Autumn, ‘Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness…’

Enjoy growing and eating your own soft fruit.

 

Autumn is the optimum time to plant soft fruit while the earth is still warm and moist.  It’s easy to imagine you need at least a reasonably sized garden to grow your own fruit, but in fact a small patio, or even a balcony could be home to a whole host of fruit if you know which ones to choose.  These include all your old favourites such as blackcurrants, gooseberries, raspberries and blackberries.  Or you can try the new super-fruits; blue berries, gojiberries, honeyberries and jostaberries.

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The arrival of summer!

Roses for summer fragrance and colour.

Sensuous roses confirm the presence of early summer.  The variation in fragrance and the brilliance of their blooms create a magical atmosphere in the garden.  Roses contribute scent, form and colour and can easily be incorporated into any garden scheme.

English shrub rose – A comparatively recent introduction, include many which have rapidly established themselves as firm favourites and are happily, widely grown.

Old shrub roses – Gallica, Damask, Alba, Centifolia and Moss, these are the roses of history, the forerunners of today’s garden shrub roses.  Richly scented, magnificent blooms with lax growth, giving the garden an air of maturity.

Rose

Modern Bush Roses – For sheer brilliance of bloom, for innovative colour, for massed display, the modern bush rose will satisfy all such demands and more besides.  Included in this group are the Hybrid Teas, the most popular of all garden roses, multi-flowered Floribundas, and an extensive range of miniature and Patio roses, many ideal for small gardens or pots.

Miniature and Patio roses – Are suitable for today’s smaller gardens and are reliably hardy.

Climbing and Rambler Roses – Cascading from mature trees, draping arches and pergolas, or clothing ancient walls, even covering an unsightly shed, the Climbing and Rambling roses may be put to endless use.  Combine them with a complementory clematis for an eye-catching diplay of colour and interest over the summer period.  Choose from soft, pastel shades, vibrant reds, oranges, and yellows or cooling creams and whites.

Some confusion arises over the terms climbing and rambler.  Essentially the difference is simple, Climbing roses possess larger flowers than those to be found on ramblers, more closely resembling those of other garden roses.  Generally they are likely to repeat their flowering whereas the ramblers flower mainly once only.  The stems of climbing roses are stiff and are generally retained as a framework whilst ramblers have lax stems; those which have borne flowers are cut back to ground level after flowering in August.  Train and tie in new shoots as they develop; feed and mulch following pruning.

Summer bedding will give weeks of colour

Fill the gaps in your borders with bedding plants such as Salvia, Marigold, Nemesia, Verbena, Dianthus and Antirrhinums.  For a shady spot try Begonias or Fuchsias, in full sun Gazanias will give a bright splash of colour or Osteospermums (African Daisy) for pastel shades.  Drought tolerant plants include Geraniums (Pelargonium) in red, pink, coral or white; or Lampranthus and Delospermums with their succulent leaves and bright colours.

Pelargonium

For containers and pots that are still empty add some Geranium Fireworks or variegated Geraniums with coloured leaves to brighten up your patio.  Try Petunia Night Sky with petals that look like the ‘Milky Way’ or Petunia Johnny Flame with plum coloured stripes.  New Guniea Impatiens provide a splash of colour in zingy shades of pinks, coral and white.  Add Agryanthemums in pastel colours, Fuchsias in bright pinks and purples or Euryops with bright yellow and grey foliage.  Use Coleus (Solenostemon) with dark leaves as a contrast to all these bright flowers.  If you like dark leaves Begonia Glowing Embers with orange flowers or Begonia Dark Elegance with bright red flowers look stunning in a pot on their own.

Use smaller 9cm pots of bedding plants to trail in hanging baskets or around the edge of containers and pots. Such as Felicia, Bidens, Fuchsia, Diascia, Petunias, Aptenia or Geraniums (Pelargoniums add some trailing foliage with Lysmachia, Helychrysium or Nepeta (Glechoma).  To keep your bedding plants, handging baskets and containers and pots looking good, water and dead head them every day, and feed them once a week.

