GardenMessenger

This blog reviews the latest products, plants and innovations in gardening. It also provides a link for my many gardening friends who are members of the GardenMessenger and Seedmessenger Yahoo groups and their sub-groups that I moderate.

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Name:
Location: Australia

I am a semi-retired UK botanical garden curator and former international horticultural consultant, who has worked extensively in Europe, the Middle East, North America and Australia. I spend part of the year in Australia and part in Europe, mainly due to family and work commitments. I earn my living from writing and editing Internet copy, articles and books. I have written over fifty books on gardening and have been translated into twenty-four different languages. I am a former UK Garden Writer of the Year and a previous Quill & Trowel Award Winner from the Garden Writer’s Association of America. I am interested in developing gardening communities on the Internet and I manage the popular GardenMessenger Yahoo group, along with its various sub-groups like PondMessenger and SeedMessenger. I also edit International Water Gardener and its associated regional web-sites.

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Asparagus, Ornithogalum, Compost Awareness Week

Asparagus ‘Martha Washington’

I have been surprised during the past week or so at all the chatter on the GardenMessenger group message boards about Asparagus. This has been exclusively about the edible kind derived from Asparagus officinalis. It seems to be a very fashionable plant to grow at the present time, and it is of course a great vegetable. It has certainly always been regarded as a bit of a connoisseurs’ plant, largely because of the long-standing tradition of growing it in the garden in specially made raised beds. Nowadays it is more often than not grown on the flat, and by all accounts produces just as satisfactory a crop.

This is not the only kind of Asparagus that the gardener can enjoy. There are many tender kinds known as Asparagus Ferns that are perfect for indoor decoration, and several that it is possible to grow successfully outdoors in tropical regions without fear of them becoming troublesome weeds. Although called ferns, none of these are true ferns. They are botanically more closely allied to lilies. They all enjoy positions out of direct sunlight and all those grown popularly as house plants are tolerant of temperatures down to 6°C (43ºF), although they much prefer 15°C (59ºF). Unlike true ferns they do not revel in a richly organic compost, much preferring life in a standard soil-based potting compost.

Asparagus sprengeri

There are many different species, but Asparagus sprengeri, and A.plumosus are the most widely grown. Asparagus sprengeri is a robust-growing, bright green foliage plant, commonly known as the Emerald Fern. It has plumes of dense narrow leaflets from a central crown. Asparagus plumosus is a scrambling plant, if left to its own devices, although the plant generally sold by garden centres and florists is usually the compact upright variety 'Nanus'. This is the Asparagus Fern that is cut for use with buttonholes by florists and is glaucous green and of very fine texture. The common species is often treated as an outdoor climber in warmer climates, and when unrestricted can become a nuisance. When grown indoors, pinch back any stray shoots that show an inclination to climb, immediately they are seen.

Other popular kinds include the bright green finely-divided A.falcatus and the erect and much-branched woody A.virgatus with its dense dark green whorls of foliage, both of which are frequently seen growing outdoors in warm areas. All Asparagus, are likely to flower. The blossoms are tiny and lily-like, usually creamy and sometimes fragrant. On occasions berry-like red or black fruits follow, but these are the exception rather than the rule, except with A.sprengeri, which seems to fruit quite freely. All decorative Asparagus are kept growing throughout the year without a rest period, although watering is eased up for the winter months. They are easily propagated from either seed or division during the spring. Asparagus are easy plants to manage, and apart from periodically syringing the foliage to keep it fresh and clean, they appreciate an occasional houseplant liquid feed during the summer months.

Bath Asparagus

Although the term Asparagus is properly afforded to the genus of that name, there is another plant that is referred to as Bath or Prussian Asparagus, which is perhaps surprisingly edible as well. This is Ornithogalum pyreniacum, a bulbous plant from southern and south-eastern Europe, and now officially designated a native of the United Kingdom where it occurs very locally in Somerset and is receiving careful protection click here. It received its common name from the fact that it was once sold regularly in Bath market in Somerset. It is the young shoots that can apparently be cooked and eaten, although this seems a shame as the blossoms are very pretty, much like other species in the genus.

It is not the showiest or best known Ornithogalum species. This distinction is shared by the Star of Bethlehem, Ornithogalum umbellatum, and the Chincherinchee, O. thrysoides. The former is a hardy plant that is often seen in old cottage gardens in Europe. This produces clusters of elegant star-shaped, icy-white blossoms with a green stripe down each petal. A short growing plant, the stems rarely exceed 15cm (6in) tall and arise from a spidery tuft of narrow green foliage. There are related kinds that are also hardy and often mistakenly called Star of Bethlehem. The flowers are similar being white with a greenish stripe or infusion, in the case of O.nutans being carried on stems some 30cm (12ins) tall, but with O. balansae scarcely clearing its foliage at 10-12cm (4-5ins) high.

