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This Week’s Guest Blogger is Michael Elgey

As a child I was enthralled when watching wildlife documentaries. I not only found the animals fascinating but the landscapes and environments which they occupy. In many of these documentaries filmed in Africa, Madagascar and Northern Australia there would usually be shots and panoramas with the mighty Boab trees. Boabs small but not insignificant group of trees in the Genus Adansonia. These trees are so iconic that someone can typically recognise them even without knowing their common or scientific names.  Some species of Adansonia can grow to a height 24.8 m with trunk girth of 23.6 m. Their dominance  over the landscape is so great that film director Jamie Uys in his movies The Gods Must be Crazy he filmed many shots beneath and within the canopy of African Boab Trees. So when I became interested in Horticulture I attempted to grow a Boab in Western Sydney but with little success due to Sydney’s climate. It actually wasn’t until 2011 that I had the experience of seeing a spectacular stand of Boabs at Mt Cooth-tha Botanic Gardens in Brisbane. Now fast forward to 2018 and I have the absolute pleasure and responsibility to curate several specimens at Rockhampton Botanic Gardens in Central Queensland. These specimens may be young compared to how long they can live but they are just as fascinating and enthralling to me now as they were when I was a child.

For more information about Rockhampton Botanic Gardens in Australia http://www.rockhamptonregion.qld.gov.au

This Week’s Guest Blogger is Darren Sheriff

Containerized Citrus Growing

Growing your own food has gotten to be a huge phenomenon. With all kinds of recalls on different greens and other vegetables it makes sense. Being “The Citrus Guy”, I encourage people to grow, you guessed it, Citrus.

Well, what if you do not live in a Citrus producing area?

Containerized Citrus to the rescue!

Most types of Citrus can be grown successfully in containers, if you have a large enough one. Don’t expect as big a tree as one grown in the ground, however. The biggest advantage of containerized trees is that they can be protected during freezing temperatures by temporarily storing them in an enclosed area.

Plastic containers retain moisture longer than other types of pots, especially terracotta. Citrus need lots of moisture, but don’t like wet feet all the time. A good rule of thumb is, try to keep the soil about the constancy of a wrung-out dish sponge.

The potting mix you use is really a personal choice. Any good, well-draining mix that will retain some moisture, and is sturdy enough to support the plant, will work. You can use any combination of peat, pine bark, compost, perlite, sand, etc.

Good nutrition is essential but over fertilization can result in excessive vegetative or leafy growth. I prefer a 5-1-3 organic fertilizer.  If the tree is in the ground, I will start feeding in late winter and stopping late summer to allow the plant to harden off before the cold sets in. If in containers, all year long is acceptable. They can be fed every 6-8 weeks, in accordance with the time frames previously listed. Any fertilizer you have will work particularly if it contains trace elements such as Iron, Magnesium and Manganese. An occasional foliar spray (spraying the leaves) with Fish Emulsion will also benefit the tree.

Citrus love sunlight, 8-10 hours if possible. Even in Winter, if the temps drop at night and you bring it in, bring it back out during the day after it warms up. If you forget or there is a long cold spell forecasted, don’t worry, your citrus tree will be fine for a few days in a garage or other sheltered spot. They can handle 28 degrees Fahrenheit for short periods of time, if it has been cool prior to the freeze event.

I usually don’t start to panic about protection until they predict 26 degrees Fahrenheit.

If you don’t have someplace to stash the tree and it is only cold for a couple of nights a year, there are other possibilities.

  • Create a temporary greenhouse out of PVC and heavy-duty plastic. Then use electric lights or a small heater. You do not have to keep it tropical in there, just above freeing is fine.
  • You can lay the plant down and cover with a tarp and/or blanket. The heat from the ground will keep it nice and comfortable. Such as this:My trees were under here for three weeks. When I stood them up, they looked like they had come out of the greenhouse.I have been gardening since I was a little boy, citrus has been a passion since the late 1990’s. You can learn more about me and ask any questions by going to my website: https://thecitrusguy.com/