Gap fillers for your border.

Add Cannas for architectural impact; Dahlias for height and a huge choice of shapes colours.  Gladiolis for bright zingy colours and Lilies for height and colour some such as the Oriental lilies will provide fragrance.

When caring for Dahlias dead head them as the flowers go over to keep them flowering and make sure the taller varieties are staked.  Feed with a high potash feed once a week from midsummer to early autumn.  When the foliage has been damaged by the first frosts, cut back the stems to 15cms, brush off the soil and lift out of the pots.  Place them upside down in a frost-free place to dry naturally. Pack them in boxes of compost or sand, store over winter in a well-ventilated, frost-free place.  Water pots of lilies every day and apply a high-potash feed every 2 weeks.  You may have to stake taller varieties in windy conditions.

Create drifts of colour in the border with perennials.

Lavender looks great in drifts, try the English lavender Hidcote with a deep purple flower or the French lavender, Stoechas in a hot sunny spot as it’s not as hardy in the winter.  Try Achellia with their flat plates of flowers in various shades of pastel colours. Or brighten up a sunny spot with Leucothemum, Echinacea, or Heleniums with their daisy heads.  Include flowers for cutting add Delphiniums, taller varieties of Alstromeria, Leucotheum and Sweet Williams.

Make sure you stake all your tall plants, start at the beginning of the season and keep checking them as they grow.  For the edges of ponds plant drifts of Astilbe with their feathery flowers in white and various shades of pink. Add Rogersia and Rheum for architectural interest.  Try Lobelia cardinalis with its dark leaves and scarlet flowers, which can also be grown as a marginal plant in shallow water.

Home grown summer salads!

Choose an area in shade for part of the day, as this is ideal for salads. Clear away spent crops and weeds thoroughly, break up the soil with a fork until it is an even texture.  Work in garden compost or other organic matter if your soil is thin, use canes and string  to sow seeds in straight lines, as the seeds germinate you will be able to see which are the crops and which are weed seedlings.  Sow beetroot, radish, lettuce and spring onions.

Lettuce

It’ peak planting time now the ground is warm and it is a good month to plant out tender plants like tomatoes, courgettes, chillies, squash and sweetcorn.

Insert a cane when planting tomato plants and tie the main stem to the cane as each plant grows.  The height of the cane will depend on the final height of the tomato variety you grow.  Bush types are left unpinched and only need loosely tying.  Pinch out any shoots that grow between the stem and leaf joints of cordon varieties.  When the plants have reached the top of the cane or have developed 4 trusses of flowers pinch the top out.  Do not let the plants dry out, water each day especially in hot weather and once small fruits form feed the plants with tomato feed added to the water every two weeks.  Pick individual tomatoes as they ripen.

Plant courgettes in a sunny position, water well to settle into the soil and feed with tomato feed every two weeks once the flowers have formed.  Don’t let them dry out they are thirsty plants.  Pick courgettes regularly when they are about 10cms long, cutting through the base of the stem with a sharp knife.  Don’t leave them to grow on our they will turn into marrows overnight.

Sow fast-growing crops to extend your pickings through the season. Radish, carrot, spinach, beetroot and turnip can all be sown in short drills every two to three weeks to keep you in fresh produce.  This successional sowing is a useful technique for gap filling amongst slower crops.  Keep sowing until late August and towards the end of  the summer sow in larger numbers as the growth rate will slow down by the end of the autumn so the more plants you have the better.

In June sow oriental greens like Pak Choi, plant kale for winter crops, sow winter salads.  Sow beetroot, radishes, lettuce, spring onion and turnips. Carrots, French beans, peas, winter cabbage, Swiss chard, radish. Sow some broad beans to harvest at the end of summer.

In July sow beetroot, Calabrese, coriander, French beans, spinach and Swiss chard.

In August sow Swiss chard, lettuce, Pak Choi, rocket, radishes, salad onion, spinach, turnip and spring cabbage.

