Wednesday, 30 March 2011

The ubiquitous Root Trainer versus loo roll germination saga

It must have been during an episode of Carol Klein's; Life In a Cottage Garden programme, where I was first introduced to the potential efficacy of the humble left-over loo roll, for the delicate process of seed germination.  Whilst Carol was happily chatting away, I spotted a tight honeycomb clump of loo rolls in the background, all neatly bound and comfortably nestling on a bed of compost in a seed tray. Quite a few months passed, all through which yours truly, was under the gullible impression this to be a complete, and worth-a-try, novelty.

Current personal propagation prowess - 29th March 2011

After weeks of careful collection, and generous loo roll gifts from so instructed family members, I was ready to test their effectiveness. However, a few words typed into Google soon revealed my startlingly wet-behind-the-ears status when it comes to seed propagating. Having never ventured beyond root trainers, pots and seed trays, a whole world of home-made options and techniques were quickly revealed. The 'Root Trainer versus loo roll' discussion has been rampant since at least 2006 on numerous websites, blogs, forums, etc., none of which, I had ever come across until now. In fact, the gardening community seems to be divided into those that are and those that aren't 'toilet roll seed sowers'....

In order to avoid impending disappointment of family members for potentially wasted efforts, and the fact that all available root trainers are currently indisposed; I was keen to go ahead. However, a specific recurring discussion thread very nearly ended the new-found careers of the awaiting loo roll inners. Amongst the garden blogger community, many seem to have experienced, less than effective results using loo roll inners for seed germination. Some even stated that their results showed a drastic 50% lower germination level than when using Root Trainers.

The train of thought is that the inners, are impregnated with some kind of chemical to inhibit fungal growth and hence damage to the product. Consequently, this particular chemical is thought to negatively impact seed germination. Now I am not a scientist, nor producer of loo rolls, but it seems plausible that production process includes some kind of adhesive, preservative, fungicide or pesticide. Despite efforts, it seems to be difficult to discover the exact nature of chemicals in question. Notably, loo roll is produced for the highly competitive consumer retail arena. The consensus therefore is that production techniques are kept strictly secret. All excitingly, cloak and dagger stuff.

On the other hand, there are also countless gardeners for whom this manner of germination has proved very successful indeed. Many have been growing their plants from seed in this manner for years. The low price tag, environmental advantages and their disposition to break down completely when planted, certainly makes for an attractive solution. Furthermore, online forums such as the RHS, Gardeners World, River Cottage, Telegraph Gardening, and so forth, frequently recommend them for growing plants from seed.  Likewise, there certainly seem to be no 'official' condemnations as to their usage, at least none that I have been able to find. So what is the truth? Are loo roll inners a viable option for seed germination?

My experiment will certainly not provide concrete answers, but I am curious to see if the results differ substantially. Nothing conclusive is expected as our greenhouse certainly does not provide laboratory testing conditions, but same seed/same compost, should provide some answers. Personally speaking, Root Trainers have proved successful in the past and their usage will continue. However when in need of additional vessels for germination, this could certainly be an option.

Perhaps, the answer lies in the brand? I forget the particular forum platform, but one dedicated gardener's reasons for lack of success were put to be "..perhaps if I had used M&S rolls, instead of Tesco's...". 

Thank goodness for good old M&S, the purveyor of quality, even when it comes to the inner workings of their loo roll...

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Anyone for an Epicormic trim?

Genuine intrepid daredevils. There really is no other way to describe tree surgeons, particularly for someone who finds scaling a common step ladder, rather daunting. In my defense, I am 6ft3 tall...

March 2011

Months of planning, including the submission and approval of required planning permission process, had finally come to fruition. Friday the 18th of March, saw the long anticipated arrival of A.G.U. Treecraft, our tree surgeons. The lengthy laundry list of required jobs, meant that they came with a team of four, and oodles of terribly exciting looking machinery. One of which, a strapping shredder, probably most highly anticipated by yours truly. You see, the kitchen garden and fruit cage are in dire need for some bark/chippings for the paths. It was near to impossible, not to get excited about seeing, the ever mounting, pile of home-made chippings, take form.

