Gardening

Bank Holiday Garden Tricks

Garden tricks

Bank Holidays provide the perfect opportunity for pottering in the garden. And with a little planning and cunning planting, you can create a garden that looks bigger/wider/longer than it actually is.

This feature, from this year’s diary, gives you clever hints on how to make the most of your plot.

 

Garden tricks with colour

Garden tricks

Seeing is believing but can you believe what you see? Whatever the size or shape of your garden, make the most of it by cultivating a few illusions along with your herbaceous borders; and on a practical level, a few other little tricks can help, too.

The eye can be fooled more easily than you may think. If your precious plot falls a tad short of your dreams by being too small, too narrow or just too dull, wising up to a trick or two may make all the difference.

Shapes

How you treat open spaces is one crucial aspect of making the garden appear other than it actually is. A circular lawn, for example, is a good ruse to make a small garden appear to be bigger than its square footage. Two overlapping circles are even better, the bigger one nearer the house to lengthen the garden and vice versa to shorten it.

Garden tricks with pathsIf you can lead the eye up the garden path, in more ways than one, that will help your false perspective plan, too. A straight path that tapers slightly as it progresses away from the house elongates the garden, while a zigzag widens it. Snake a track around your patch, and use paving slabs at jaunty angles as stepping stones, to make the whole garden seem bigger.

Another optical trick is to divide the garden, even a small one, so you can’t see it all at once. Extend the flowerbed into the lawn or have a short row of pots with flowers and shrubs to do the job. Bamboos and ornamental grasses make interesting screens, as do trellises and archways covered in roses or clematis, or jasmine or honeysuckle, or runner beans. If space is not an issue, you could have a designated kitchen garden, play area, rock garden – whatever your special interest may be.

Colours

The rule of thumb is that pale colours appear to be farther away than bright ones, so if bigger is the aim, have vibrantly coloured plants near the house and paler, subtler ones farther away. A back fence stained pale grey or green sends it away, and to enhance the effect, you could position a delicate focal point in front of it, such as a planter or a small garden table and two chairs.

It’s better to avoid having tall or spreading trees or shrubs at the end of the garden because a heavily shaded area there will foreshorten the perspective.

Helpful hints

• For a quick and easy way to keep your flowerbeds going through the season, sink plastic flowerpots in the earth and drop in your plants still in their garden-centre pots. You can change them as you wish.

• Vegetable cooking water is full of nutrients and, once cooled, your plants will love it.

• A couple of times a month, distribute used tea or coffee grounds around acid-loving plants, such as azaleas and camellias, to keep the pH of the soil acidic.

• Epsom salts are a gardener’s friend because of their high magnesium and sulphate content. For tomatoes and peppers, pop a tablespoon in with the soil when planting, then sprinkle around the growing plants. For containers, add a couple of tablespoons to the watering can once or twice a month.

• Use gravel as mulch around drought-tolerant plants, which need good drainage e.g. sedums and other succulents, and alpines.

• Plant thyme between stepping stones or in cracked crazy paving for a beautiful aroma when trodden on. If you prefer your paved areas to be plant-free underfoot, use mortar in the cracks rather than sand, which encourages seeds to germinate.

Pale colours appear to be farther away than bright ones

• To ensure watering continues even when you’re elsewhere, on holiday for instance, make a lot of holes in plastic water bottles, bury them next to the plants in question (top above ground) and fill with water. The water will seep out as the soil dries, and it will reach deep roots rather than surface weeds.

• Install a water butt if you can, and don’t forget to use it – plants much prefer rainwater to the treated variety from a tap.

• Use a permanent marker pen to write plant names on an upturned flowerpot or a stone rather than on a lolly-stick marker because that either goes missing or looks tatty in no time.

• Never lose the run of your garden twine – keep it in an upturned flowerpot with the end poking out of the drainage hole in the bottom.

• Keep a small bed of nettles to encourage ladybirds, which eat aphids. Should any aphids escape to colonize your roses or runner beans, zap them with a solution of washing-up liquid.

• Scrunch up eggshells before composting or they will survive to adorn your flowerbeds.

• Don’t forget to turn the compost to allow air to circulate – ideally once a month – and to keep it moist in dry weather. If the compost is smelly and slimy, add more woody material, cardboard or straw. If it’s dry and doesn’t seem to be rotting, add more greenery, such as grass clippings, or try a commercial activator. If the compost bin turns into a breeding ground for flies, too much moisture and not enough air are likely to be to blame. Add more woody material and turn, and remember to put garden waste on top of kitchen waste to counteract the problem.

Weeds

For some people, weeding is therapeutic and satisfying; for others, it’s not so appealing, in which case, consider ground-cover plants. Mats of foliage and flowers spreading around trees and shrubs save hours of weeding not to mention backache. Ground-cover geraniums and roses, Vinca minor, Alchemilla mollis and Bergenia purpurascens are all attractive options.