Ornithogalum umbellatum

The Chincherinchee, O. thrysoides, is known by almost everybody as it makes such a wonderful long-lasting cut flower and with importation from overseas is seen at the florist's all the year around in temperate districts. While this would be possible with considerable manipulation in a greenhouse, most gardeners in cooler climates accept that a summer to mid-autumn flowering period is the best that they can get. Unlike the hardy species, which can be planted in almost any soil, except very wet, and even in grass providing it is in the open, the Chincherinchee must have a free-draining sandy growing medium. Good soil-based potting compost with about one-third by volume of sharp sand added is a suitable mixture. Plant the bulbs either in pots or troughs and keep in the greenhouse except during the height of summer. After flowering encourage the foliage to continue growing as long as possible in order to re-charge the bulbs. Hardy ornithogalums can be left to their own devices from year to year and are only divided when they become overcrowded. Chincherinchees should be lifted and stored in peat in a cool dry place once they have died down naturally.

News

New Narcissus to be Launched
A new Narcissus is to be launched at the Chelsea Flower Show during May. Named ‘Ffion Hague’ for the wife of the former leader of the UK Conservative Party, it is being introduced by Taylors Bulbs of Holbeach, England.





New Clematis for Chelsea
‘Ice Blue’is one of the latest new clematis to be bred by Evison/Poulsen at Raymond Evison’s famous Guernsey Clematis Nursery in the Channel Islands. It is an early large flowered cultivar with very large spring flowers, some 15-20cm (6-8 in) in diameter. It is one of several new cultivars to be launched at the show.



Diary

Shrewsbury Flower Show 2006
11th-12th August
Quarry Park,
Shrewsbury,
Shropshire,
UK.



Organisers
The Secretary,
Shropshire Horticultural Society,
Quarry Lodge,
Shrewsbury.
SY1 1RN
Tel: +44 (0)1743234050
Fax: +44 (0)1743233555
Contact: click here
This is Britain’s longest running flower show.

Compost Awareness Week
7th-13th May

Compost Awareness Week is an annual showcase for composting in the UK. Organised by the Composting Association, it aims to raise the profile of compost and composting amongst the public and the media.

Organisers
The Composting Association,
Avon House, Tithe Barn Road,
Wellingborough,
Northamptonshire,
NN8 1DH,
UK.
Tel: +44 (0) 870160 3270
Fax: +44 (0) 870160 3280
Details: click here.

Happy Gardening

Philip

GardenMessenger

Today’s Sponsor


Photos:
Asparagus 'Martha Washington': Natures Hill Nursery
Bath Asparagus: Wildthings
Ornithogalum umbellatum: Wikipedia

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Saturday, April 29, 2006

International Gardeners and Supporting Romania’s Horticultural Heritage

Lilium bulbiferum

The GardenMessenger groups, and I hope the audience for this blog, are international. I have been lucky in my life to see many gardens, and to work on gardening projects around the world and to realise what a great occupation and hobby it can be. There are so many different aspects to it that are fascinating, above and beyond anything that we might do in our own backyards. It is thrilling to be able to communicate through the Internet so easily with those in other parts of the world who grow things differently and know about plants that we have never heard of before. Which was really the impetus for me to start and develop these GardenMessenger international gardening communities.

Linaria alpina

So I guess GardenMessenger has become a bit like a gardening United Nations, but without any strife. Well not much anyway. Occasionally members fall out and get a bit naughty in what they say to each other, and I get told off if I do not act quickly enough. It is not always easy to be there at the time of any trouble. I may be asleep. For those who rarely travel far, it is often difficult to understand the problem of the time differences between us. When its noon Monday in Honolulu, it is 10am Tuesday in Auckland, New Zealand. So here we all are, an international group of gardeners who all enjoy our gardening and exchanging ideas.

Daphne cneorum

As we all know there are many parts of the world where financial constraints make the maintenance of horticultural projects that teach people about plants and gardening, both formally and informally, very difficult or impossible. This was brought up amongst GardenMessenger members the other day when I happened in passing to mention the botanical gardens at Cluj in Romania. Members from Romania then posted on our message board and explained how the former great botanical gardens of that country were experiencing enormous difficulties in ensuring that their collections of both conservation and teaching plants survived.

Gentiana lutea

To begin with I was a bit surprised, that apart from discussion between Romanians, a deadly silence. No other GardenMessenger member expressed any concern or sympathy with the plight of the botanical gardens. Then I got to thinking, of course, the Romanians are a long way away from most of us, and the majority of members are probably unsure of where Romania is on the map. However, Romania is very important globally with its unique flora, skilled gardeners and a rich horticultural heritage. I am sure that most members, and indeed all gardeners in the wealthier parts of the world, if they realised how dire the plight of these gardens is, would be prepared to assist their fellow Romanian gardeners, if only by giving their moral support. There is power in numbers, even when there is no money involved. We can all see that in the rising democracies of the world.