This Week’s Guest Blogger is Joe Swift

I have lived in London my entire life and highly value the act of gardening as well as being surrounded by -and connected to -nature, plants and quality greenspace. I say quality because an area of grass to let the local dogs…. ‘exercise’….is not not reaching its full potential. I have designed and built umpteen gardens and am involved with community gardens, but my most recent design is also the most important to date. I’ve put my heart and soul into it. The Horatios garden I designed at Stoke Mandeville opened in September 2018 and is only going to get better as it matures. We have a fabulous head gardener Jacqui in place along with a team of willing and knowledgeable volunteers. The garden build was not cheap, we didn’t skimp, but it is a gift from the charity through incredible fundraising efforts, to the NHS as is its ongoing care.

Spinal injury patients previously spent extremely long periods stuck inside but now have somewhere to gather and spend extremely important times with family and friends away from the understandably sterile environment of the hospital. Plants and gardens aid recovery and are good for one’s soul; especially important during difficult times.

The garden is all one one level, it has private and more communal areas, an incredible garden building designed by Andrew Wells of 3W architecture complete with kitchen to shelter from the weather. It’s great for doing projects and therapies in. There’s a pond with moving water which adds another dimension and makes the garden feel cool and tranquil on a hot day. There’s even subtle garden lighting which means it can be used in the evenings and viewed from inside the wards when its dark.

The design has transformed what was an uninviting, impractical, exposed (to passers- by) and extremely underused space into an accessible, exciting well used garden packed full of plants for all seasons. Trees such as limes, winter flowering cherries, gingko and amelanchiers provide shade in summer as well as autumn and winter interest. Shrubs such as lonicera, sarcococca and climbing jasmines pump out sweet fragrance and in summer riotous perennials and grasses knit together to envelope the seating areas with plants, creating privacy and bringing in the butterflies and bees. As a garden designer there is nothing more rewarding than seeing a garden you’ve designed being used and enjoyed by those you’ve made it for and when those people and their families have been through life changing trauma, seeing the positive effects on their day to day life it makes it even more special.

This Week’s Guest Blogger is Kevin Dowding

Kevin Dowding

Twists and Turns

As a young lad I used to love helping my Grandad both in his garden on his vegetable plot and renovating and making good our garden. I loved being outdoors, close to nature, learning endlessly and never doing the same thing twice. Wonderful!

Through secondary school little consideration was given to my garden; growing up and school studies took precedence, then University, starting my own family, and a career in finance: it was all more important… then the opportunity presented itself. An open day at a local college that I called in on through nosiness and that was me enrolled on a Horticulture course and goodbye to office work.

The quiet, mundane, unexciting world of gardening has so far taken me and my studies/work to Edinburgh and the Lothians, London, Northumberland, then back home to Cumbria. My last four and a half years has been as Forestry Senior at Center Parcs and more latterly the Interior Plants Senior Ranger. The variety of learning, challenges, achievements, seasonality, patience, satisfaction and fabulous friends I have encountered along the way has been extraordinary and must be a terrific bonus that not every industry or profession can boast nor match.

Now I’ve put my roots down and staying put for the foreseeable future. The full circle back to horticulture, planting design and husbandry under glass is where I started and where I have happily returned.  The following photo collages are one of the environments in which I work along with a selection of plants my team and I currently grow that are brightening everyone’s day.

The continual learning, refinement and development of the art of growing plants is a daily challenge and reward for me and is the driving force inspiring me to higher standards and thereby providing more interesting and better quality plants for our 9,000 weekly visitors to enjoy and marvel over

This Week’s Guest Blogger is Sarah Wain

When it comes to cleaning glasshouses, the gardeners at West Dean Gardens take a deep breath and get stuck in. This is an annual task and it’s perhaps one of the least attractive in horticulture being cold, wet, tedious and repetitive in equal measure. However despite all that it’s a necessary one. I know I’m not selling it to you but glass is best cleaned each year to let in the light and scrubbing walls with soapy water helps to dislodge plant pests and diseases- all good horticultural practice. However with any luck you’ll have a lovely small glasshouse which is easy to clean in half a day so please don’t be daunted by these words! There’s no magic to cleaning just graft and the pay back for us is a collection of gleaming clean houses ready for another season.  Hoorah!