Mulch is an effective weed suppressant because light cannot penetrate through it, so stopping the seeds from germinating. Clear weeds first, then spread the mulch over the whole bed and top up each spring. Organic mulches, such as compost, bark and leafmould, are also soil improvers since they gradually rot down. They should be laid to a depth of 10cm (4in); others, such as gravel, stone chippings or pebbles, to a depth of 2.5-5cm (1-2in).

Alternatively, if you just want to kill the blighters but commercial chemicals are off the agenda, pour boiling water on them and excavate with a sharp knife or trowel – or buy an organic weedkiller, although these may not kill the roots. Be careful to avoid plants you don’t want to affect.

 

Garden welliesWEBSITES
bbc.co.uk gardenorganic.org.uk
rhs.org.uk
successfulgardendesign.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

The best British gardens to see snowdrops

Snowdrops

 

Driving home earlier this week I was delighted to see a cloud of snowdrops underneath the oak trees.

They always bring me joy. Maybe it’s because they are one of the few plants to flower in the middle of winter?

Around the UK there are lots of gardens awash with snowdrops. Why not discover them?. I’ll certainly be visiting two: Rode Hall and Dunham Massey in Cheshire (followed by the essential tearoom visit to warm up with tea and cake!)

Of course, there are many more. Click here for a list of snowdrop-packed gardens to discover around Britain.

I planted snowdrops in my hanging baskets, they should would appear after the pansies… but no such luck yet.
Perhaps mine are late bloomers!

I should have consulted our book, Seasonal Garden Ideas.

It has lots and lots of easy projects, some of which can be undertaken in a matter of minutes.

Seasonal Garden Ideas

TAKE A LOOK HERE

 


 

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Plant for summer colour now – and a special treat for you!

Nasturtiums Running Riot

All the wonderful weather we have experienced recently has meant we have been able to eat out in the garden almost every night – a rarity in England!

My after-dinner ‘treat’ is to look through my gardening books pondering what to plant.

Today, I’m off to a local plant fair to purchase some colourful bedding plants, and one of the definites on my list is nasturtiums – they are the easiest and prettiest little flowers and not only do they bring a riot of colour to the garden, they also brighten up your salad!

In this little project from our book Seasonal Garden Ideas, we show you how to plant herbs with nasturtiums for a mass of colour.

Enjoy the bank holiday everyone!

 


 

Win £200 to spend in your gardenAnd don’t forget to enter our fabulous competition to win a £200 garden voucher!

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Nasturtiums Running Riot

In this combination a permanent shrubby perennial – catmint – is planted with a foreground of brightly coloured annual nasturtiums. The two together make an interesting summer partnership.

Plant the catmint in autumn or mid spring and the nasturtiums in late spring. Both will flower in summer. The time it takes to plant the nasturtiums depends on the size of bed or border you have got.

 

What you need

Plants
Catmint (Nepeta x faassenii ‘Six Hills Giant’)
Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus varieties).

Equipment
Fork, spade and trowel.

 

Instructions

1 The catmint is a permanent planting, so needs to go in first. Neither it nor the nasturtium require rich soil – but they do both like a sunny site. Dig over the planting area, removing weeds, roots and stones.

2 One catmint can reach a height and spread of 90cm (3ft) or more, so allow it plenty of room. Dig a hole large enough to take the rootball comfortably, set the plant in and firm up. Fill in with more soil and firm in again. Water well.

3 Buy the nasturtiums as bedding strips and plant them as close together as you can for best effect – no more than 15cm (6in) apart. Plant them all around the catmint to form a colourful carpet – they will reach about 30cm (12in) in height. Water in well.

Tip
Nasturtiums flower best on poor sandy soils – if the ground is too rich they will produce leaf at the expense of flowers. Incorporate some sharp sand or grit into the planting area if you think your soil is too rich or heavy.

Notes
Catmint has been given its common name for a good reason – most cats absolutely love it. This affection can take the form of a few surreptitious nibbles from time to time, through pulling or biting away whole stems to full-scale rolling around all over the plant. Keep an eye on your feline if necessary – or take pity on the poor creature and sew it a little sachet stuffed with fresh or dried catmint to play with.

Aftercare
Watch out for and remove any caterpillars you see on the nasturtium leaves – they can eat the leaves down to skeletons if left. Treat blackfly infestation with a systemic insecticide. Cut away any dead or damaged leaves. Water well in dry weather. Clear away the nasturtiums in autumn and dig over the ground ready for spring planting the following year. The catmint looks after itself for most of the year, but benefits from being cut back almost to ground level in spring.

Project is taken from Seasonal Garden Ideas

 

 

 

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Win £200 to spend in your garden

Win £200 to spend in your garden

WIN a National Garden Centre Voucher worth £200!

It’s May and everything is beginning to bloom. It’s the perfect time to get out in the garden and give it some va va voom! (Apologies for the dubious poetry.)

This week, I have a SUPER
special competition for you.

For a fabulous £200 to spend on plants, tools……. whatever you choose, enter our prize draw to win National Garden Centre Vouchers. Just click below.

