Let the grass grow: a wild(er) garden to support wildlife
Perfectly manicured lawns are beautiful, there’s no doubt about that, but we need to question the impact of frequent grass cutting on our wildlife. This blog post is not advising you to dispose of your lawn mower and throw away your shears for good, but its aim is simply to get you thinking about ways to support our diverse array of wildlife to ensure that our birds, bees and insects are around for generations to come.
A 2011 survey, ‘The state of the UK’s butterflies', concluded that 72% of butterfly species had decreased over the previous ten years. More and more land that was left to grow wild and free is now being built on or used for agriculture, which has had a detrimental impact on our wildlife. It’s not just the butterflies: a whole host of wildlife is suffering and you can find out more by clicking here to view the RSPB’s report on wildlife, named ‘The State of Nature’. But it’s not too late! No matter how small your patch is, you can help.
We’ve compiled a list of things that you can do:
Varied grass lengths:
As the title of this blog post suggests, letting the grass grow is really beneficial for a range of animals and creatures. This does not mean letting the whole garden grow wild, but leaving small patches can really support wildlife, including our ever-declining population of bees. Different lengths of grass in different areas of your garden is the best approach for supporting biodiversity in your garden and, with some careful consideration, this can look beautiful: you could have a meadow style raised bed and a neat and tidy lawn – the juxtaposition of the two can work really well.
Consideration with artificial lighting:
If you have lights in your garden, make sure you leave unlit patches as well. Artificial lights, including LED and halogen lights, can have a detrimental impact on wildlife: the lights can confuse nocturnal insects, such as moths, and it can disturb the sleep of birds. If you want to light up an area of your garden, opt for solar powered lights which are dimmer.
Bring back the bees:
The landscape of the British countryside has changed: many of our meadows have been utilised for agriculture and building, which has seen a rapid decline in our bee population. To put that into perspective, Bumble Bee Conservation estimate that we have lost 97% of our flower-rich grassland since the 1930s, which has massively impacted our bees. You can do a few small things in your garden to help, though.
- Choose plants and trees with ‘open’ flowers so that the bees can easily get inside (some tubular flowers do not allow this). We would recommend any crab apple variety as the flowers are great for bees and the autumn fruits are great for birds.
- Avoid pesticides. We now know the full extent of pesticide damage and it there are lots of alternatives: see our blog post of natural pest and disease control for more information.
- Build a bee hotel! You can build your own bee hotel, small or large, to really support those solitary bees. You can find more information and a DIY guide here.
There are lots more little ways you can help wildlife that go beyond your own garden, including getting involved with projects and community activities: for more information, visit the Wildlife Trust website here.
- Jordan Holmes
Making your winter garden glow
This post is all about making your winter garden glow so that you can enjoy your garden all year round. Winter is not a season usually associated with the garden, but with a few carefully selected trees, your winter garden can offer great pleasure, even if you do choose to admire it from inside.
Winter flowering trees are an obvious choice for winter interest and they come in all shapes and sizes. If you have a small garden, you can’t go wrong with the simply stunning ‘Prunus Snow Showers’: as the name suggests, the snow-white flowers cascade down the weeping branches, giving the perfect floral vision of beauty over winter. The ‘Snow Showers’ is also compact, so you can plant it in a large pot on a patio if you’re short of space.
Another small tree, although certainly larger than the ‘Snow Showers’, is ‘Prunus Autumnalis Rosea’. This outstanding tree offers a stunning floral display of semi-double pink flowers that hang from the branches over winter. The candyfloss-pink flowers almost look out of place in winter, but that adds to their ‘show-stopping’ effect and makes them all the more precious.
If you want a truly unusual flower, the Hamamelis, or Witch Hazel, is unrivalled. The flowers are comprised of colourful petals that resemble ribbon and most varieties are scented. Choosing which Hamamelis to plant can be difficult as they all offer such varied colour, but we love the burning red colour of the ‘Hamamelis Diane’ as it adds a firey burst of life to your outdoor space.