There is certainly much satisfaction to be gained, from knowing that much needed work is being professionally done, whilst we just stand and watch. It is probably accurate to deduce, that most of us gardeners work terribly hard to make those borders bloom and/or to ensure that kitchen gardens provide copious amounts of delicious produce. Without hard work, none of that will ever happen. How refreshing therefore, to see so much good work, being completed without, even one finger being lifted on our part.

Sickly trees were felled, stumps were removed and where so required special trimming and/or thinning of branches. Apart from the fact that the garden, and specified trees, needed the work done, this particular company reinstated my confidence in outsourcing. So often, companies or individuals are hired to do specific jobs, but one is left with (below) average work and sometimes even consequent damage. A.G.U. Treecraft were quite incredible. Not just professional and knowing their craft, but such care was taken, to ensure that their work did not impair the garden. Despite worries, the actual tree felling, did not damage surrounding plants in the garden; the heavy machinery was carefully handled without harming borders, plants, or even the lawn. All that needed to be felled, came down gradually and securely. Consequently, chopped up into practical sized logs, branches shredded, twigs swept up and even the remaining saw dust, blown away. It was just a pleasure to 'work' with them, and the garden looks so much the better for it.

One of the more impressive tree care tasks, was the Epicormic Trimming of the Lime tree. This enormous, but incredibly handsome tree, is crucial to the garden and yet in much need of care and attention. The garden has altered over the years, where the boundary of field-to-garden changed. Many years ago, this tree was part of the field, and thereby at the mercy of a varied range of greedy grazers. One can only assume, that those grazers enjoyed the odd nibble of the, then young, Lime. Consequently, the tree developed numerous suckering shoots, growing profusely in its crown.

 Before Epicormic trimming
Over the years, a dense matting of twigs developed, putting the tree at risk from damage and rot. The official term is Epicormic growth; defined as those shoots (or suckers) arising from activated buds situated (as in our case) on the main stem, at the base of the crown. It also commonly appears on lower end of the tree trunk. Removal is cumbersome, time consuming and entails ample courage.

 After Epicormic trimming
Just as it was for A.G.U. Treecraft, we look for specialised craftsmen in the local village magazine. Too often, these local media are overlooked and many have sadly perished. Granted, many do look prehistoric and could do with an acute face lift, but they still represent an invaluable information source. One can only recommend similar craftsmen, nurseries and alike, to use these local tools to appeal to their market. For those of you looking to flog us something interesting, do advertise it in the local/village media. We will be looking!

And as for the resultant mountain of lovely home-made chippings? No time to settle, but immediately wheeled out in droves. Just as outlined in the plans for the 2011 Kitchen Garden, the paths are now ready and waiting. All we need now is the vegetables....

Kitchen Garden March 2011
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Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Finding the missing pieces in prairie-planting puzzle

Often, it is difficult to pin point, the exact, reasons as to why we like or dislike something. It is no secret, that I much admire, the natural or prairie-planting style. The impact of this style of gardening is staggering beautiful, and I just love all of it! Breaking that down, is more difficult. However, as I am keen to incorporate elements of this style into our borders, assessing and prioritising the exact qualities is crucial.

Pensthorpe Millenium Garden 2007
Customarily, prairie-planting necessitates generous space, to achieve those wonderfully intricate, interlacing sways of stupendous colour and texture, that just go on forever. For most gardeners, space is a rare commodity, which is why it is most interesting to see examples of this style, when applied to more limited spaces, such as (regular) herbacious borders. There are some good examples, such as Wisley and the Beth Chatto gardens, although again, the dimensions of those borders are certainly not what one could call, petite. Granted, our Greenhouse borders are long, but they are certainly not wide. Furthermore, the backdrop, is not meandering countryside, but an 8ft brick wall. Walls in gardens are lovely, but they do, as is their purpose, block border continuity which is so very much part and parcel of this gardening style.

