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In the Garden

In the Garden – January

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The wet and cold days of December are not always conducive to pottering about in the garden so this is a good month to do some planning for the new year ahead. I am often asked to help revamp existing beds so here are a few pointers to help you make decisions…

Reflect on how you would like to improve the bed: more colour through the year, a greater variety of textures, a larger array of heights? Make a plan of the bed, marking the location of plants that you want to keep. A scaled plan is really useful as it shows exactly where plants are and how big the spaces are but that is only achievable if you go outside to measure the bed, measure where the plants are and then plot your findings onto a piece of graph paper at an appropriate scale, which can all be a bit time-consuming so an approximate plan will probably be good enough for general improvements!

Assess the characteristics of the bed. How much sunlight does it get? What direction does the bed face? How dry is the soil: dry, moist or wet? When does the bed look good? Which months/seasons could it be improved? Assessing these features helps you to make informed decisions about whether a plant is suitable for the bed.

Now comes my favourite part: browse books, catalogues and websites to find plants that meet your criteria. Websites such as the RHS and Crocus provide plant databases which are useful starting points. I also find looking at pictures of different plant combinations very helpful. Try to select a mixture of flower forms as well as a variety of leaf shapes. As you choose your plants, pencil them onto your plan, taking care to use information about plant spread so that you don’t try to put too many plants onto the plan. Review heights, colours and flowering months. When you are happy with your choices, create a finalised list to store with your plan, ready for plant buying in the spring.

In the Garden

In The Garden

For those of you with some extra time on your hands, here’s some great tips to help your gardens flourish this summer!

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Photo: Heather and Viv Pratt

There are many types of iris that make a good display in the garden but in late spring, the tall bearded (pogon) iris come into their own. Sir Cedric Morris, the Suffolk artist and plantsman, introduced many new varieties. He is credited with propagating the first truly pink bearded iris at Benton End in Hadleigh, including Strathmore, which he exhibited at the Chelsea Flower Show in 1948. To quote the late Beth Chatto whose famous gardens are at Elmstead Market, “Cedric’s garden was an extension of his palette”.

However, the rhizomes tend to become overcrowded which stops the iris flowering. Dig up the rhizomes and discard all shrivelled and diseased parts and trim leaves by two-thirds. Then replant the divided sections six inches apart allowing the rhizomes to be partly visible to benefit from the sun. French ‘flag irises’ have more frilly edged flowers than the English varieties but also come in an exquisite colour range with a delicate velvety appearance.

Many plants benefit from division particularly if they become overcrowded – e.g. hemerocallis (day lilies), hostas, michelmas daisies, sedums etc. Remove the old lifeless parts, replant the divided healthy bits and water well.

Camellias, ceanothus, choisya, forsythia, hebes, lilac, ribes and other shrubs that have already flowered should be pruned where necessary. Decorative evergreen shrubs like coprosma, corokia griselinia and pittosporum can be trimmed to shape to stop them outgrowing their space. Any new green growth appearing in variegated shrubs, e.g. elaeagnus maculata, euonymus harlequin, etc should be cut out completely to prevent it becoming dominant.

The spring flowering clematis alpina, clematis armandii and clematis montana should be pruned after flowering. The large showy flowers of the Jackmanii group are about to burst into action brightening up trellis and weaving through roses and other climbing plants.

Prune wisteria to encourage formation and cut laterals and side shoots to 5 to 6 buds after flowering. The stems of the fragrant Japanese wisteria twine clockwise whereas the Chinese varieties twine anti-clockwise.

Buxus (box) plants need trimming during the first week of June. Hopefully your plants have not been defoliated by the Chinese moth caterpillar that has in recent years caused devastation to box hedging and parterres around the UK.

Golden marjoram and purple sage make good edging plants to a south facing border. These herbs need cutting after flowering to keep them tidy. Bronze fennel adds interest and height to any border with its feathery foliage but seeds freely so collect seeds for cooking or scatter them in a restricted space. Oenothera (evening primrose) with its bright yellow flowers in summer is another statuesque herb seeding prolifically so deadhead after flowering to prevent unwanted seedlings. The purple, pink and white flowers of digitalis (foxgloves) are a haven for bees but the leaves are poisonous. This herb too self seeds around the garden and easily adapts to its surroundings. Dead head foxgloves before they seed if you do not want seedings springing up next year or collect the seed for use in the future. Melissa (lemon balm), another freely seeding herb, can be used for cordials and tea as well as a lemon flavouring.

Written by Felixstowe’s gardening twins, Heather and Vivian Pratt

Heather and Vivian Pratt

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In the Garden

In the Garden – Spring

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The yellow blossom of Mimosa (Acacia dealbata) has been flowering since February with its pretty fluffy perfumed flowers and attractive foliage. It was planted from a cutting I took from my last garden and it will continue flowering long into spring. The original tree was also a cutting taken by my late father, whose cousin was Eric Savill, Deputy Surveyor to King George VI, who in 1932 began laying out the famed Savill and Valley Gardens at Windsor Great Park. Eric became Director of Gardens from 1959 until 1970. He died in April 1980 two years before the Golden Jubilee of the garden. Eric had a great eye for landscaping and creating great vistas. My first visit to the 35 acre Savill Garden and the 220 acres of the Valley Garden was in the mid 1980’s with my parents. 

The Japanese quinces (Chaenomeles), honeysuckle (Lonicera purpusii Winter Beauty) and Daphnes may have faded but spring is here with a riot of yellows, creams and whites of the daffodils competing for insects along with the primroses. Tulips will shortly add their kaleidoscopic range of colours to the mix, popping through carpets of Forget-Me-Not (Myosotis).           