Gladiolus illyricus

If anything is to be done, a vehicle is needed to provide support and to keep the problem in the eye of those who can do something about it. I am in the fortunate position, that although I have not seen at first hand the plight of the Romanian plant collections, I have witnessed similar dire problems in Russia since the collapse of Soviet power. I also know many of the people in organisations that can advise and give international credibility to any support enterprise. I am also able to convey a message via this blog and the GardenMessenger groups to a group of people who are interested in gardening. So in conjunction with our Romanian members I am establishing a Romanian Botanical Gardens support group. The GardenMessenger community will adopt the botanical gardens in Romania and try to make a difference.

Leontopodium alpinum

I appreciate that most gardeners join the GardenMessenger groups for information and communication about their gardens and hobby, and while I will initially make a posting on all the group message boards about the support group, after that I will just make an occasional reminder posting for new members. I have no intention of the support group becoming any kind of issue within the groups. All I am doing is making those who are interested in supporting the project aware that it is happening and directing them to a place where they can meet kindred spirits and hopefully make a difference. So if you are interested in joining the Romanian Botanical Gardens Support Group click here.

Crocus scepusiensis

So what is the group, and how will it work? To begin with it is being formed with the blessing and guidance of the international botanic gardens co-ordinating body Botanic Gardens Conservation International at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, London. Through them the group is co-ordinating its activities with the Association of Romanian Botanical Gardens which is based at the Bucharest Botanical Garden in Romania. Aside of that we have a small group of Romanian GardenMessenger members co-ordinated by Andrei Lenard, who will be the GardenMessenger practical day to day contact, and who will identify small practical gardening projects to assist the revival of the collections, and ensure that these tasks are carried out. He will also liaise with the Association of Romanian Botanical Gardens. That is how far we have got at the moment. Before going further it is important to identify supporters. So if you think that you would like to join the support group and you did not click on the link previously, you can do so now click here.

Rhododendron myrtifolium

The project is obviously about money, but I hope not without return. While any donations to a pre-determined practical gardening project within a garden e.g. repotting a rare orchid collection, are welcome once the facility to make such a gift is in place with the Association of Romanian Botanical Gardens, it would be hoped that rather than money being donated, it could be raised by gardening clubs or similar groups adopting the programme as their international charitable venture - perhaps at a flower show, or even a special gardeners’ question and answer evening or supper. There are endless possibilities. Raising money this way can be fun and can give both the club and the project valuable media attention.

Dianthus callizonus

In return, it is hoped that through the botanical gardens seed collection scheme, part of an international seed exchange programme, that the nine Romanian botanical gardens that are being supported will provide any club, society or group that raises funds for a project, with an exclusive collection of seeds from Romania for distribution to its members. The mechanism for this is presently being discussed. Apart from being a great opportunity for members to receive and grow an exciting new range of plants in their gardens at home, it gives some dignity and pride to the botanical gardens that the support group is assisting. There is still a lot to be done to put the structure of the group in place, but it is moving ahead quickly. If you want to be kept informed of developments, even if you only wish to lend your support to the group then click here to join. While active supporters are clearly required, it is not a condition of membership, identifiable numerical strength is equally important when making things happen.

Happy Gardening

Philip

GardenMessenger

PS. All the flowers depicted on this page are native to Romania and conserved by Romanian botanical gardens. The alpine pink, Dianthus callizonus, is only found in a small area of Romania. It occurs nowhere else in the world.

Photos:Lilium bulbiferum, Dianthus callizonus, Crocus scepusiensis
www.visitcentralbalkans.net - Bobonel.
Other photos Wikipedia.

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Friday, April 28, 2006

Cotoneasters, Raising Ferns from Spores, News and Diary

Join OrganicGardenMessenger

My wife Hazel was right about the popularity and need for the
OrganicGardenMessenger group. Since launching it yesterday over 60 members have signed up. When a group first goes online it is not generally visible to the public for a couple of days and so it has very limited exposure. The great thing too, is that folks are busy discussing things and already making new friends and contacts. What a great medium the Internet is for communication. If you missed yesterday’s link and want join click here

The other day I mentioned the use of Cotoneaster as a ground cover plant, and then went on to qualify its suitability by saying that it sometimes got a bit taller than expected. Since then I have been asked to give a brief review of species and cultivars that might be useful for ground covering by Tony and Rosemary in the UK. They think that they are great in the cold northern parts of the country and are just starting a large new garden with plenty of space to fill.

Cotoneaster horizontalis

The most commonly grown, and the one that I believe is the most versatile is the Herringbone Cotoneaster, Cotoneaster horizontalis. It is an ideal plant for difficult banks and slopes. It has a herringbone pattern of branches arranged with mathematical precision, and these are clothed with small rounded leaflets. In the autumn both the foliage and the berries turn vivid red. The fruits are persistent long after the leaves have fallen. In smaller areas, or those that are reasonably level C.microphyllus is a good alternative. A dwarf stiffly-branching, spreading shrub it has oval or elliptical evergreen leaves and tiny white flowers followed by deep reddish-pink fruit. However, the best Cotoneaster of all is the ground-hugging ‘Gnom’, a prostrate form of the common garden shrub C.salicifolius This completely carpets the soil in glossy evergreen foliage and is sprinkled in autumn with bright red berries. Cotoneaster salicifolius 'Repens' is very similar.