Keep watering

Watering is crucial to producing a good crop, target plants in the vegetable plot that need watering the most.  The most important areas will be new planting and germinating seedlings, they musn’t dry out.  Swelling fruit and vegetables need plenty of water too.

Established plants need soaking regularly every few days rather than sprinkling every day, this will encourages their roots to grow deeper into the soil to search for ground water.  Tomatoes need plenty of water as the fruit develops, then a bit less as the fruit ripen to encourage an intense flavour.

 

Time to start planting!

Time to start planting!

Spring begins in earnest this month with cheerful daffodils and early tulips playing a prominent part.  As the weather improves and the soil warms, it seems as if nature herself is stirred into action.  For the gardener it is the start of a very busy period as the new season gets underway.

Give it a go – ‘Grow your own’.

In the vegetable garden there is still time to prepare the ground before the major plantings of next month.  Shallots, onion sets and Jerusalem artichokes as well as garlic and early potatoes can all be set now.  Potatoes will, of course, need protection from frost.

Seed potatoes

Hardy crops like leeks, brassicas and roots are fantastic staples to see you through the coldest months.  During the month of March vegetable seed can be sown outside in mild weather.  Sow Brussel sprouts, cauliflowers, leeks, parsley, radishes, rocket, spinach, spring onions and turnips.  Under glass you can sow aubergines, basil, beetroot, carrots, celeriac, cucumbers, peppers and tomatoes.

Salsify and scorzonera are uncommon vegetables mainly grown for their tasty roots, the shoots and flower buds are delicious too.  Sow in spring to enjoy over winter and beyond.

Peas can be sown straight in to the ground, make a drill as wide as a hoe and 3cm deep.  Put in your supporting pea sticks or canes and netting, then sow the seed staggered 5cm apart along the drill.  Water then cover with soil and firm back to ground level.

Vegetable plant plugs can be planted in rows to make weeds easier to spot, correctly spaced according to variety to ensure healthy growth and minimal root competition.

Annual herbs can be sown now for picking this summer.  Sow in seed trays, giving them some heat and lots of light, then prick out and grow on singly.  They can also be sown in small clumps in modules or pots, and planted straight outside from there.

Back to Basics – Soil.

Healthy soil is essential to successful plant growth; it physically supports plants and supplies them with water, air, and a range of mineral nutrients.  If the soil in your garden is not ideal it can be improved with a little time and effort.  It is possible to drain the soil if it is water-logged and improve its structure with the addition of bulky compost or well-rotted manure.  Extra nutrients are easily added to the soil with fertilisers, and lime may be added to make acidic soils more alkaline.  Mulches and top-dressings improve plant growth by preventing weed seeds from germinating and reducing water loss from the soil during the summer months.  For container-grown plants there is a wide range of potting composts to suit every purpose.

Soil

Soil types

Most soil is classified according to its clay, silt, and sand content.  The size and proportion of these mineral particles affect the chemical and physical behaviour of the soil.  Loam soils have the ideal balance of mineral particle sizes, with between 8 and 25 per cent clay, which results in good drainage and water retention, combined with high fertility.

Clay – Clay soils have more than 25% clay particles and are characteristically wet and sticky.  Generally heavy, slow draining, and slow to warm up in spring, but often highly fertile.  They are easily compacted, however, and may bake hard in summer.

Soils containing less than 8% clay are classified as either silt or sandy soil, depending on whether silt or sand particles predominate.  Both sandy and silt soils have a low proportion of clay particles, making them much less moisture-retentive than clay.

Sandy soil – A dry, light, free-draining soil, easy to work but relatively infertile.  Sandy soils are particularly light and free-draining and need frequent irrigation and feeding; however, they warm up quickly in spring and are easily improved with organic matter.

Silt – Silt is reasonably moisture-retentive and fertile but compacts easily.

Peat – Rich in organic matter, dark and moisture-retentive.  Peat is formed where wet, acid conditions prevent full decomposition of organic matter, which remains on or near the soil surface.  Organic or peat soils are wet and acidic; they support excellent plant growth, however, if drained, fertilised and limed.