Mahonia Winter Sun, Viburnham bodnantense Dawn, Garrya elliptica and other winter flowering shrubs should be pruned, removing entangled branches that criss-cross one another. Prune roses to an outside shoot and cut out dead wood. Buddleias need a chop too, removing old, diseased branches and Dogwoods (Cornus) grown primarily for their colourful red and yellow stems should be cut right back.  Straggly climbers and winter jasmine can now be tidied along with the removal of shrivelled hydrangea flowers and old lifeless stems.

Snowdrops can be divided to increase next year’s display. Pull out dead growth on ornamental grasses and trim to reveal new shoots. Remove invasive razor-sharp sedge grass to prevent thousands of unwanted seeds spreading into your garden.  Cut back perennials such as fuchsias and penstemons.     

Ground elder and bindweed need forking out to minimise roots being sliced as tiny amounts of spaghetti-like root make new weeds. Invasive clumps of wild garlic should be removed. Do not place pernicious weeds in your compost. Nettles need to be kept in check but as they are soil improvers and caterpillars enjoy them, a small patch is permissible near a compost area but well away from raspberry canes and your vegetable patch/allotment.   

English lavenders thrive in our climate and the French varieties (Stoechas) though not so hardy do well in Felixstowe when planted in well-draining soil in a sunny aspect. If your lavenders are leggy and woody a slight trim now before flowering will help to keep them tidy but do not cut into woody stems as new growth will not appear. Rosemary does well here but look out for small shiny oval beetles which defoliate the leaves.       

Fill empty unloved containers/window boxes with bright summer bedding.  Geraniums surrounded by Lobelia, or Violas with French Marigolds, give fantastic colour throughout the summer and will brighten any balcony. Encourage more flowers by deadheading and water when needed.

Colourful and scented wallflowers (Erysimum) – annuals or the perennial Bowles Mauve – are great value. Continue deadheading to prolong their flowering, and then save the seeds for sprinkling to add colour for next year. 

Written by Heather Pratt

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In the Garden

In the Garden – Winter

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Mahonia, named after the American horticulturist Bernard McMahon, is a popular evergreen winter flowering shrub.  The Asiatic group, notably Mahonia japonica (see photo), Bealei, Lomariifolia, Charity and Media varieties are valued for their glossy foliage and heavenly scented yellow flowers.   Mahonia aquifolium (Oregon grape) is sparsely branched with neat clusters of yellow flowers and has green/bronze foliage.   Mahonia Soft Caress, plant of the year at Chelsea in 2013, has yellow flowers and elongated smooth leaves, as opposed to its prickly leafed relatives.   Mahonias do well in semi-shade in a mixed border or in a shrubbery.   Prune after flowering and reduce the height in order to enjoy the lily of the valley scented flowers next year and remove any lifeless branches.

Other winter favourites Sarcococca (winter box) has highly scented creamy/white flowers with shiny dark green foliage and Viburnham bodnantense Dawn has rosy pale pink/white flowers and is most fragrant.   Two late winter flowering scented shrubs are Daphne Mezereum with rose/deep pink flowers and Hamamelis (witch hazel) with its distinct yellow/orange/copper, both on bare stems.

Lonicera fragrantissima, the winter flowering honeysuckle, is a worthy addition to the garden as is Lonicera purpusii, another excellent variety being a cross between fragrantissima and standishii.   The yellow flowering winter jasmine and the evergreen Clematis cirrhosa Freckles with its creamy white flowers speckled with maroon red spots brighten up any dull day.  All these scented plants give bees a feast of nectar during the winter.   

Osmunda Goshiki, an alternative to holly, is seen to good effect with salmon coloured flowers of the Azaleas in the photograph.  Pittosporums come in a wide range of leaf colours and these evergreen shrubs along with box and yew give structure to the garden.   All three can be topiarised or annually trimmed to keep them neat and tidy.   

Conifers are particularly prone to branch distortion after heavy snowfall so take a broom or long handled item to shake the snow from affected shrubs and small trees.   Make sure tender plants are protected from cold weather and ensure containers are not waterlogged as plant roots will rot.      

Hellebores (Christmas roses) with their pretty bowed flowerheads of creamy white to pink/purple, contrast well with snowdrops and alpine cyclamen with their attractive flowers and foliage.   As the days lengthen daffodils, crocus and scilla appear, soon followed by tulips.   Perennials will emerge from dormancy and Cornus stems should be cut right back so new bright shoots can grow. 

The flowers of Camellias, Cercis siliquastrum (Judas tree), Forsythia, Lilac and Magnolia herald spring along with catkins, pussy willow and fruit blossom.   Herbacious plants peeping through the soil can be divided and containers can be prepared for this season’s summer annuals.   Lawns are mown and weeds are kept under control.   Vegetables are sown in anticipation of a bumper crop.  Clematis, irises, lilies and perennials, like Achillea, Lupin and Paeony are in flower.  Centre stage in summer are the blue or white flowers of the Agapanthus.  Herbs are plentiful, bees on the lavender, bumble bees seeking foxgloves, ladybirds on the fennel and butterflies enjoying the buddleia.   Sweet peas are picked to encourage more blooms and hollyhocks reach for the skies.   Rhubarb has been harvested.   Cherry tomatoes are eaten.   Hedges are cut and shrubs that have flowered have been pruned.

Crocosmia, Rudbeckia, Roses and Dahlias are in full swing until the first frosts.   Apples, pears and plums are picked.   Autumn is about foliage and berries.   The exuberant colours of acer palmatum and callicarpa with its purple berries are a spectacle.   Laden branches of cotoneaster, holly and pyracantha give birds a great choice.  Hydrangea flower heads will protect the stems from frost.   Bulbs planted, leaves raked for compost and water butts are full.                 

Written by Heather Pratt                            

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