Cotoneasters prefer a medium to heavy soil. They can be planted at any time from containers providing that they are well-watered, but also bare-rooted during the winter months. Propagation is by short stem cuttings taken with a heel of old wood and rooted in an equal parts mixture of peat and sharp sand in a cold frame during late summer. As cotoneasters are very promiscuous, seedlings produced from seed gathered from plants in the garden at home can be very variable. Even those raised from purchased seed have some variation. Planting distances are dependent upon the species or cultivar and the speed of cover required. Occasional pruning to keep the plants in order is necessary during the growing season and a slow release fertilizer administered each spring is beneficial.

Ferns are seeing a great revival, especially for the garden and landscape. They have always been popular as houseplants, especially in those gloomy corners where nothing else will grow, but the frost-hardy species have long been neglected. I love the bold Dryopteris, both the European and North American species. They are great architectural plants for almost anywhere in the garden. Not only are they easy to grow, but quite easy to propagate from either division or spores. Dividing plants disrupts the planting and should only be done when necessary for the plant’s well being. They can all be increased from spores and this, as with many other fern species is not a difficult task providing that a little of their life history is understood.

Spores are produced in clusters of sporangia

Spores are not, as is commonly believed, the fern’s equivalent of seed, but are comparable with the pollen grains of a flowering plant. The adult fern as we know it is asexual – neuter – and produces clusters of sporangia which contain the spores on the backs of their fronds – or leaves. These appear as mounds of black or brown dust and in nature they rupture, to cast clouds of viable spores into the wind. On reaching a suitable surface they germinate and produce a curious triangular-shaped green scale-like growth called a prothallus. When mature these tiny prothalli develop male and female organs on their undersides. Then the resultant male gametes – or sexual reproductive cells – fertilize the female ones. After this stage the fern as we know it grows and develops with recognisable fronds.

Spores that are ripe and suitable for sowing will disperse as a dusty cloud when a frond is lightly tapped. These can be collected by enclosing the whole, or a sizeable portion, of the fertile frond in a large paper bag, breaking the frond stalk, and then up-turning it in the bag. Given a vigorous shaking, the ripe spores will detach themselves from the fruiting body and collect in the bottom of the bag. A different bag must be used for each species because some of the dust-like spores will almost certainly remain behind after each operation.

There are several methods of raising spores, but one of the simplest works admirably with all the ferns likely to be encountered by the average gardener. Well-scrubbed and sterilized pans are filled with a sterilized compost of three parts by volume of peat, one part loam. To each household bucketful of this add three teacups of crushed charcoal (activated filter carbon from the pet store is fine). This helps to keep the mixture from becoming sour. The whole surface area is then covered with a layer of clean, finely crushed brick dust and the spores are sprinkled thinly on this in the same way as one might sow lobelia or begonia seed. A small square of glass is laid over the top of the pan, which is then placed in a saucer of water, depending upon species or cultivar, in a warm, partially shaded position in either a greenhouse or closed frame.

After about three weeks, depending upon the species and temperature, the tiny prothalli will begin to smother the surface of the pan, appearing as a creeping mossy growth. It is imperative at this stage that the saucer be kept continually full of water, for drying out of the soil surface at this crucial time, if only for a few hours, will ruin or greatly reduce the chances of success, for fertilization only takes place only when there is a film of water on the soil surface.

Eventually minute fronds will appear amidst the mossy growth, and the glass should be removed to allow the air to circulate freely. The young ferns should remain in the pan until they are sufficiently large to handle comfortably, when they can be pricked out in clumps into a compost of equal parts peat and loam and then placed in a cool, moist, airy position. They can remain like this until growing strongly, when they should be lifted and the individual plantlets teased out of the clumps and
pricked out singly.

Most ferns are comparatively easy to raise in this manner, but the spores of the various Osmunda species should always be sown immediately after collection, for these contain a small quantity of chlorophyll, which renders them viable for only a few days. Sometimes a fern proves to be temperamental and difficult to raise in this manner. Particularly some of the more sophisticated warm greenhouse species. Often ferns which had earlier failed to germinate, will do so quite freely if sown on the surface of the fibrous rootstock of an adult growing specimen of the Bird’s-nest Fern, Asplenium nidus. Maintaining a plant or two of this species for this specific purpose is very useful.

News

A New Botanical Garden for China
The Chinese Academy of Sciences and the Beijing municipal government are planning to build a world-class botanical garden. At a meeting last week to mark the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the Beijing Botanical Garden, Han Xingguo, director of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) Institute of Botany, announced that they have received approval to build the national botanical garden which will be combined with the existing Beijing Botanical Garden.