One must acknowledge, that there certainly is no intention to just roll over, and let the so called 'Dutch Wave', completely invade our garden. As it is a formal border, we intend to continue elements of formal, more composed planting, such as the lavender hedges and usage of shrubs. This is certainly not part of the Oudolf package, and am sure he would find this all rather objectionable! In truth, we are looking for some kind of combination of the New Perennial/Oudolf and the more traditionally British, Gertrude Jekyll, techniques. Even if I so wished, credit for this brainwave cannot be bestowed on the author of this blog. That bright spark, Tom Stuart Smith has already mastered this technique, and he has done so very successfully indeed.

Penstorpe Millenium Garden 2007
Therefore, with the intent to apply some of the ideas of the illustrious Oudolf, into the border, the most valuable elements of the Natural Planting style, for our garden are;
  1. Height
  2. Tough plants
  3. Light, airy, 'move with the wind' type, fluffy textures
  4. Rich bold colour block planting
Work continuous to raise the borders' height, using plants such as; Veronicastrums, Eupatorium, Thalictrum (Elin), Macleaya, Valerian and so forth. They are now pretty established and are starting to show off this valuable quality. Following on to point 2, our plant selection has certainly been dominated by the plant's toughness and upright growth habits. The sturdier the better is our motto.

In terms of colour, here again, we are denting the New Perennials line of thinking. Surprisingly, according to Oudolf, it is shape that matters, not colour. Yet the impact of his colour scheme, is next to none. For us, colour is dictated by pastels; blocks of light pinks, blues, purples and whites. Recently though, bouts of courage have resulted in the addition of bright magenta/red violet type colours, which has lifted the entire colour scheme enormously. I have yet to strike up the courage to plant a Phlox Paniculata Dusterlohe, described in 'Planting the Natural Garden' as having an "..alarmingly brilliant lilac-pink color, that makes the phlox extremely ugly and incomparably beautiful at the same time..". One can understand my hesitation...

Where we are lacking, is point 3, the fluffy, airy quality, which continues to elude us. Probably the most difficult to achieve, even for the masters. Grasses are not appropriate for our more formal setting, so thus far plants such as thalictrums, flat capped umbelifers and fennels (bronze and green) have been used. However, the effect can always be improved. After a long search, Perryhill Nurseries in East Sussex, had what I was looking for; Filipendula Purpurea Elegans and Filipendula Rubra Venusta. Wonderfully fern like leaves, creamy plumes of pink flowers, standing tall and proudly upright.
Filpendula Purpurea Elegans (Photo courtesy of Perryhill Nurseries)
As per usual, overzealous enthusiasm will have to give way to reality, as it will take them time to grow into their new environment. The full impact will therefore, probably only start to take effect within a year or two. But still, I am delighted to have them.

And who knows, when that times comes, I may be blogging about planting a certain Phlox.... 

Saturday, 12 March 2011

The Dallas Factor on the 'new' BBC Gardeners' World

Have we just discovered Monty Don in Pam's shower, with the miraculously revived, Bobby Ewing? Did watching last night's, so called revised version, of Gardeners' World, not feel as if Toby Buckland never happened? The 'all new' Gardeners World, is just as it was the last time Monty presented, which makes one ponder as to why the BBC, thought it a good idea to change it in the first place. Granted, the location has changed, but that is pretty much all.

It was delightfully riveting to see Monty, and his team, gardening proper, discussing worthy issues and finally looking beyond the intricacies of planting carrots to a stopwatch countdown. It must be said that, I have absolutely no qualms with Toby Buckland. In fact, when he used to appear on Gardener's World as one of the learned team, I used to enjoy his participation. The question is, while he was the main presenter, was he just following the script or was he pulling the strings? Either way, his reign produced, an insultingly dumbed down and totally uninspiring version of the programme, that never seemed to venture beyond the petty. If the BBC production team was to blame, one hopes that they learned their lesson, and thereby let real gardeners decide the content of the programme.

