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.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Insect Control, Super Broccoli, Herbal Teas and Peace Lilies

Weeds help insect pest control

It goes against everything that we were ever taught as gardeners, but it seems that weeds in our gardens can help us to control insect pests, especially on the vegetable plot. Weeds and insect pests are two of the major constraints in the production of high quality organic vegetables, primarily because the control measures available to us are extremely limited. However, studies have shown that the numbers of insect pests found on vegetable plants are reduced considerably when they are allowed to become weedy. Although if weeds are not removed by a certain stage of growth, they start to compete with the vegetables and yields begins to decline. This is the conclusion of the Warwick Horticultural Research Institute in the UK. In a recent publication they say that they now have robust models that can be used independently to predict the onset of weed competition and the timing of pest insect attacks. The aim of this project is to demonstrate how such crop protection models could be used to optimise weed and pest insect control in commercial organically-grown vegetable crops. While this study is directed at commercial growers, organic vegetable gardeners should take heed, for it would seem to me that such field scale research could so easily be adapted for garden use.

Broccoli research

Warwick Horticultural Research Institute conducts studies with a wide range of vegetable crops. It is the home of one of the largest vegetable gene banks in the world, and with 6000 vegetable brassicas in its gene bank it is not surprising that when it comes to research with vegetables like broccoli, it is amongst the world leaders. This week the Institute were awarded a gold medal at the Chelsea Flower Show, where they are presently displaying their latest research with brassicas, especially broccoli. Amongst this research are two "Super Broccoli" projects, as the scientists have named them. The first is the development of "Environmentally Friendly Super Broccoli". Researchers have identified cross breeding possibilities that will give broccoli much greater resistance to two of its greatest threats – aphids and the bacteria, Xanthomonas campestris. This will vastly reduce the amount of pesticides that have to be used on broccoli. This breeding programme is expected to be completed within a decade.

The other research programme is of less relevance to gardeners, but nevertheless interesting, especially to those of us who buy broccoli out of season. This is the production of "Longer Lasting Super Broccoli". Broccoli is one of the most difficult vegetables to keep fresh. Supermarkets find this particularly annoying as most of their vegetables are brought in on a 4 day cycle whilst broccoli’s poor shelf life means it is out of phase with other vegetable deliveries as it requires its own 3 day cycle. Adding just one more day to its shelf life would make everyone happier. The researchers have already taken the first steps to cross breed broccoli with a longer shelf life and expect the first commercially available cultivars to be available within ten years.

Lemon balm - Melissa officinalis,

The Royal Horticultural Society’s Plant Committee have published a list of suggestions for herbs to grow in the garden for use in creating herbal teas and infusions. Jekka McVicar, RHS Fruit, Vegetable and Herb Committee member and eleven times Chelsea Flower Show Gold winner says, "Herbs can help a whole range of ailments and make a really refreshing infusion. The best thing is that they can be grown in many different ways: in a formal herb garden; dotted among ornamental plants in a bed or border; as pot plants on the patio; in hanging baskets or on the windowsill. So even if you don’t have a garden, you can still grow your own living medicine cabinet."

The seven recommended herbs are:
Chamomile, Chamaemelum nobile, for insomnia and PMT. Use four fresh flowers, infuse for eight minutes and strain.

Fennel, Foeniculum vulgare, for indigestion and as a diuretic. Use one teaspoon of seeds in a teacup, infuse for five minutes and strain. Alternatively chew the seeds to relieve bad breath.

Hyssop, Hyssopus officinalis, for coughs and catarrh. Use two teaspoons of fresh leaves, infuse for five minutes and strain
(not to be drunk if pregnant)

Lemon balm, Melissa officinalis, for tension, headaches and upset stomachs. Use five fresh leaves, infuse for five minutes and strain.

Lemon verbena, Aloysia triphylla, for insomnia, and nasal congestion. Use five fresh leaves infuse for five minutes and strain. This infusion can be served cold in summer as a refreshing drink.

Peppermint, Mentha x piperita, for indigestion. Use five fresh leaves infuse for five minutes and strain. Spearmint, Mentha spicata, is equally good.