New Hibiscus
The lovely new perennial Hibiscus 'Mauvelous' is a cultivar of H. syriacus with some H. moscheutos parentage for hardiness. It grows approximately 1 m (39 in.) tall in the garden, slightly lower when used in a container. It produces large, 20-30 cm (8-12 in.) warm pink flowers with dark centres.


Potato Cyst Eelworm Reported The USDA has reported that there have been two finds of Potato Cyst Nematode in State of Idaho. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency has implemented a temporary prohibition on the import of all potatoes and soil from the State of Idaho due to this detection more.



Diary
Royal Flora Ratchaphhruek 2006
1st November-3rd January



Royal Agricultural Research Center,
Chiang Mai,
Thailand.
Details click here.

Happy Gardening

Philip

GardenMessenger

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The best seeds and nursery stock available - shop HenryFields.com!

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Thursday, April 27, 2006

Organic Gardening, Lawrence Hills, "Peasant" Vegetables

OrganicGardenMessenger

If it were not for my wife Hazel, this blog and many of the groups under the GardenMessenger umbrella would not function efficiently. It is she who looks after the day to day group membership details and does all my typing at lightning speed. So I have to pay attention when she makes a suggestion. Well she has been making one specific suggestion for some time now, and I have finally succumbed to pressure. She is very pro-organic, and while I have sympathy with the principles of organic gardening, I find the old bits of carpet and strung up empty fizzy pop bottles that litter many organic gardens a bit off-putting. Not that an organic garden has to look any different from a non-organic one, it is just a false concept that I guess many gardeners of my age have about a garden solely managed under organic principles.

Well once these misconceptions of organic gardening had been dismissed and my unjustified comments about maggoty apples and grub-ridden carrots had been ridiculed, I conceded that, yes indeed, organic gardening principles were becoming increasingly important and they did have a place in the GardenMessenger community. So I was directed to create OrganicGardenMessenger, a group for those who garden organically, and gardeners who wish to learn how to do so. You can join here

From the foregoing you may think that I am not a progressive thinker when it comes to organic gardening, but I have a long association with gardening organically. It is just that I do not like the scruffy appearance that organic gardeners often give to their plots with the use of recycled materials. These often seem to be arranged almost proudly in disarray so that this untidiness can be used as some sort of badge that is intended to convey an ill-defined kind of ecological superiority over those of us who prefer not to garden totally organically, yet still sympathetically with nature.

Lawrence Hills

My first serious introduction to organic gardening was through Lawrence Hills, a great pioneer in organic gardening and the genius behind the Henry Doubleday Research Association, now known the world over through its Ryton Organic Gardens in the Midlands of England. Lawrence was a man before his time and a great mentor. When I was curator at Harlow Carr Gardens in Yorkshire we worked together on a number of projects. Lawrence would come and stay with us, bringing with him his breakfast - selected bananas - which were lightly fried to his instruction each morning. Not a fare that I found particularly appealing, being a bacon and egg man myself, or a muesli eater at a push.

We did all kinds of work together running comparative trials, mirroring in the north of England what he was doing at Bocking, Essex in the east of England. We also worked with wonderful English heirloom vegetables like the Martock Bean and Carlin Pea. His other interest was what he called "peasant" vegetables. Those that were the preserve of ethnic communities in the UK, especially from Asia. He established an Asian vegetable project in the Midlands of England with support from Oxfam, and I worked with him on a programme that looked at the vegetables of the Balearic Islands off the coast of Spain. It was this project that inadvertently almost had Lawrence and me locked up in jail.

He provided me with seeds of a range of vegetables, all with Spanish names. At that time I had no Spanish language at all beyond hola, si and mañana. Many of the seeds were recognisable as peas, beans, brassicas etc. Some I did not recognise, nor did I understand the names. Lawrence said "I will send you translations when I have time". Of course he was very busy and never got around to it, and I was also very busy, and so I told the trials officer to name the plantings using the Spanish names for now. All grew well and the public enjoyed them.

Cáñamo!

After a couple of months one row of plants stood above the others and was growing vigorously. The trials officer alerted me to the plant and said that it did not really look like a vegetable. Indeed, it did not. It was labelled cáñamo, which when I looked it up in a Spanish - English dictionary revealed that it was cannabis! I rang Lawrence and he was horrified. He too had been growing the plant inadvertently. It was a shame to destroy such beautiful plants, but they were immediately removed and disposed of discretely. How embarrassing.

Two days later a small squirrel-like man, with wiry spectacles and a black brief case emblazoned with the crown of Her Majesty’s Government was seen awkwardly searching the beds in the trials garden. I suspected that he was looking for cannabis. I approached him and conveyed my suspicions. Yes, I had been reported and was to be at the sharp end of the law for growing a row of cannabis in a public garden. I adopted a pleasant and subservient tone, as one might when confronted by a traffic cop, and explained what had happened. I was officially reprimanded, and with eyes downcast I apologised profusely. No more would be mentioned of it if I was careful to see that it never happened again.