According the various tweets on the return of Monty to Gardeners World, it seems that many follow the pro-Monty line of thinking. However, having read some of the comments to the Gardeners' World Blog announcement in December last year, it seems that it is not quite clear cut. Surprisingly, there are many viewers out there who are not keen on Monty, and would have preferred for Toby to continue growing carrots. If anything, the comments are good reading, but there does seem to be a pattern.  The general gist in the comments seems to indicate that the great Alan Titchmarsh is still on the minds of many, and that Toby Buckland was a closer replacement, than Monty. Worryingly, from last night's programme, there seems to be no place for decking in Monty's garden, so on that score alone,  Monty is doomed.

The return of Monty Don as presenter of Gardeners World, will never be as big a news story, as the return of the, starkers Bobby Ewing, in Dallas, but it has stirred debate amongst viewers as to what a good gardening programme makes. Not a bad thought, is the idea of having additional gardening programmes, to cater for the varying levels of gardening expertise, as opposed to fruitlessly, cramming it all into one. That could result in, more gardening programmes on television, which I for one, would welcome with open arms.

Oh, and Monty, welcome back. You have been sorely missed and we are delighted to see your return to good health.

Friday, 11 March 2011

Canine gardening exploits

A multitude of frowns surface on the discussion of dogs and gardens. Exuberant dog paws, trudging in borders brimming with delicate plants, can certainly be calamitous. Undeterred though, in June 2010, we brought home, our 8 week old, fox-red Labrador Retriever; Dudley.

13 week old Dudley

It would not ring true, if I said that damage to the garden, particularly the borders hadn't crossed my mind, but I was always convinced that it would all work out, somehow. There is abundant 'advice' available on the internet as to keeping dogs out of borders, the majority of which are dreadful. Cayenne pepper concoctions, strewn thorny rose bush trimmings, sprays with garden hose, are all just too horrid to even consider, and personally could never recommend them. In addition, there is much information as to the toxicity of plants and their potential harm to dogs. The lists are endless, and if one takes that too much to heart, the garden would be nothing more than lawn and concrete.

Our dogus certainly has no qualms about roaming around in the borders, but interestingly enough, he predominantly circumvents plants and jumps over the lavender hedges. Plants that are coming up now are certainly at risk, and one of my Thalictrums has certainly had its new shoots brutally squashed. Although, that might just encourage the plant to grow new ones, perhaps even stronger than for its first attempt. Now, I am not a dog guru, or claim to have enough knowledge of them to judge at Crufts, but it seems that Dudley certainly has a some level of sensibility when it comes to plants.  It is up to the owners to, harbour and develop that.

10 month old Dudley

When it comes to the actual working in the garden with Duds around, that is more difficult. As a puppy he gets terribly excited by digging, weeding, raking, pruning, it is just all too much for words. Full-blown panic is often upon us, when has somehow managed to knick a sharp garden implement, with which he is proudly trotting around. There is certainly truth in requiring eyes on the back of your head when he's around. At the moment, our gardening schedule is very much dictated by the dogus, in that we do our most intense work, whilst he is dozing in our kitchen. Thankfully as a puppy he does sleep a lot, so that leaves us with ample time. However, as we love him dearly, we want him around and we would like nothing more than him dozing in the sun, while we are working. The fact that spring has yet to start, and sunshine is still a scarce commodity may have something to do with this....