Before we start on the 13 Victorian glasshouses at West Dean, we prioritise the order in which we clean them as plants will have to be moved to another house before the cleaners move in. For us this is also the time to sort through plant collections ditching the worst plants and keeping the best for future use. While we are doing this we like to contemplate the changes that might be made in the following year’s displays and make plans.

Because of the amount of work all this involves we start re-potting in the New Year which is counter intuitive but there is a lot of potting to be done and it takes a lot of time so we can’t really wait until spring which is more suitable. Our warmer glasshouses nurture the newly potted plants and we are especially careful with watering- just enough but not too much until the plants are well established.  In the propagation house young plants live the life of Riley as not only are they cossetted with a heated mat to see them through colder weather, but they also have grow-lights to keep the young plants strong and sturdy. Talk about the Costa del West Dean!

This Week’s Guest Blogger is Michael Perry

Blooming Tasty!

Wildflowers are brilliant for the bees, birds and butterflies- but did you know that some of them are good for you too….? I’ve picked out 5 wildflowers that are also EDIBLE, and can be used in salads, as decorations, however you creative you feel! Many can also be grown in large containers on the balcony or patio too, you don’t need half an acre to have a wildflower garden you know, and you can grow in raised beds for accessibility.

1. Forget-me-not (Myosotis arvensis)

My favourite little blue spring delight is actually edible you know! A beautiful way to decorate cupcakes and cheesecakes! I adore their powder blue colour, and the sprays would add something very different to salads, because the usual accent of colour is a red tomato- surprise everyone with BLUE!

2. Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)

You can eat your yarrow fresh or cooked, and it’s good for you too!! The ferny appearance of the foliage is a fun addition to salads, but do use them when young for the most tender of flavours. Yarrow has also been known to be used as a preservative for beer, and Achilles (where the name comes from) used the plant medicinally to heal the wounds of his soldiers!

3. Red Clover (Trifolium pratense)

Whilst it’s often planted as cattle fodder, the foliage and flower are actually quite tasty to us humans too! The clover leaves can be added to a summer salad, as can the crested, pinky blooms! Red clover grow wild in many places around the worldwide: Native Americans used it as a salve for burns, whilst the Chinese used it as a tonic, and also burnt it as incense.

4. Mallow (Malva moschata)

So many parts of this wildflower are edible; from the leaves to the flowers to the seeds! The leaves are good for you, and bulk out summer salads very nicely, and are available from the spring too. The flowers taste mild, but their pink flower packs a punch. Lastly, the unripe seeds have a nutty taste and look like mini ‘cheeses’- what fun!

5. Cowslip (Primula veris)

You may have seen that Primroses are edible, well their cousin, the Cowslip, is too! They can make a nice tea, or even used to make cowslip wine! Flowers have been used for many years in salads, to decorate cakes, or been pickled! Next time you’re in the countryside you’re going to look at the hedgerow a whole lot differently!

Take a look at Michael’s website http://mrplantgeek.com

This Week’s Guest Blogger is Michael Valentine

Gardening: The escape from my thoughts

Growing up with anxiety disorders, it was a rare occasion for me to find peace in my life.  No matter where I went or what I did, my thoughts would follow and taunt me.  However, being in the garden was the one consistent place I could retreat to and experience peace in my life.

My first panic attack that I can remember was when I was five years old.  It was probably more memorable as it resulted in my arms crashing through a glass door.  The kind of experience a young child would not forget.

To explain what a panic attack is, the best definition I can think of is “fear beyond fear”.  A panic attack is the greatest amount of fear that a person can experience in any given moment.

During most of my younger years my anxiety disorders mainly manifested as generalized anxiety.  Which essentially consisted of being in a heightened state of nervousness and worry, with a haze of fear cast over just about every thought I had and influencing almost every experience I was part of.

On the property that I grew up on there was always a vegetable garden.  Years earlier my grandfather had what could be considered a small farm on this very property.  He raised rabbits and chickens, grew crops and had a variety of fruit trees.  He loved his fruit trees.