You can also get trees that hold their fruits over winter: this has a double benefit of looking great and also being a natural bird feeder during the colder months. ‘Mauls toringo ‘Scarlett’ is one such variety and the glossy scarlet-purple fruits add a wonderful splash of colour over winter. Equally, for fruits that change as the winter months press on, the ‘Cotoneaster Exburiensis’ features apricot-yellow fruits in autumn that take on pink tints over winter.
Of course, evengreen trees offer year-round interest as the glossy foliage provides a steady dose of colour; you can utilise evergreen trees as backdrops for winter flowering trees, as the flowers really stand out against the foliage. The very large, dark green, waxy leaves of the ‘Magnolia Grandiflora’ make the perfect foil for a winter flowering tree like the ‘Prunus Autumnalis’. If you want colourful leaves, look no further than the Photinia ‘Pink Marble’: this cousin of the ever-popular Photinia ‘Red Robin’ is a real delight in winter as the green foliage is marbled with a vivid pink and white variegation.
Some deciduous trees have a lot to offer in winter, too. In fact, varieties like the Betula ‘Snow Queen’ are widely planted for their stunning bark: the ‘Snow Queen’ has the most beautiful white bark that sparkles and shines over winter. Equally, trees that have an unusual shape or structure can become a fantastic architectural feature in winter: one such tree is the highly unique Salix 'Erythroflexuosa', also known as the Golden Twisted Willow. The corkscrew-like branches are red when young and mature to a golden green colour. To make your garden truly glow, cover the branches in solar-powered lights and admire the contorted skeleton of this distinctive tree.
If you have any suggestions for winter interest, let us know. We always love seeing pictures of your garden and you can post them on our Facebook page.
- Michael Simpson
A beginner’s guide to growing fruit trees
There’s nothing more rewarding than enjoying the crop from your very own fruit tree, and yet so many of our customers avoid planting fruit trees for various reasons: some say that it’s too difficult and others say it will require too much maintenance, but this blog post is all about dispelling the myths and giving you all the advice you need to start growing your own fruit.
We want to make one thing clear: planting a fruit tree does not mean compromising the ornamental value of a tree. So many fruit trees have decorative foliage or showy flowers, that you actually get the benefits of an ornamental tree with the bonus of your own crop. Believe us when we say that you’ll never look at supermarket fruit in the same way once you’ve tasted your own home-grown fruit.
The first thing that you need to know is that some fruit varieties need pollination partners to be planted nearby in order for them to produce a crop. This post recommends a range of fruit trees, some of which need pollination partners, but as this is a beginner’s guide, we have also included some recommendations for trees that are self-fertile, meaning that they won’t need to be planted near a suitable pollination partner and will produce fruit without pollination from another tree.
The second thing that you need to know is what a ‘rootstock’ is. Essentially, fruit trees come in different types, called rootstocks, and each rootstock has different qualities. For example, you can have a Braeburn apple tree on different rootstocks, and you can pick a rootstock based on what you want from your fruit tree. Some rootstocks are ‘dwarf’ so that the tree remains small, others are more vigorous, and some are used for their disease-resisting abilities. You can find lots of information about rootstocks on the RHS information page by following this link.
Finally, in order to keep your fruit tree healthy, we would recommend applying some mulch after planting. Mulch is a covering which goes on top of the soil and it has many benefits, including: retaining moister in summer, suppressing weeds and improving the soil texture. We would recommend wood chippings or compost, but you can find a more information on mulch and its benefits here.
Now you know the basics, you need do make the big decision of what to pick.
Best for smaller gardens:
If you’re short of space, you can’t go wrong with a G5 ‘Stella’ cherry tree. To explain that a little more, G5 stands for Gisela 5 and it’s a dwarf rootstock, meaning that the eventual size will be around 3m high and around 2.5m wide: perfect for a small space. You will need a sunny spot for this cherry to thrive and, ideally, some shelter (planting it near a south facing wall would be ideal). The best bit about the Prunus ‘Stella’ is that it’s self-fertile, so you don’t need to worry about having a pollination partner. All our trees come with a planting booklet, so you can follow the step-by-step guide to planting your new tree when it arrives.