To achieve this utopic aspiration, we have taken on the advice of our dog trainer, Tony Orchard. You see, Dudsy goes to school, every monday. There, he, although mostly his owners, are trained to deal with all the various requirements of life. I wish I could tell you that Duds is the best student, but that is certainly not the case at all, far from it in fact. Admittedly, he is rather useless really, as his prime focus at those sessions is to lark around with the other puppies and certainly not to focus on his owner, desperately trying to lure him with meaty titbits. According to Tony, whom we have respectfully dubbed the Professor, we must do the following;

  1. The dog must learn, that whilst one is working in the garden, he must be peaceful. The only way to achieve that is to tie him up, somewhere close enough where he can see you. Ideally that is a place where there is both sunlight as well as shade and a lead long enough to give him the room to move around. One needs to provide him with water and a toy or chew of some sort, and get on with the gardening. In the beginning, Dudsy vociferously disapproved, but we have found that with perseverance, he does now lies down peacefully chewing his toy, and delightfully sometimes even, dozing. He is rarely tied up for long, an hour max, after which we play with him or take him for a walk. Consequently, he is returned to his spot and we continue with the work.
  2. Show him where he can walk and reward generously. When we take him into the walled garden, we take him on the lead. He now knows which are the paths and which are not. He is getting this idea, although we have yet to succeed to keep him on the path, when he's off the lead.
  3. We have not done this (yet), but Tony also advised, to give him a place where he can actually dig and go bonkers. A small area, filled with play sand, where you bury a juicy bone for him to proudly retrieve and/or bury. 
We have certainly not reached our ideal yet, and it will take time for all this to sink in, but we are making progress. In true Labrador fashion, Dudsy also seems to be increasingly keen to seek out the sun for a dozey, which bodes well for our canine companion gardening scheme.

In terms of plants and their possible toxicity to dogs, awareness is key. One needs to remember also, that plants toxicity depends on dosages. Often, it takes substantial quantities of the plant for it to be harmful to the dog, but if ingested do contact your vet for advice. Note, plants that are not on the various lists, could also be harmful, if ingested in large quantities, so again vigilance is key. There are various lists of poisonous plants, I found the following useful;

So far, Duds, has shown little interest to eat any plant, apart from grass, which is certainly fortunate for us. As an added bonus, as he seems to find those bits the lawnmower can't reach, the tastiest...

His presence is a joy and for us, despite some hiccups, we would n't have it any other way. As an added bonus to his lovely self, he keeps the foxes, deer, and squirrels at bay, for which I and the garden, are very grateful.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Incessant magnetism of roses

Roses, roses everywhere,.. well, that is the plan anyway. For some reason, roses are frequently nominated to be both most loved and most hated of plants. Hatred of them, totally misplaced in my view, is probably down to the perception of their requiring much care and attention. They do indeed require pruning, feeding, disease/pest control, but is that not the same for most other plants? Just think of the attention required for vegetables in a kitchen garden, fruit trees in orchards and perennials in borders? Personally speaking, there is no difference in their requirements and their annual reward continues to be unmatched.

Apart from the various specimens that grace the garden walls, in the midst of the walled garden, proudly stands, the Rose Walk. Approximately, 35m in length, the walk is crammed with gracious Gallicas and rigorous Ramblers, embellish the arches. The unusual selection and original colour scheme is completely to the credit of my husband's artistic parents, who created the Rose Walk several decades ago.

June 2009

The original arches were unable to support the industrious vigour of the Veilchenblau and were replaced in 2007. To enhance depth of colour, and extend the flowering season, two additional ramblers, of similar colour; Bleu Magenta and Rose-Marie Viaud were planted at that time. Bare root planting in early autumn, proved most successful and is the route we continue to follow diligently. The shrub roses are all Gallicas; Charles de Mills, Cardinal Richelieu, Alain Blanchard and Hippolyte, which must be one of the most beautiful rose genera available. All the roses in the walk, flower once but profusely, and depending on the weather, diligent dead-heading, can extend the flowering season.

