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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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.

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.

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



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Photo: Harrogate Show NEHS

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