Lawrence also escaped the wrath of the law. However, we were both mystified as to how cannabis came to be in a collection of vegetables. Lawrence went back to the source and discovered that it was grown for the young leaves that were used in flavouring butter. How and why I do not know, but if anyone reading this does know how the foliage was used in that way, I would love to hear.

Well, it taught me a lesson that if you deal with anything that is described in another language and you do not understand it, you should really find out what it means before you make a fool of yourself. I now speak tolerably good Spanish as my youngest son lives in Spain and we spend quite a bit of time with him. After the cannabis saga I also spent time on a project in Ecuador, so I know that everything is not always what it seems in the Spanish language. A lesson my wife has recently learned. When we visit Spain she always says I will do the cooking, you do the language, although sometimes she does venture into the language on her own. The other week she went out to buy jam - what we might like to call a preserve. As she said on her return, "Do you know preservativo * is not a preserve". "Yes," I said, like my cannabis, "everything is not necessarily what it seems."

Diary
10th Redland International Orchid Festival
19th-21st May
Fruit and Spice Park,
24801 SW 187th Avenue,
Homestead,
Florida,
FL 33092-4243
USA,
Details click here.


Happy Gardening.

Philip

GardenMessenger

*preservativo is a condom!

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Photo: Lawrence Hills HDRA

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Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Harrogate Show, Czech Alpines, Ground Cover, Lilac Festival

Daffodil judging at Harrogate

For those gardeners who live in the UK the first major flower show of the year starts tomorrow. It is the Harrogate Spring Flower Show in Yorkshire. Apart from Chelsea it is the largest flower show in the country and attracts exhibitors from all over the UK, but with an especially strong representation from the north of England and Scotland. Apart from hosting myriad trade stands, it holds important competitive amateur classes in a wide range of subjects. The daffodil competition is fiercely contested and is legendary, as are the alpine competitions, some of the finest amateur growers in the world exhibiting at the show. It is the amateur competitive element that marks this show out from Chelsea, where almost all the exhibits, except in the floral marquee are by professional growers. If you are in North Yorkshire during the next few days it is certainly worth a visit. Details.

I mentioned alpine plants, and of course this is the flowering season for many of these fascinating plants in the northern hemisphere. It is one of the plant groups that northerly gardeners can do well, although the damp and unpredictable climate of the UK, being surrounded by sea and bathed down the west coast by the Gulf Stream, can often cause rotting off problems that those in a cold and drier climate, such as in central Europe, do not experience. Some of the finest alpine plants I have ever seen were being grown in the Czech Republic. There is a strong representation of excellent growers in the region, and I particularly remember their excellence in the cultivation of some of the more tricky saxifrages. There is also a lively society for alpine enthusiasts, which publishes information in both Czech and English called the Rock Garden Club of Prague that welcomes gardeners from around the world. Details.

Water gardening in Czech!

The other aspect of gardening that is quickly developing in the Czech Republic is water gardening. Since freedom from the Soviet Union, the interest in water gardening has grown considerably. The former Czechoslovakia has always been known for raising carp for food. A centuries old tradition, which still persists, although a number of enterprising fish farmers have switched to the more lucrative koi market, much of their production now being exported. However, this development is clearly rubbing off on Czech and Slovak gardeners and there is a steady demand for water gardening products and books. I am delighted to say one of my books has recently been translated, although I cannot understand a word of it!

Just a reminder today that the water gardening blog PondMessenger is updated click here. There are some interesting items about waterlily pollination, tubifex worms research and recent trial results for Canna and Iris from the Royal Horticultural Society.

Some Cotoneaster species may grow taller than expected

Michael in British Columbia, Canada, is a GardenMessenger member who is new to gardening and asks about ground cover planting. In theory ground cover is every gardener’s idea of an easy life. Plant suitable subjects and they will grow together, suppress weeds, and provide trouble-free colour for years to come. While eventually part of this dream can become a reality, it does not happen without careful planning. Ground cover plants do not all grow conveniently at the same rate, nor at the same density, so variable planting distances are necessary. These distances should also be varied according to the speed with which the soil is to be covered. With many kinds denser planting can ensure quicker cover.

Care must be taken though, for some plants eventually produce a lumpy visual effect if they are planted too closely and are unable to develop naturally. A number of shrubby ground cover plants are excellent for smothering the soil, but grow rather taller than might be expected. This is particularly true with some of the low growing cotoneasters and junipers which may attain 90cm (3ft) or more in height.

The soil is the most vital component in the successful establishment of a ground cover feature. This may seem to be obvious, for everyone knows that soil structure, and consequently drainage, makes a big difference to the ability of various plants to prosper, so too does the pH value - whether the soil is acid or alkaline. Most gardeners hope to create a smooth, even carpet of foliage with ground cover plants. However, the majority forget that in order to do this the soil conditions must be uniform throughout the area to be planted. Even the proximity of a drain or old foundation near the soil surface can cause radical differences in the rate of growth, so can the presence of sub-soil. Strive to ensure that there is at least a spade’s depth of soil throughout the planting area.