Charles de Mills

In my view, one of the conundrums of a Rose Walk, is the decision as to how 'pure' one would like it to be. That is, do you keep the planting to purely roses, or does one also include other types of plants? Apart from the, Lavender Angustifolia Elizabeth, which line the path, we opted initially to keep to 100% roses. However, due to the relatively short flowering period and the nature of their growth, 'gaps' exist within the planting. Gradually, mindsets changed and we opted to include a planting partner to plug those holes, and in so doing, conveniently helping us to crowd out potential weeds. Inspired by a visit to the RHS Rosemoor Gardens in Devon, we noted the cunning use of Astrantia Major Claret, in their rose garden. This particular Astrantia has the required upright growth habit and most importantly, that breathtaking colour, so similar to the Gallicas.  The first batch was planted in 2010, so we hope to see its impact this year.

June 2010

It is often reported, that Gallicas are resistant to Blackspot and Rust, although we have not found this to be the case. All our Gallicas have succumbed, but it does not impact their flowering. The most effective antidote seems to be Sulphur treatment. Having said that, we do what we can to control it, but one needs to be pragmatic and accept that some level of Blackspot and Rust will always remain.

In terms of care of the Rose Walk;
  1. Pruning of the Gallicas takes place once a year, after flowering.  The pruning of the ramblers, is done twice a year. Once after flowering and then again (lightly) in early spring.
  2. The Lavender hedges are pruned after flowering in early autumn. 
  3. Generous mulching (mulch & manure) in early spring throughout the Rose Walk. 
  4. Once or twice a year, additional feeds are provides; Sulphur Soil, NutraRose and/or Toprose (or equivalent)
  5. For disease resistance; (a) In winter, once all the leaves have dropped off, spray with Jeys fluid to kill off any black spot/rust spores. Make sure all fallen leaves are removed and discarded; (b) Prior to, and after flowering, spray with Sulphur solution; (c) Only if required, general rose fungicide and/or insect spray. 
That all translates, to just the two key working sessions in the Rose Walk per year, that is early spring and late summer. In addition to, the (in my view) minor, additional maintenance throughout the year. Not dissimilar to the scale of work required for the Greenhouse borders or the Kitchen Garden, the end result being well worth the effort. 
      May this infinitesimal editorial contribution, encourage the skeptics or those on the fence, to embrace roses. If that doesn't work, perhaps the photos will! As far as I am concerned, the spirit of gardening instils care for ones plants, which for the rose is just as it is for any other....

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      Sunday, 6 March 2011

      Planting Asparagus a la Monty Don

      There really is nothing quite like freshly picked asparagus. So delicious that many admittedly perish even before reaching the pot. One can only but agree with Sarah Raven, who dotingly refers to them as 'Garden Caviar', even though I am not quite the Caviar devotee.

      After much research, our elected varieties are; Gijnlim, Backlim and Purple Passion. According to various trusted garden scriptures, March is the best time to plant asparagus crowns, preferably on a dry day, which to my luck, was so granted. Most of the editorial on the subject of planting, seem to indicate, to more or less, bung them into the well prepared ground. That is, unless of course, if like us, you have heinously heavy clay soil. If so, you are in for a real treat...

      Somewhat comforting, the mighty Monty Don seems to have similar soil conditions. In his magnum opus, 'The Complete Gardener', he shares his perfected method for planting Asparagus in heavy clay soil, based on previous failed attempts. In a nutshell, he suggests digging the border, to incorporate a 10 cm layer of grit, further adding layers of compost, then making the ridges over which one lays the crowns and finally covering with top soil. All to improve drainage and soil condition, which sounded very plausible indeed, although not a job for the faint hearted. Not long after starting on my first patch, was I wishing to have purchased just the one set of crowns, instead of three...

      Our soil is terribly heavy and as a bonus, pretty waterlogged due to all the recent rain. Digging in these conditions is taxing, particularly when trying to dig, three trenches; 3m long, 40-50cm deep. Carrying and emptying, copious bags of hideously heavy grit, only adds to the pleasure. However, we have done this before when planting lavender and the result is astounding. That thought, and the fact that as Asparagus are perennials, do this once and enjoy the proceeds for many years to come.