Chalk – Pale, shallow, and stony, chalk is free-draining and moderately fertile.  Chalky soil, however, is alkaline and free-draining, and allows organic matter to decompose rapidly; they have moderate fertility.

Soil profile.

Soil is usually made up of topsoil and subsoil, and a lower layer derived from underlying rock.  The depth of each layer can vary.  Topsoil contains most soil organisms and many of the nutrients.  It is generally dark, because it contains organic matter that is added artificially or naturally by leaf fall.  Subsoil is usually lighter in colour; if it is white, the parent rock is probably chalk or limestone.  If there is little or no colour change between topsoil and subsoil, the topsoil may be deficient in organic matter.

Identifying your soil

Rub a small amount of moist soil between your fingers.  A sandy soil feels quite gritty and will not stick together or form a ball, although sandy loam is slightly more cohesive.  A silt soil feels silky or soapy to the touch.  A silty loam may show imprints when pressed with a finger.  A loamy clay soil holds together well and may be rolled into a cylindrical shape.  Heavy clay soil may be rolled even more thinly, and develops a shiny streak when smoothed.  All clay soils feel sticky and slightly heavy.

Identifying your soil

Acidity and alkalinity

Soil pH is a measurement of acidity or alkalinity – the scale ranges from 1-14.  A pH below 7 indicates an acid soil, while a pH higher than 7 indicates an alkaline soil.  Neutral soil has a pH of 7.  The pH of soil is usually controlled by its calcium level.  Calcium is an alkaline element that almost all soils tend to lose through leaching (meaning that it is washed through the soil by water).  Soils over chalk or limestone, which are rich in calcium, are more or less unaffected; other soils, especially sands, gradually turn more acidic.  Alkalinity may be increased, if necessary, by liming.

Electric pH meters and soil test kits may be used to measure soil pH.  Make several tests across the garden, as the pH often varies; readings are particularly unreliable after liming.  Soil tests kits use a chemical solution that changes colour when mixed with soil in a small test tube.  The colour is then matched against a chart that indicates the pH level of the soil sample.  A yellow or orange colour indicates acid soil, bright green indicates neutral soil and dark green indicates alkaline soil.

The effects of pH

Above all, pH affects the solubility of soil minerals and hence their availability to plants.  Acid soils tend to be deficient in phosphorus and sometimes contain excess manganese and aluminium.  Alkaline soils tend to lack manganese, boron, and phosphorus.

Soil pH also affects the number and type of beneficial soil organisms, as well as pests and diseases.  For example, worms dislike acid soils, but clubroot, leatherjackets, and wireworms are common in acid conditions.  On alkaline soils, potato scab occurs more frequently.

Optimum pH 

The pH range for good plant growth is between 5.5 and 7.5.  A pH of 6.5 is usually optimum, depending on the plants to be grown.  Peaty soils have an optimum pH of 5.8, however.  The highest vegetable yields are generally obtained from neutral soils but most ornamentals tolerate a wide pH range.  Some are more sensitive; calcicoles (lime lovers) and calcifuges (lime haters) are adapted to extreme pH ranges and their growth suffer if they are planted in soil with the wrong pH level.

Soil organisms

Certain soil organisms are essential to maintain soil fertility.  Beneficial bacteria and fungi prefer well-aerated soil and generally tolerate a wide pH, although most fungi prefer acidic conditions.  One group of fungi (mycorrhizae) live in association with plant roots, and improve the take-up of nutrients from the soil. Healthy soil contains a teeming community of earthworms and other organisms, which help to aerate the soil and break down organic matter.

Extreme weather! – Now is the time to prepare.

Now is a good time to plan for extreme weather conditions.  Healthy soil holds more moisture, keeping plants hydrated during dry periods.  Plants will generally survive well in your garden, their roots will grow down into the soil to find the water table.  However some things will need regular watering during hot weather i.e. a freshly laid lawn, newly planted specimens (especially trees, and perennials), anything in containers, and annual vegetables.  Planning ahead for drought conditions is a good idea.