Best for a heavy crop:
If you have a little more room and want something that’s a heavy cropper, go for a ‘Scrumptious’ apple tree on the M106 rootstock; this rootstock is semi-vigorous and it is widely used for its ability to thrive in poorer soils. Scrumptious apples are renowned for being one of the tastiest dessert apples around, and they taste even better when they’re fresh from the tree. The ‘Scrumptious’ is in pollination group 3, so you could plant it with Malus ‘Crispin’ for a bumper crop. As with most apple trees, Malus ‘Scrumptious’ produces delightful flowers in April and May: the white flowers have a pink blush to them and add interest during late spring.
If you would prefer a pear tree, the wonderful ‘Conference’ pear tree is certainly worthy of planting. This is a partially self-fertile tree, meaning that it will produce fruit without a pollination partner, but if you want it to fulfil its heavy cropping potential then plant it alongside another variety like the ‘Williams Bon Chretien’ for cross-pollination. The fruits of the ‘Conference’ are absolutely delicious and you can watch them grow over summer and pick them in late September: a real autumnal treat!
Easiest to grow:
Not only is the ‘Lapins’ cherry tree an easy one to grow, it also produces the most divine dark red-black fruits. Lapins is a self-fertile variety and it produces a good crop with very little effort. Once you’ve planted your tree in a sunny spot, make sure you keep it well-watered and that you apply mulch to retain the moisture. The fruits will be ready for picking in July: avoid pulling the fruit when you pick them and instead pick them by the stalks (to avoid bruising). You can enjoy your cherries fresh or store them in the fridge for 1-2 weeks. If you see any branches that need pruning, do so from late July (after crop) until the end of August. Then all you have to do is keep the tree well-watered when it’s dry and wait for the next lot to appear the following year!
Key things to remember:
- The sweeter the fruit tastes, the more sun it will need
- If you’re short on space, choose a self-fertile variety
- Keep your tree well-watered and make sure it doesn’t try out at all
- Choose a rootstock that is appropriate for your garden’s size
Now that you’ve got all of the essential information, get choosing! We would also love to hear from you and see pictures of your first crop.
- Jordan Holmes
Creating a sensory garden series – smell
When we think of sensory gardens, scent is usually the first thing on our minds. Whether you catch the drift of a sweet floral fragrance or the more sharp smell of herbaceous plants, scented trees and shrubs can be a real sensory treat. We would recommend planting scented trees and shrubs near a seating area so that you can unwind with the drifting fragrances; alternatively, plant your scented shrubs along the edges of a path so that they can greet guests as they pass by.
Different flowers, big and small, have different scents. Some are sweet, light and fruity and others are much more pungent and heavy. Either way, flowers are a great way of filling your garden with fragrance.
If you have room for a tree, one of the most deliciously sweet fragrances has to come from the Cytisus battandieri, which is more commonly known as the Pineapple broom tree. This Morrocan native has vivid yellow flowers that smell like cooked pineapples: a real treat for the senses! Prunus ‘Fragrant Cloud’ is a prolific flowerer in spring and the flowers do not have the usual light fragrance of a flowering cherry tree, but instead they have a much stronger and richer floral scent. Of course, we can’t not mention magnolia flowers in this category; magnolia flowers are large and have a bold fragrance that varies between different varieties.
If you want a fragranced shrub then an unusual choice comes with Hamamelis mollis - Chinese Witch Hazel. The striking yellow flowers appear in winter and have a strong fragrance; if you want to achieve year-round interest then this is the perfect plant. Viburnums are another winning winter option for fragrance and the flower heads have a light, often honey-like, scent. Perhaps one of the most obvious choices is planting a lavender, but it should not be over-looked as it is highly popular for a reason. The deep-violet flowers are aromatic and attractive to the senses of both humans and insects alike; we really like lavenders surrounding a seating area as you can sit back and soak up the scent whilst insects and bees flock round the flowers.