Rosemary, Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Sissinghurst Blue’ or any other similar cultivar. Helps halitosis, can improve concentration and also a good pick me up for those suffering from a hangover. Use 4cm (1.5in) of leaf with stem, infuse for five minutes and strain. Drink no more than one cup a day.

The Royal Horticultural Society says to be aware that all herbs are medicinal, so treat with respect, especially when pregnant or under medication. If in doubt seek professional advice.

Spathiphyllum floribundum

Of all the houseplants that we can grow, the Peace Lilies or Spathiphyllum are probably the most resilient. They grow happily in sun and partial shade as well as really gloomy conditions. Providing that the compost is of good structure they will tolerate neglect with watering and feeding, and if the leaves happen to get dusty, they seem to put up with that as well. If cared for properly Peace Lilies are magnificent, especially Spathiphyllum floribundum and the widely cultivated shorter-growing 'Mauna Loa'. Both have handsome, glossy dark green leaves and pure white sail-like blossoms which are not unlike those of an Arum Lily, but much smaller and on long wiry stems. They persist for several weeks and are constantly replaced so that except in the depths of winter the plant always provides floral interest. Spathiphyllum wallisii is similar, but has brighter green leaves and white flowers which tend to turn green before they fade. The most popular cultivar of this is called 'Clevelandii'. It is similar in every respect, except that the leaves are more lax, but the flower stems remain upright. There are also two lovely hybrids. 'Marion Wagner' with pale green tinted blossoms and 'McCoy' with creamy-white spathes.

Spathiphyllum ‘Sweet Chico’

Now European gardeners can enjoy some new cultivars of these wonderful plants. Already more than 80,000 Spathiphyllum of the So Sweet group of cultivars are being sold every week by florists in more than ten different European countries. Several distinct cultivars are available, all prefixed with the word Sweet - ‘Sweet Pablo’, ‘Sweet Chico’, ‘Sweet Benito’, ‘Sweet Dario’, ‘Sweet Lauretta’, ‘Sweet Mattheo’ and ‘Sweet Yess’ being the most widely available. The main quality of these new cultivars is their freedom of flowering, between three and six blooms being out on a well grown plant at any one time, even in winter. Their foliage is glossy, dark green and compact, and the plants transport well. Apparently the ideal florist’s houseplant, but from what I have been able to learn, perfect for the home gardener too.

Spathiphyllums can be grown in either soil-based or soil-less compost, although the majority of gardeners would concede that soil-based compost is to be preferred. They like to be constantly moist and to be fed regularly between early spring and late summer with a liquid houseplant feed. Keep the leaves clean with a leaf-shine product or wipe them regularly with cotton wool dipped in warm milk. Divide plants every couple of years, replanting the more vigorous young shoots to create new stock and discarding the old. When dividing reduce the leaves to about one third of their length with a sharp knife. This reduces transpiration and enables the plants to establish quickly and grow away strongly.


One of the most exciting nurseries for choice and unusual plants, according to the Royal Horticultural Society in a recent note, is Crûg Farm Plants in Gwynedd, Wales. The Society make recommendations about a number of plants introduced by the nursery including these two which caught my eye. For further details visit click here

Anemonopsis macrophylla ‘White Swan’
The False Anemone, Anemonopsis macrophylla, is a fine early summer flowering woodland plant, usually with pale mauve flowers above delicate, finely divided foliage, but ‘White Swan’ produces dainty flowers of glistening, pure white.

Deinanthe bifida ‘Pink Kii’
This is a pink flowered selection of the little grown herbaceous Deinanthe bifida . It was collected in Japan in 1997, and will grow well in moist, sheltered woodland conditions.


National Greenbuild & Eco Show Exhibition & Conference 2006
June 9th - 11th June, Rosehill Gardens Exhibition Centre,
Sydney, Australia.
Web-site click here

Happy Gardening



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Weeds: Warwick HRI
Broccoli and Spathiphyllum floribundum: Wikipedia
Spathiphyllum ‘Sweet Chico’: Flower Council Holland

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and the weekly water gardening blog PondMessenger click here.

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