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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.

Flowers

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.

Flowering trees

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.

Flowering shrubs

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

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 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.

Sight

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.

Structure:

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.

Colour:

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.  

 

Powdery Mildew

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:

  1. Mix 1 part Neem oil with 2 parts water and spray liberally onto the leaves

  2. Mix 1 part cow’s milk with 9 parts water and spray on to the leaves and the stems; reapply after rain

Slugs

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.

Prevention

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.

Treatment

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.

General advice

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).  

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Environmentally friendly gardening series: a guide to composting

We all know that planting trees is good for the environment, but there are lots of simple things that you can do to make sure your garden is running at its optimum eco capacity. Over the next few months, we will be adding posts that give you advice on creating and maintaining a truly environmentally friendly garden. This post focuses on composting.

Getting started

More and more people are using a compost bin as a way of utilising their household waste. It’s cheap, easy and it yields great results. Creating your own compost heap has never been easier: not only can you buy ready-made bins, but you can easily make your own if you have some old pallets or lengths of wood lying around. You can click here to read North Ayrshire council’s guide to building your own compost heap from unwanted pallets. 

Filling your compost heap

Once you’ve got your heap, the most important part about having it is making sure that you put the right waste in it.

You can put in:

  • Vegetable peelings
  • Fruit waste
  • Teabags
  • Grass cuttings
  • Plant cuttings
  • Crushed egg shells
  • Fallen leaves
  • Shredded egg cartons

You should avoid:

  • Meat products
  • Dairy products
  • Any plastic/glass
  • Diseased plants
  • Pet waste
  • Weeds

You need to aim for a 50/50 ratio of both ‘green’ and ‘brown’ waste. ‘Green’ waste is the ‘wet’ waste, which includes your veg peelings, fruit waste, tea bags, egg shells and fresh green grass cuttings. Brown waste is your ‘dry’ waste, and this comprises of your dried grass cuttings, dry leaves, wood shavings and shredded egg cartons. You want a good mix of both in your compost heap because the green materials are rich in nitrogen and the brown materials are rich in carbon: mix them both together and you’ve got a very efficient compost heap.

Maintaining your compost heap

In order to have a healthy compost heap, you need to give it regular airing; this involves turning the waste regularly and mixing it up. Air circulation is key to efficient composting because the microbes that break down the waste rely on air for survival. You can make this job a lot easier by getting an aeration tool, but a large garden fork will suffice if not.

Using your compost

Compost can take between 3 and 12 months to be fully ready and this depends on what you added to your compost heap and also how often you aired it. You can check to see if your compost is ready by looking at the consistency of it and feeling it. It will be ready when you have a dark brown-black layer at the bottom of your heap and it will feel almost spongy to the touch. You want to make sure that you cannot see any of the individual matter that you added to your compost as it should have decomposed fully if it is ready.

 Compost adds a healthy boost to any garden soil and it greatly improves the quality and structure of the soil. Not only is your homemade compost full of nutrients, it is also fantastic for suppressing weeds. You can use your compost in many ways, including mixing it with your existing soil when planting new trees and shrubs and spreading it around your flowerbeds to enjoy the benefits of improved soil quality. 

Let us know how you get on with your composting. If you build your own compost heap then please send us a photo of your handiwork. 

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Hailstorm damage to some of our stock

After a stretch of beautiful sunshine, the weather took a turn for the worse last week and we were hit with a rather unseasonal hailstorm. As you can see from the images, the hailstones were rather large and abundant. The fifteen minute hailstorm caused damage to buildings and to some of our trees. The image below (right) shows the damage done to our conservatory, which now has numerous holes in its roof.

Most of our trees are grown on our outdoor tree lines and although we're used to rather unpredictable weather conditions of the 'great British summer', this really was an unprecedented situation for us. You can see from the below video just how large the hailstones were:



The fields that were hit were the ones surrounding our nursery, and that’s where we grow a good number of our trees. Although some of the trees were not damaged, other varieties were hit by the hailstones and have therefore suffered damage to some of their leaves; the perforations on the leaves are purely cosmetic, but we wanted to make our customers aware of the situation. On the affected trees, you will find damage that looks like the examples in the image below:


We would like to reassure our customers that the trees will be restored to their optimum condition when new leaves shoot through. As always, our trees are covered by our 2 year guarantee policy, so you can still buy from us with confidence.

If you do have any questions or concerns then please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

The Mail Order Trees team

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why do leaves change colour in autumn?

 

As the hot months of summer fade into the cooler autumn, deciduous trees start to ready themselves to drop their leaves. They do this because they are not going to need the leaves in winter. The weather will be cold and plants cannot heat their own bodies. In the cold weather, their inner processes slow right down. Water becomes less available and less mobile in the plant in freezing weather, so it makes sense to get rid of leaves that could be losing precious water to the air.

The plants deal with all of this dramatic change in circumstances by dropping their leaves. However, the plants do not just throw away health green leaves intact. Before shedding the leaves, they withdraw as much of the goodness from the leaves as they can. The most noticable change is that they break down and remove all of the chlorophyll. Chlorophyll is the green pigment that they normally use to absorb sunlight and convert the energy to carbon-based storage compounds.
Autumn
As the chlorophyll degrades, its green colour disappears from the leaves. Other colours that were previously there, but masked by the green chlorophyll, suddenly become visible. These colours include the yellow-orange carotenoids and the red-blue anthocyanins. The combination of these two remaining pigments produces the vivid fiery autumn colours that we associate so strongly with autumn in certain parts of the world.

Further changes also occur. Most obviously, the parts of the leaves that are joined to the branch begin to break down. The cell walls in these regions are degraded, and once they reach a certain stage in this process, the leaves just fall from the trees. This produces the atmospheric raining down of yellow and orange autumn leaves that brings us so much enjoyment as the last days of summer slip away.

Incidentally, the warm sweet smell that we associate with kicking our feet through piles of autumn leaves is actually the smell of the bacteria that have begun to degrade the leaves as they lie piled up on the ground. The bacteria are not harmful to humans or animals, and this process is just the same as that of a good healthy compost heap.

AutumThe leaf colours of autumn are one of life’s great pleasures, like the light of an open fire or a hot drink in cold weather; and you can easily have your own show in your garden. A wide variety of suitable trees are available and listed below.

For an even more dramatic show, various parts of the world are well worth a visit. In Maine in the USA, where Maple trees are grown extensively for their maple syrup, whole hillsides change to yellow and orange in autumn. In the west of Scotland there are also large stands of deciduous trees that turn mountainsides to fiery reds and yellows every year. What a sight to see!

Next week – evergreens – what’s their secret, and why do they not drop their leaves?

  • Michael Simpson