Foliage is often aromatic, rather than sweet, but it can be a real delight to walk by on a windy day. One of the classic choices for aromatic foliage is the Laurus nobilis, also known as the Bay Laurel. The bay leaves are a popular choice in a herb garden and they smell even better when you pick one up and crush in it your hand. Equally, another popular plant is rosemary and we sell Miss Jessopp’s Upright’ which has a pungent scent and is great for planting in a rockery. Rosemary has many benefits and is proven to reduce levels of the stress hormone, cortisol. As well as that, rosemary repels mosquitos and other garden pests so it really will work wonders for your garden. If you’ve got room for a larger option, a eucalyptus tree can add structure, colour and foliage fragrance; the rounded leaves have a light menthol-like scent which is accentuated further when the leaves are crushed.
No matter what you choose, planting a few fragranced trees and shrubs can make your garden all the more inviting for both you and for wildlife.
Creating a sensory garden series – sight
Creating a sensory garden is so much more than just having the odd scented summer flowers around your garden; with careful consideration you can create a tranquil outdoor space that engages the senses all year round. When you think of a sensory garden, you need to think beyond just a ‘scented’ garden. Sensory gardens should evoke a range of your senses and it is as much about the colours that you put together as it is about the fragrances that you have. We will be releasing a series of sensory garden blog posts to guide you through creating your own sensory space. Today’s post is about sight and we’ve put together some tips and suggestions for designing a sensory garden that is appealing to the eyes all year round.
A well-designed garden is something that takes a lot of time and a lot of careful planning. The scope of this blog post do not stretch to designing your garden for you, but the intention is to get you to think about how you want your garden to look and how you think it will work best for your senses.
You can take various approaches when it comes to how your garden looks. Some gardeners like a theme: whether that’s through planting with a set colour scheme or planting contrasting colours all around your garden, you need to think about the overall look that you want to achieve.
If you’re wanting structure then you can go about it in several ways. Consider the shapes and silhouettes you want to create through planting and that will help you decide. You can plant trees that grow tall at the back of borders and these can add height and provide screening to make you feel like your garden is your own tranquil retreat that is cut off from the rest of the world. We would recommend bamboo for screening in a sensory garden because they hit two senses: sight with colour (particularly the phyllostachys nigra – black bamboo) and with the structure and sound with the rustling of the light and papery leaves in the wind.
You can also get structure from weeping trees. There’s a whole host of them on our website and they are perfect for achieving that year-round sensory garden because the pendulous frames of weeping trees look delightful when topped with snow. We would recommend something like Prunus Pendula Rubra for a small garden, Betula pendula ‘Youngii’ for a medium sized garden and Salix Chrysocoma for a larger garden.
Climbers are also a great choice for structure as you can add a pergola or some trellis and have the beautiful vines of the climber weave their way around the structures. Many climbers also offer fragrance and colour too, so they make the perfect choice for a sensory garden. You can view our range of climbers here.
Your outdoor space needs to appeal to your sight and colour is one great way to do that. Ideally, you want to ensure that you have colour all year round, so pick your trees and shrubs carefully to make sure that you have different coloured interest at different times of the year.
In winter, evergreen varieties are great staples and Photinia Pink Marble (Pink Marble Cassini) is an outstanding evergreen. This delightful shrub has leaves that emerge a vivid pink colour and mature to a rich green with splashes of cream; there’s nothing nicer than bright colours in a sleeping winter garden. Equally, if you want to plant a shrub, Escallonia Gold Ellen is another fantastic evergreen and the golden leaves really brighten up a bed or border over winter. You can also plant a winter-flowering tree like Prunus Autumnalis Rosea which flowers over from autumn until early spring.
For spring colour, you are truly spoilt for choice! So many varieties burst to life in spring and flowers are often abundant at that time of year. Any magnolia tree will put on a good show and we like Magnolia soulangeana as it produces delightfully large flowers for a comparatively small tree.
Summer colour can come from leaves, fruit or flowers. It could come from the deep purple leaves of the Betula Purpurea or from the glossy fruits of a cherry tree like Prunus Stella. Equally, summer flowers can really steal the show and if you need something small in size but with mighty flowers then a lovely hydrangea will do the job: the Hydrangea paniculata Little Lime is a great choice.