Good luck!

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Fragrant garden pot – perfect for foodies

 Bay, Thyme and Lavender

 

This fabulous project, taken from our book Seasonal Garden Ideas smells divine and provides you with fresh herbs year-round.

 

Bay, Thyme & Lavender

Three strongly aromatic plants combine here to make an enticingly scented corner. A  standard bay in a large ceramic pot is circled by a medley of low-growing thymes, with lavender surrounding the base.

Plant in spring.
All of these plants have a year-long presence – bay and thyme are evergreen, while lavender, which flowers in summer, retains its grey leaves throughout winter.

Allow a couple of hours to complete this container and the surrounding bed.


What you need

Plants

  • One bay tree (Laurus nobilis), trained to standard shape and clipped to a ball.
  • Eight thymes (Thymus serpyllum and Thymus citriodorus varieties – here golden leaved, variegated and grey-leaved forms as well as the more usual dark green).
  • Eight lavenders (Lavandula variety, such as ‘Munstead’).

Equipment

  • Large ceramic container (or any other pot large enough to take the bay tree).
  • Soil-based potting compost with added grit or sharp sand for drainage.
  • Broken crocks for drainage.
  • Trowel.

Instructions

  1. Position your pot where it is to stand – it will be too heavy to move once planted. Here the pot is surrounded by a narrow bed of lavender which will need about 45cm (18in) of planting space all around the pot.
  2. Line the container with broken crocks for drainage, then half-fill with compost. Check the level of the bay’s rootball by placing it in its original pot on the compost. Adjust the level as necessary to get the rootball to the same depth it was in before, then plant the bay, placing it centrally in the pot. Firm in.
  3. Top up the container with more compost – the thymes will have much shallower rootballs than the bay. Plant the thymes in a circle around the bay, firm in, then top up again with more compost to within 2.5cm (1in) of the rim. Water thoroughly.
  4. Work some of the compost/grit mix into the soil around the pot, then plant the lavenders all round. Water thoroughly.

Tips
If you wish, choose a dry, sunny day and cut some of the lavender flowers when they are at their peak. Leave them to dry in bunches, then use them in a vase or a potpourri, or make little sachets and stuff them with the lavender flowerheads – place in linen drawers or hang in clothes cupboards to keep the clothes smelling fresh and sweet.

Note
Both the bay and the thymes are culinary herbs, so use them freely in your cooking.

Aftercare
All these plants do best in full sun and need light, well-drained soil. Keep the bay in shape by trimming any straggly shoots in summer; remove any frost-damaged leaves/shoots in spring. Remove faded lavender flowers in autumn, then prune in April – but do not cut into old wood. Clip the thyme, removing dead flowerheads and straggly shoots in spring.


 

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5 ways to attract birds to your garden

Garden Bird Feeders

We’re currently trying – and failing – to attract birds to our garden.

One of my children is an avid wildlife fan and was very excited to receive a bird feeder for Christmas.

However, being in a new-build with a garden devoid of plants, we’ve only managed to attract a couple of robins and not much else. Time to consult our trusty Favourite Garden Birds book.

This lovely book is packed full of charming photographs and
illustrations, avian quotes from literature, and fascinating facts
about the birds that could visit your garden.

Its chapter on helping birds should be just what we need to attract feathered friends to our plot.

 


 

And here’s the advice it imparts:

 

1 Provide water

Birds need fresh water more than ever in winter. They must keep their feathers clean if they are to stay warm because dirty feathers do not provide good insulation. If you do not have a pond, provide a bird-bath or wide shallow dish for them to wash in and drink from. Prevent ice from forming by floating a ball on the top, or use hot water to melt the ice each morning.

 

2 Put out food

Some birds are seed-eaters, others insect-eaters and some eat both. Put out a variety of foodstuffs to suit a range of species: bird seed, suet, bacon rind and other cooked meat, live mealworms, grated cheese, apples, pears and bananas.

 

Greenfinch eating peanuts3 In the right place

Some birds prefer to eat from a bird-table, others like pecking at crumbs on the ground, while others like hanging feeders. Make sure that the birds can feed away from prevailing winds and from predators. The best site is out in the open but near to a bush or tree so that they can hide, if needs be. Make sure you clean where they feed on a regular basis.

 

4 Plant for wild winter fare

There are several plants and trees that will give birds food from autumn to spring; just be sure to leave seed-heads on and any windfalls lying beneath the trees. Include some of these in your planting scheme: apple, beech, cotoneaster, hawthorn, holly, ivy, nigella, pear and viburnum.

 

5 Give them a place to nest

If you do not have suitable trees and shrubs in your garden consider a nest box. Fix it facing north so that it won’t become too hot in the summer. You could also put out nesting material, such as wool to give busy parents a head start. Clean thoroughly at the end of each nesting season.

 


 

Favourite Garden BirdsFor MUCH more information on birds, you can purchase Favourite Garden Birds from our online shop for just £7.99.

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