 Drought conditions

  • Improve soil by adding organic matter (such as compost or well-rotted manure) to your soil.
  • Plant trees, shrubs and herbaceous perennials in spring or autumn when the soil is moist.
  • Apply a thick mulch (such as bark chip), to retain soil moisture in dry weather.
  • Collect rain water by fitting water butts, or use them for storing water around the garden.
  • Plant drought – tolerant plants.
  • Add water retaining gel (such as Seasol Planting Gel) to the base of the planting hole.
  • Water in early in the morning in in the evening.
  • Water into buried tubes deep into the ground.
  • Use ‘grey water’ (previously used for washing dishes, baths etc).
  • Install ‘weeping hose’ irrigation system for vulnerable plants if they cannot be watered on a regular basis.

Garden plants and trees intercept intense rain, slowing runoff and reducing the pressure on drains.  Unlike hard surfaces, the soil in gardens naturally absorbs rainwater, reducing the risk of flooding.  Vegetation (especially trees) capture intense rainfall and holds rainwater temporarily within their canopy thus reducing initial flow of rainwater and easing demand on drains.  If your garden struggles with very wet conditions; where plants die because their roots are constantly in water and therefore are starved of oxygen, making some changes will help.

Water logged conditions.

  • Improve soil by adding organic matter (such as compost or well-rotted manure) to your soil.
  • Plant moisture loving plants.
  • Add horticultural grit when planting.
  • Reduce lawn area and plant more trees, shrubs and herbaceous perennials
  • Construct deep raised beds above a high water table.
  • Install drains and soakaways
  • Replace concrete or Tarmac paths with porous paving such as gravel.

Storm damage can cause extreme damage to a property, a regular check on trees, shrubs and structures can help to reduce the risk.

Windy conditions

  • Plant wind tolerant trees or shrubs.
  • Stake newly planted trees during the first couple of years (loosen ties as the trunk expands)
  • Firm loose soil around shrubs and trees due to wind rock.
  • Check trees for disease and damaged limbs.
  • Grow hedges as windbreaks to protect existing plants.
  • Check greenhouses for cracked or loose panes (keep spare panes available)

Roses for summer fragrance and colour

Sensuous roses confirm the presence of early summer. The variation in fragrance and the brilliance of their blooms create a magical atmosphere in the garden. Roses contribute scent, form and colour and can easily be incorporated into any garden scheme.

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Colourful Camellias

Camellias provide a splash of colour when little else is blooming during the winter and spring. They are easy to grow and popular for their bold evergreen foliage and abundance of showy, white, pink, red, or yellow flowers. An elegant shrub for a border or woodland garden and make excellent specimen plants both outdoors in open ground or in containers.

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Bare-rooted fruit trees and hedging

Once the first frost arrives and leaves fall from the trees, bare-rooted trees can be lifted from the nursery fields. Reduced light levels and cooler temperatures mean deciduous plants begin to shut down and become dormant. This is a perfect time to transfer plants in a bare-rooted state and take advantage of the fact that they are less expensive to purchase than pot grown plants.

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The Perfect Christmas Tree

Ready cut trees come in several different heights without roots and often already with a slice of wood on the bottom to stand them upright. At the Love Plants centre you can can choose from a large range of sizes, staff are on hand to help you make that choice. They can remove the wooden block so that you can insert it in a stand that holds water or net your tree ready for you to take home; and they will be happy to carry your tree to your vehicle or arrange delivery for you.

If you would rather purchase a tree that is either root balled or container grown so that you can pot it on each year or plant it in your garden, staff will be able to help you choose one that suit your requirements and advise you how to pot it on or plant it.

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Enjoy picking and eating luscious soft fruit

Autumn is the optimum time to plant soft fruit while the earth is still warm and moist. It’s easy to imagine you need at least a reasonably sized garden to grow your own fruit, but in fact a small patio, or even a balcony could be home to a whole host of fruit if you know which ones to choose. These include all your old favourites such as blackcurrants, gooseberries, raspberries and blackberries. Or you can try the new super-fruits; blue berries, gojiberries, honeyberries and jostaberries.

Continue reading