Autumn is a special time of year for many gardeners and the final bursts of colour from deciduous trees makes for a wonderful display. Acer trees are synonymous with and, if you have the room, planting a selection of acer trees can really make a fantastic scene in autumn. The burning red leaves of the Acer rubrum sit really well alongside the crisp yellow shades of the Acer Kelly’s Gold. If you haven’t got room for an Acer, the compact ‘Sorbus Autumn Spire’ features mustard-yellow berries and deep red leaves in autumn, so that really does add a lot of colour without taking up a lot of space.
Whatever you decide to plan for sight-appeal, remember that you want to create an outdoor space that looks great all year round. After all, going out in winter to prune your roses and plant your spring bulbs can be made a lot more enjoyable with some winter flowers surrounding you!
Environmentally friendly gardening series: a guide to natural pest and disease control
At some point or another, every gardener faces the perils of seeing their plants and trees become victims of pests and diseases. We get a lot of calls and emails about pests and diseases and so this section of the blog is designed to help you eradicate these issues whenever possible and prevent pests and diseases from attacking your trees and shrubs the natural way.
With most pests and diseases, there are numerous ways to prevent them and destroy them. There are natural methods that often involve encouraging wildlife higher up the food chain to feed on pests, or to use netting to protect your fruit from being eaten. There are also biological methods, such as dispersing parasitic nematodes (small parasites) to find and destroy bugs like Vine Weevils. If both natural and biological methods fail then you could try chemical methods, but we are focusing on environmentally friendly gardening methods in this series of blogs.
Preventing a problem is always better than trying to cure a problem and thorough maintenance of your garden is one of the best ways to keep your trees and shrubs disease-free.
Vine Weevil Otiorhynchus Sulcatus
The black vine weevil is a very common pest which attacks over 100 types of plants. The adults are small black bugs that eat away at foliage during the night; the foliage has irregular holes and notches in it when the adults have been feeding on the leaves. Although the adults make your leaves look unsightly, they do not cause any real harm to the tree itself. The adults are very hardy and clever little pests as they ‘play dead’ when they sense a threat, but they are not the real problem, the larvae are the real issue. The larvae live in the soil surrounding the tree and they feed on the roots. The small, white, maggot-like larvae eat away at the roots until they are completely destroyed. Often, people only realise that there is an issue when their tree blows over in the wind as the hollowed roots cannot support the tree any longer, and sadly by this point it is too late. If you are looking out for the signs though, you can stop the Vine Weevils before they destroy your tree or shrub, look out for:
Small holes and notches in the foliage as a sign of the adults feeding
A sudden deterioration in the health of your tree, with leaves looking limp
Your tree looking like it is dry, despite getting plenty of water
Small white eggs on the surface of the soil during August
Prevention of Vine Weevils
As with most pests, prevention is often the key to protecting your tree or shrub.
Vine Weevils cannot fly, but they do have an extremely good grip and can sleep upside down and crawl up vertical surfaces with ease. Adult Vine Weevils sleep during the day and come out to feed and lay eggs at night; they frequently sleep on the undersides of potting benches or greenhouse shelves during the day so that they have easy access to plants by night. You can create a barrier to stop the adults from getting to your plants by putting PVC tape around the pot and then coating the tape with organic grease band or organic insect barrier glue. The glue stops the adults from climbing up to the plants to eat the leaves and lay eggs, so this is the best way to prevent them from getting to your trees and shrubs. If your tree or shrub is planted in the ground then you have two options depending on the age of the bark: if the tree is still young then apply tape to the bark and the apply the barrier glue on top of the tape; if the tree is more mature then you can apply the glue directly to the bark (in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions). You should also note that grease band and barrier glue will also protect your trees against ants, earwigs and winter moths.
Natural Control for Vine Weevils
Many people enjoy attracting birds to their garden anyway, but insectivorous birds will seek-out vine weevils and other pests, so lure them into your garden with hanging feeders and provide nesting boxes for them to occupy over spring. This simple and natural method is surprisingly effective, but many people choose to use this alongside a biological method as an extra precaution.