      In terms of location, Monty advocates a sunny and sheltered position. His asparagus beds are 1m wide and no more than 10m long, as the clever man suggests that any longer and one will be tempted to walk through them instead of around.  From that one can only conclude that the crowns require a spot in the garden, where they won't be disturbed. As with many things, one can only provide what your plot permits. Our Asparagus beds, certainly will have the most sheltered, sunny and peaceful spot in the walled garden. The caveat is that the beds are right next to the wall and the bed is no more than 60cm wide.

      Be it limited, the width, should be able to accommodate our single row of plants. Furthermore, with all the digging, loving layers of grit, superb compost, top soil and mulch, I am quietly confident that the crowns will be happy and reward our labours with bountiful garden caviar. The first test will be in May; if shoots appear, the crowns are alive and doing well. My fingers are crossed.

      Some final important bits of advice on the subject of Asparagus planting from the talented Mr Monty;
      1. Do not cut a single spear on their first appearance. It will take every ounce of strength on my part not to indulge, but don't is the order of the day.
      2. In November, cut the ferns and ensure you do so, before any berries appear. There is a danger for the seeds to germinate and female plants may grow.
      3. Next spring, limit cutting to two spears, and only from the strongest crowns.
      4. The year after that stop cutting on the 1st of June to allow time for the plants to regenerate.
      5. Finally, in the next year - cut spears to your hearts content!
      As they say, the proof is in the pudding, which after allowing for full plant maturity will be in 2015. Until then, yours truly will depressingly be at the mercy of the commercial Asparagus trade....

      Thursday, 3 March 2011

      Think ahead; Plant Asters now to ensure autumn colour

      With Spring not even at our doorstep, bringing up the subject of late summer/autumn colour, may seem barmy. I realise we currently have Crocusses, Daffodils and Narcissi on the brain, but just bear with me.

      The highlight for all gardeners is seeing their work fruition into beautiful blooming bounty. We all work hard to ensure borders start early and finish as late as is naturally possible. During the flowering season, the big decisions are made as to which plants need to be added, moved, or removed, for the borders to achieve their full potential. It is also at this time that one starts regretting not including plants that start flowering late in the season, to ensure continued colour and appeal.  That is until, today....

      Piet Oudolf has to be one of the best garden designers around. His preachings are highly respected in our household, and where appropriate ideas, incorporated. In addition to his tremendous eye for design, his gardens are famous for their continued allure, well into the winter season and beyond. One of his many magic ingredients is, Asters.

      Ever since work started in the borders four years ago, including Asters for that all important late flowering spree, was always on the agenda. Unfortunately, by the time one is inspired, it is often too late. At least for that year. Magazine glossies logically follow the seasons, although sometimes, I wish they would feature 'If you want this,... then do this now!' type advice, to ensure we do the required, at the right time, to get the best possible out of flowering season. The point is, if one is keen to have late flowering plants, plant them now! Or otherwise, regret their omission for yet another year.

      The Greenhouse borders currently do include a wide variety of plants that have autumn appeal, such as the Eupatoriums, Eryngium, Veronicastrums, Anemone's, and so forth, but few are actually autumn flowering plants, which is the magic of Asters.

      For Aster inspiration, I recommend visiting Upton House and RHS Wisley gardens in September/October, as they have an impressive collection on display. For planting in one's own border, there is however such a huge array of Aster varieties, that choosing is rather complicated. To narrow my search, the following characteristics were required; toughness, reliability, height, upright growth habit and impressive flower display in blue and light pink colours. My final choices are; Aster Little Carlow and Aster Lateriflorus Lady in Black.

      My spade is at the ready, to welcome the new additions to the garden. May they flower profusely....
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