Unfortunately, he passed away when I was quite young.  But the legacy that he left would certainly play a huge role in my life in many ways.

Since I was a young boy, every spring my mother and I would venture out into the yard to plant a vegetable garden.  I would be responsible for turning the dirt and then one by one plant the seedlings ever so gently.  Followed by the daily chores of weeding, watering and nurturing the little seedlings all the way through till harvest.

Later, as I became older, I realized that while out in the garden I did not have higher levels of anxiety.  Many times, in fact, while in the garden it felt as if my anxiety had disappeared altogether.  I did not understand why or how that could be, but it certainly was a welcome reprieve from my suffering.  More so in my later teens when my anxiety disorders had escalated and turned into phobias, and panic disorder was beginning to set in.

Since learning the recovery process, what I found out is that all anxiety lives in the future.  You see all anxiety, regardless of the specific cause or fear, begins with a single thought; a “what if” thought that is projected to a specific situation sometime in the future.

Recovery from anxiety disorders is essentially being able to “look away” from our fear and change our focus away from the “what if” thoughts to something that is not frightening to us.

This is what was happening to me while I was in the garden; my attention was taken away from my “what if” thoughts and I was focused on the plants I was caring for.  This allowed my levels of anxiety to become lower, and in many cases disappear completely for short periods of time.

In order to create full recovery, I used behavior modification to create a new emotional response to my specific triggers.  With this approach, we condition ourselves to be able to look away from our fear and not believe the “what if” thoughts that cause higher levels of anxiety.  Essentially being able to manage our thoughts and therefore stabilizing our emotional state.

Looking back over the years, there were certainly some very dark days in my life.  But the one constant joy that I had was being in the garden.

Some people say everything happens for a reason, I don’t know if I can completely agree with that.  However, when I consider my own journey, its difficult for me to dispute that statement.  Obviously, the person I am today is a culmination of all my experiences.  And the argument can be made that all those experiences happened for a reason.

Even now, after creating full recovery from anxiety disorders and living an unrestricted life; each spring I find myself out in the garden, turning dirt.

Currently I have devoted my efforts to helping other people create recovery for themselves.  Ten years ago, I completed my certification training within the program where I created recovery myself.  After being employed by the treatment center for several years running anxiety & phobia specific workshops and a weekly support group, I went on my own to spread the program through varies methods.  Recently I’ve created an online system that includes a video series, podcast, community forum and a blog; all in effort to help reach others that are in need of support & guidance.  http://www.anxietypath.com

I thank the people behind the Gardening For Disabled charity for giving me this opportunity to share my story.

This Week’s Guest Blogger is Andrew Fisher Tomlin

Andrew Fisher Tomlin

The power of a day in the garden

I’m not particularly nostalgic and I often feel that many of my childhood memories have come from the tales my sister tells of what I got up to but I do have a few very clear memories that, I think, put me on the path to where I am today.

Those memories are very clearly of helping my Dad in one of his three allotment plots that we got to in a 5-minute bike ride. Often on a Sunday morning when a good roast was calling we’d cycle up to the allotment where Dad was already there working. We’d help him dig up potatoes which were like treasure, pull up carrots and pick runner beans. Once we got older we were allowed to pick fruit for Chivers Farms in the village during the summer holidays. And of course there was a garden at home that my Mum tended too with an apple tree for climbing and plum trees around the corner to harvest for free.

I often think that my passion for gardening comes from not just my childhood but also that I like my food and my Mum taught me to cook. It’s as important a skill as gardening and perhaps these days we could all take a lesson from this. And today even though my mortgage is paid from working in gardens I still enjoy a day in my own garden.

In our business we design community gardens for vision impairment, for dementia and with young people, a huge range of ages and abilities. I see the power that both active gardening and passive enjoyment of a garden brings. When I get home and go out for half an hour to do some gardening, and then find it’s three hours later and its gone dark, when I put my feet up and look at what I’ve achieved I still get as big a buzz out of a garden as I did digging up the treasure of potatoes all those years ago.