Biological Control for Vine Weevils
Vigilance is the key here, and if you see adults around your plants then it is possible that eggs are on the roots. Keep a particularly close eye on the roots during august when they lay their eggs and if you see any eggs or maggots then treat the soil with parasitic nematodes. These little parasites are completely harmless to your plants, to humans and to pets, but they seek out Vine Weevils and other pests and enter their bodies through natural openings like their mouths, quickly killing them. When you purchase them, they usually come in a packet with powder, and you mix the powder with water and apply to the base of the tree.
As a precautionary measure, most people choose to regularly apply the nematodes to their soil, and the best thing about this treatment is that the nematodes reproduce and seek out to find and destroy more and more pests including whiteflies, greenflies and blackflies.
What to look out for:
White, powdery patches of fungus that spread on the leaf surface
In some cases the entire leaf is covered in white fungus
Grey/white powder on the stems or flowers
If left, the leaves can turn yellow/brown and curl
The good news:
Powdery mildew is very easy to treat and treatments are widely available. This fungus is also host specific, which means that finding it on a particular plant does not necessarily mean that it will spread to any surrounding plants. You can see powdery mildew on a tree below and the mildew here has affected both the stem and the leaves.
Preventing Powdery Mildew
Using techniques to prevent mildew should always be your first thought, particularly if the air is humid in spring and autumn. Powdery mildew thrives in moist conditions and although you cannot change the weather, you can change the growing conditions of your tree or shrub. You can discourage the growth of fungal infections by pruning back any densely packed branches, which ensures that the tree has a good supply of air flowing through it, thus making it harder for the mildew to grow. Make sure that you do not plant your trees in heavily shaded areas and provide ample space between trees and shrubs for good air circulation.
Treating Powdery Mildew
Of course, sometimes despite your best efforts to prevent a disease, it affects your tree anyway. You can make your own treatment for powdery mildew by following either of these simple home-remedies:
Mix 1 part Neem oil with 2 parts water and spray liberally onto the leaves
Mix 1 part cow’s milk with 9 parts water and spray on to the leaves and the stems; reapply after rain
Slugs aren’t always a gardening enemy and they can speed up the process of composting if they are busying themselves in your compost heap (click here for our guide to composting). However, slugs can cause lots of damage to leaves, stems and flowers so slug control is necessary in most gardens. Look out for unsightly holes in the leaves (as pictured) and the giveaway silver slime trails, although the slime trails aren’t present.
Believe it or not, your watering schedule is one of the most effective ways to control slugs. Slugs are most active at night and they relish damp conditions so watering your plants at night only encourages slugs to come out. Instead, water your plans in the morning and then the surface soil will be nice and dry by the evening.
Another great way of preventing slugs is to create a barrier out of copper. Copper tape can easily be purchased from your local garden centre and you can either place the strips around the base of the plant/tree or you can create a barrier around the border of the bed. The strips work by giving the slug a small electric shock when it comes into contact with the copper and it also acts as a physical barrier too. Copper strips are non-toxic and they are long-lasting and weatherproof. Do ensure that you don’t have any over-hanging leaves or branches though, as these can act as a bridge for the slug to climb over.
Killing slugs by drowning them or using chemicals is not an environmentally friendly way of treating a slug problem; instead, we would recommend introducing natural predators like slow worms, beetles and centipedes. You can click here to access an article from The Guardian that gives you information about encouraging these natural predators to your garden.
Although it was once thought that using salt was a good method, we would not advise this. Salt may well kill the slug, but it also adds salt to your soil which doesn’t benefit your plants. It is also a rather cruel method as it works by making the slug (which has a high composition of water) dehydrate quickly and therefore die. Use the prevention methods instead and if a slug overcomes the barriers then relocate it.
Regular maintenance of your garden is essential. We would always advise you to prune any crossing branches and clear up any clippings, fallen fruits and leaves. Make sure your trees have good air circulation and that they are not planted entirely in the shade (unless they are shade tolerant).
- Bold Apps