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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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.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Mulching, Window Box Ideas and the Iford Cherry

Mulching conserves moisture

Water, and watering in the garden, are now becoming major concerns for gardeners everywhere. Already in the UK, which is noted for its wet maritime climate, water restrictions are in place for parts of the south of the country, and it is scarcely summer yet. Australian gardeners, except those in Tasmania, seem to live in an almost permanent drought situation. Such is the seriousness in the garden city of Toowoomba, Queensland, that the press is presently full of concerns over the future of the famous Carnival of Flowers in 2007, and whether or not the whole week long programme should be cancelled. That would be unprecedented after over fifty successful years, and be a severe blow to both the economy and reputation of the city.

So what can gardeners do to help alleviate the problem? Well mulching is one thing that can be done that is very beneficial for most plantings. This is a process that conserves moisture around plants and suppresses weeds. In some cases it also adds welcome organic matter to the soil. It is usually undertaken during the spring before the soil had dried out, although occasionally coarse bark mulches are applied to plants that require winter protection for their roots in cold districts, and this is then done during early autumn. However, mulching can be undertaken at any time, it is just that if it is done during summer the soil must be moist before the mulch is applied.

Use coarse bark with caution

The commonest mulching materials are well-rotted garden compost, composted bark and in tropical and sub-tropical areas, sugar cane mulch. Garden compost must be thoroughly rotted down before it is used and the heap must have heated up sufficiently to kill all weed seeds. If partially rotted compost is used as mulch, then it is likely that weeds will be distributed, mainly in the form of seeds. Bark which has been properly composted is quite safe providing that it is not used around Mediterranean-type sun-loving plants like lavender and rosemary. In such circumstances a gravel mulch should be applied. Coarse bark should be regarded with caution and only used around mature trees and shrubs. Once this starts decomposing in the soil it uses nitrogen in the process and this can result in problems for some annuals, herbaceous plants and bulbs where the plants become sickly and the foliage turns yellow. Sugar cane mulch poses similar problems, although it is not as bulky as bark. Use it mainly around well-established perennials, trees and shrubs. Although relatively inexpensive, it is not the most visually attractive mulch and it is often scattered by foraging birds.

Mulching involves placing a layer of the mulching material around individual plants and covering all the soil between. One of the cheapest and most useful mulches in areas where it is available, is spent mushroom compost. Although looking peaty and therefore assumed to be acidic, it is actually alkaline owing to the addition of chalk, which is part of the mushroom production process, so it cannot be used safely around lime-hating plants like rhododendrons and camellias. Coir and cocoa shell mulch, which can be purchased from garden centres, can be used freely. These are materials that are increasingly being marketed as replacements for the peat moss, which conservationists are encouraging us should only be utilised in composts, and then sparingly, and not as an outdoor mulching material.

Window box combinations

The other day I was busy filing away some old gardening notes when I came across an interesting list that I would like to share with you. This described the use of plants in window boxes, and their visual compatibility with their surroundings, especially the building to which they are attached. In most circumstances colour is very important. Red blossoms will hardly show to their best advantage against a red brick wall, nor creamy-white blossoms associate well with a white background. Yellow blooms look great against white but will often be awful against red or reddish-brown. The question of plant associations with buildings is largely a matter of personal taste, but generally speaking, contrasts work to the best advantage. The following ideas were gathered from a group of home gardeners.

Plant Associations
Red Brick Walls – Use white with soft blues, lemons and a touch of lilac.

Sunny Aspects
Spring
White hyacinths and forget-me-nots
Pink and white daisies and bronze and
cream dwarf wallflower
White tulips and grape-hyacinths
Summer
White marguerites and mauve-pink trailing geraniums
Mixed stocks
Sweet alyssum

Shade
Spring
Polyanthus
Narcissus
Crocus
Summer
Campanulas
Violas
Fuchsias

Grey Stone or Colour Wash – Use deep blues or purples, also bright reds and pinks.

Sunny Aspects
Spring
Wallflowers
Pink tulips and forget-me-nots
Blue or pink hyacinths
Summer
Mixed petunias
Scarlet geraniums and pink ivy-leafed types like ‘Galilee’
Asters
Stocks

Shade
Spring
Polyanthus
Drumstick and Wanda primulas
Small evergreens
Summer
Fuchsias
Heliotrope
Begonias

White Painted or Washed Walls – Use really bright colours with plenty of green, or pastel shades of pinks and mauves.

Sunny Aspects
Spring
Golden wallflowers and forget-me-nots
Red wallflowers and daisies
Red and blue Hyacinths
Crocus
Summer
Marigolds
Calceolarias
Tagetes
Petunias

Shade
Spring
Polyanthus
Ferns
Violas
Periwinkle (Vinca)
Summer
Impatiens
Fuchsias
Creeping Jenny (Lysimachia)

In winter the emphasis is on foliage. Many nurseries sell little evergreen shrubs which can be planted from pots when the summer display is over. Suitable subjects are small Box (Buxus) Junipers, Euonymus. These may be inter-planted with Crocus or other small bulbs for early colour.

Iford Manor Garden

A fascinating story has just been related by the Royal Horticultural Society, of the rescue from the brink of extinction of the Iford Cherry, an ornamental Prunus. The cherry, which has an unusual prostrate habit and produces pale shell-pink flowers during late spring, was the only one remaining from a group originally introduced by Victorian architect Harold Peto to Iford Manor Garden, Wiltshire, England. He had returned with it from a plant-hunting expedition to Asia at the beginning of the twentieth century. The tree was brought to the attention of Will Sibley, a fruit specialist, while he was visiting Iford Manor Garden in 1999. Keen to save it he proposed taking a cutting from the tree’s last piece of living wood. "We knew that removal of that final live piece would spell certain death for the tree but it was also its only hope for a future," he said. The resulting scion twigs were grown and grafted on to dwarf rootstocks of Prunus avium. The resulting healthy young trees formed the basis of the propagated material now available. It is hoped to replace the avenue of trees at Iford in the future, re-creating Peto’s planting style. Botanists at the RHS Garden Wisley have so far been unable to provide a Latin name for the cherry but it is described as being similar in appearance to Prunus serrulata. To visit the Iford Manor Garden web-site click here.

News

Bouvardia ‘Diamond Light Pink’
This is one of a new group of double-flowered Bouvardia called the Diamond series. Developed in Holland they are not only suitable for greenhouse decoration, but are also useful for cutting. Other cultivars in the Diamond series being released are White,Dark Pink,Red and Cherry.



Vriesea ‘Astrid’
A new development in Vriesea. Unlike other species and cultivars of Vriesea, ‘Astrid’ forms a rosette of three to six shoots with the same number of flowers. The leaves curl back delicately and the flower spikes are soft red.Development is continuing to produce more colours.



Diary

2006 American Rose Society National Convention and Rose Show
21st-26th June
Bellevue Doubletree Hotel
Bellevue,
(Seattle area),
Washington,
USA
Web-site click here.






Happy Gardening

Philip

GardenMessenger

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If you have enjoyed this publication, you may also like to visit the monthly SeedMessenger gardeners’ seed saving and seed exchange blog click here.
and the weekly water gardening blog PondMessenger click here.

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