Although dense planting will mostly ensure rapid cover it does not always yield the best long term results. Ground cover planted at distances that will give uniform soil coverage in a period of no more than three to four years is usually longer lived and better looking than crowded planting. During establishment weeds are likely to be troublesome. Mulching with composted bark, gravel or polythene mulch will assist. However, some weeds will appear and these must be dealt with swiftly and regularly. If allowed to seed in establishing ground cover plants they will be a constant source of trouble.

Little maintenance is required during the development stage. Straggling shoots or stray branches may need removing, and when some plants like heaths and heathers have finished flowering it is prudent to trim them back with shears. Once ground cover is well established it should be fed. Use a general fertilizer during the spring. Do not overdo the application. Aim for stable growth, rather than rapid extension. This ensure tight, dense, foliage cover.

Diary
I had some lovely reaction to my note on lilacs the other day, and also a reminder that the 68th Spokane Lilac Festival will take place during May. One of the highlights will be the Festival Armed Forces Torchlight Parade on 20th May. "The Parade is always held on the third Saturday in May, Armed Forces Day, as we honor the men and women of all branches of the United States military services. With the theme "Kids are the Key..." we will be celebrating the youth of our communities." Details.
Happy Gardening

Philip

GardenMessenger

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Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Daylilies, Window Boxes and Hanging Baskets

Hemerocallis ‘Anzac’

I am prompted to write a little about Daylilies again today, not just because they are great plants for almost any sunny garden, but because one of the finest and most prolific flowering cultivars that I know is called ‘Anzac’. Today, for GardenMessenger members and visitors to this blog who may be unaware, it is ANZAC Day. A public holiday in Australia, New Zealand, Samoa, Tonga, Cook Islands and Niue. The most important day in the year for honouring the fallen in war, especially from the campaign in Gallipoli during the First World War.

I am not sure when or where Hemerocallis ‘Anzac’ was named, or the reasoning behind it, but it has the most beautiful velvety red blooms with a contrasting greenish-yellow throat and would grace any memorial planting. However, a general review of the lists of Daylily nurseries in both Australia and New Zealand did not yield a source. A great pity, as I am sure that several of my Australian and New Zealand friends would welcome the opportunity to grow it.

Of course, I may be barking up the wrong tree altogether over it connection with ANZAC Day, so any of you Hemerocallis specialists, especially from the GardenMessenger Daylily Group, who know anything more about the origin of this plant, and also its availability in the southern hemisphere, I would be pleased to know. I understand it was introduced in 1968 by someone called Parry. Who was Parry? There are so many questions unanswered. If someone can tell me please post a comment on the blog or send me an email.

Single plant type success

Window boxes have become very popular in recent years. Modern materials have made the production of a range of styles easy and economical. Scientifically formulated soil-less composts are light in weight and yield high quality plant displays when managed properly, so a window box provides a great opportunity to create an intensive floral picture. With modern composts and flower cultivars it is possible to create colour of a richness, diversity and intensity not possible elsewhere in the garden. Plants can be packed closely together and providing that they are watched for diseases and carefully manicured, they will prosper.

For any window box to be a success it must have a minimum depth of 15cm (6ins), preferably more so that root systems can develop properly. Drainage is vital, and must preferably be provided by holes in the base. A generous layer of gravel can also be used with reasonable success in the absence of proper drainage, but this occupies space better utilised by compost and the roots of the plants. The weight of a window box is an important consideration, especially where it is to be fastened on brackets and to a wall. Take into account not only the weight of the box, but also that of plants and compost, especially when the latter is wet.

Fortunately most spring and summer-flowering annual and bedding plants are easy-going and co-exist quite happily with one another in a window box. However, to create the best quality display a single plant type should be grown. This means that the compost can be prepared for that plant's specific requirement and the subsequent watering and maintenance regime tailored exactly to its needs. Geraniums for example enjoy full, uninterrupted sunshine in free-draining compost, which is not too rich. Thus a lean hungry compost in a hot location ensures a summer-long spectacle. Fuchsias prefer a more organic growing medium and cooler conditions, so both will only do moderately well if grown in the same window box, catered for separately they will do brilliantly

Intense long term colour

Hanging baskets are another means of creating intense long term colour, especially in confined spaces. The success of a hanging basket depends as much upon its preparation as any other factor. The compost which is used is very important, the modern soil-less mixtures being well balanced to ensure even growth, and light in weight to enable the basket to be suspended almost anywhere safely.

Although there are many different kinds of hanging pots and baskets available, the traditional wire basket with its lining of fibre or moss is still the most popular and visually appealing. It is not difficult to make up, the lining being gradually built up layer upon layer. Trailing plants are pushed through the sides of the basket, the roots making firm contact with the compost and the fibre tucked neatly around them. The building of the basket then continues upwards. When the basket is filled with compost, remove the pot from the plant that is to form the centrepiece. Place this pot in the centre of the basket and plant around. Then remove the pot and drop the pot ball of the centrepiece plant into the waiting hole. This makes filling the basket simple and ensures even plant distribution around the perimeter.

