers together, moving them about till I find a pleasing grouping and time to think where the grouping can be placed.
At this time of year I find groups of pots particularly useful near the house such as near my front door, conservatory and patio where they can be admired from the windows of my house when it is a little too cold or windy to sit outside.
The grouping from my kitchen window
This is my most recent combination which I have on my patio and easily viewed from my kitchen window. The scale like leaves of Thujopsis dolabrata act as a backdrop for the steely blue- grey foliage of Juniperus communis and the burgundy strongly architectural leaves of Phormium ‘ Rainbow Queen’ in turn harmonising with the rounded heads of purple drumstick primulas. Either side I have recently planted Acer’s which balance the grouping.
The containers from my patio chair
These plants would be less noticeable, overshadowed by other plants or even lost if planted out in the main garden but on the patio they make an attractive colourful attention grabbing scene.
Just outside my conservatory doors are blue muscari bulbs emerging through the golden leaves of Lysimachia numularia ‘Gold’. Normally still brown at this time of year the Lysimachia has remained yellow over the winter allowing this year anyway for this combination to have worked. The muscari blue- green muscari leaves are not too over powering in this little picture and I feel work in quite nicely.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Those of you interested in joining the Caley can do so by emailing: firstname.lastname@example.org