A newly planted basket must be very carefully watered. If a watering can is used the water may flow irregularly through the open-sided basket. It is always better to soak it in a deep bowl until the compost has settled, taking care to avoid damaging any trailing shoots. A watering can may be used subsequently providing that a fine rose is attached. The correct watering of hanging baskets is as important as the correct compost. It is vital that they are thoroughly soaked regularly rather than constantly sprinkled with water. If good drainage has been provided any surplus water will quickly run away.

Happy Gardening

Philip

GardenMessenger

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Hemerocallis ‘Anzac’ - Springhill Nurseries
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Monday, April 24, 2006

Floods, Cluj, Seeds and Seed Storage

Cluj Botanical Garden Romania

My wife and I tend to travel quite a lot. Certainly once a year each way from the northern to the southern hemisphere and back, spending a little time each year with children and grandchildren in the UK. The place where you were born and raised, I think most people always call home, even if they no longer live their permanently. We certainly do, and I guess we cling to some parts of life more than others. For us on our travels we always refer to that bastion of British society, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), and its international channel BBC World.

This past week we have been saddened to see on the news the terrible floods that have affected Romania, Bulgaria and Serbia. I have never been to that part of the world, but in my days as a garden curator we had a very good relationship with the botanical garden in Cluj, Romania click here, and extensively exchanged seeds. Even though the gardens worked under difficult circumstances, they were very generous with their seeds. In the international world of botanical gardens there is great co-operation amongst garden curators and botanical gardens staff, especially through their seed exchange.

During the time of the unfortunate conflict between the UK and Argentina over the Falkland Islands or Las Malvinas, international horticultural solidarity was shown between a garden in Argentina, one in Ireland and the one for which I was responsible in the UK. I required some seeds for a project in the UK that had been promised by a colleague in Argentina. War broke out and we were precluded from receiving them through a trade or post ban which prevented them being despatched. My colleague in Argentina sent them to a colleague at a garden in the Republic of Ireland. He repackaged them and sent them on to me. I always recall that as a great example of international horticultural common sense and co-operation that over-rides political folly. Having now confessed to what was probably a crime, but committed in the best interests of my students who needed to conduct the project, I may end up in the Tower of London. If there is no blog tomorrow, you will know where I am!

SeedMessenger is our successful seed exchange

For those who are interested in seeds and seed exchange there is a very lively seed exchange group called SeedMessenger click here.It has well over 1000 members, all eager to exchange seeds with one another. I have been amazed at the rich diversity offered and traded. The accompanying SeedMessenger web-site, although in its infancy hosts a range of articles from seed harvesting and cleaning to storing. Visit www.seedmessenger.com. It also has a small library section.

The greatest concern of those who exchange seeds is their storage, both the manner in which their own inventory is stored, as well as the seeds of the other people with whom exchanges are to be made. Professionally, complex seed banking facilities are necessary when seeds are intended to be stored for future generations. However, in the home garden, where seeds are rarely kept for more than a couple of years, their storage is not a difficult problem. Perfection may not be achieved, but very satisfactory results are possible with the minimum of facilities and expense.

Silica gel is very helpful

The greater part of success with seed storage, is having well-prepared seeds in the first place. If they have been dried and cleaned properly, then storage presents few problems for most popular garden seeds. At the most basic level, cleaned seeds stored in strong paper envelopes and placed in an old shoe box with a small sachet of silica gel crystals is adequate The Royal Horticultural Society recommends that the silica gel should comprise 10% of the volume of container). Keep them in a cool dry place. Never store seeds in warm conditions as most will deteriorate quickly.

Better control can be exercised over their condition, certainly over the long term, if they are maintained at a temperature of 4-5ºC (39-41ºF) in a domestic refrigerator. Some seeds, even of tropical plants, if dried correctly can even be stored in the deep freezer. However, for the home gardener, ensuring the correct moisture content for the species to be stored and subsequently maintaining the optimum temperature, is much too difficult and totally unnecessary. Professionally deep freeze methods are used by many seed banks for very long term storage. When storing seeds in a refrigerator place them in their packets in an air-tight plastic container such as might be used in the kitchen.

Oily seeds do not store well. It is best to plant or exchange them shortly after harvest. In the short term they can be maintained in reasonable condition in damp sand in airtight plastic containers. The problem is ensuring that they are then maintained at a temperature that is sufficiently low to prevent premature germination. For the most part the storage of oily seeds is a short term prospect, as they are rarely viable for more than a few months. It is similar with seeds of many aquatic plants. These only keep well in vials of water or damp sphagnum moss, and must be maintained at a temperature that does not stimulate germination, preferably in a dark place. When in light, the water in which seeds are stored will often turn green and unpleasant.

Happy Gardening

Philip

GardenMessenger

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Photo:
Cluj Botanical Gardens www.ici.ro

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