This Week’s Guest Blogger is Quentin Stark

Quentin Stark

Quentin Stark is the Head Gardener at Hole Park Gardens, Kent http://www.holepark.com

He is also the Plant Doctor for Plant Fairs Roadshow http://www.plant-fairs.co.uk

There is a Snowdrop and Plant Fair Roadshow on Sunday 10th February 2019 at Hole Park from 11am until 3 pm

One of my Favourite Plants

There are over twenty species of Cyclamen, growing across Southern Europe, West Asia and Northern Africa.

I was introduced to the tender florist Cyclamen persicum as a young boy by my mother. It wasn’t until I was working at Savill Gardens I met the charming hardy species in the woodland garden. I was lucky to move to my current job which was five minutes from the former specialist Cyclamen nursery Tile Barn. The nearest thing to Cyclamen heaven.

It is some of these hardy species that I want to mention next.

Cyclamen repandum

Cyclamen repandum one of the lesser known species and is definitely a woodland plant, as its foliage is less leathery than its cousins Cyclamen hederifolium and C. coum. Its leaves have a well-defined hastate pattern outlined in silver. The foliage comes up in spring with the arrival of warmer days to come, followed soon by the long elegant slightly twisting magenta petals.

Cyclamen repandum

Cyclamen  purpurescens

This Cyclamen is more of a challenge to grow well out in the garden, as it prefers a continental climate. It is worth trying by planting deeply in a humus shady spot, as this species flowers from June to October with pale pink to carmine and rarely white flowers with the most delightful sweet scent like violets, the best scent of any Cyclamen. It is in leaf almost all year around with heart to kidney shaped leaves that vary in colour from glossy green to entirely pewter coloured, usually has a hastate pattern highlighted in cream, silver or pewter

Cyclamen purpurescens

Cyclamen hederifolium

To me the end of hazy days of summer and the coming mellow fruitfulness of Autumn is signified with the appearance with the first blooms of the most accommodating and long-lived Cyclamen species.

Cyclamen hederifolium

Cyclamen hederifolium is one of the most common species grown, with its butterfly-like blooms that come in shades of rose-pink or white before the leaves, make their appearance. The foliage gives an added bonus to the beauty and another reason to grow these small hardy plants. These leathery leaves with hastate mark in the centre of the leaf, and marbled with shades of green, pewter and silver give rise to almost limitless patterns.

These pictures show the bank opposite my back door, on which Cyclamen hederifolium has appeared over the last 18 years and I’ve not planted one of them, so how did they come to be there?

The seeds of Cyclamen have a sweet coating on them and this is desirable to mice and ants. They collected the seeds from plants in other parts of my garden removed the sweet coating and left the seeds in their runs which seems to be a great place for germination.

Cyclamen coum

Cyclamen coum

Cyclamen coum arrives in winter it’s kidney shaped leaves fully expanded. These leaves like the autumn flowering C. hederifolium have a central hastate marking and can be as variable. The flowers are dumpy compared to other species of Cyclamen, I think this gives them a charm of their own. This delightful species starts to flower in December and continues well into February, with a range of colour from pure white through hints and shades of pink to carmine. This is my favourite species as it gives the most welcome colour in the depth of winter.

To find out more about these wonderful charming plants, the book by Christopher Grey-Wilson, Cyclamen A guide for gardeners, horticulturists and botanists. It has everything you need to know about growing Cyclamen.

The Cyclamen society is great to group to join to further your knowledge and increase your plants through their seed scheme.

‘I know of no other genus whose plants flower out of doors every day of the year. I know of no other genus with one or more species coming into bloom or growth, peaking or going dormant at every season.’ Nancy Goodwin

This Week’s Guest Blogger is Ian Scroggy

Ian W. Scroggy HNDH

Ian Scroggy works with his parents running Bali-Hai Mail Order Nursery.

SLUGS NO MORE!!!!

I have been experimenting with different controls to prevent Slug and Snail damage to our Hosta stock on the nursery.  I tried the usual beer traps or milk traps worked to a certain extent but only worked in a small area around the traps.

Hair clippings, egg shells, sharp grit, soot with little success if the slugs want to eat they will go over them.

Garlic extract now this is the one that gave the best results plus with added benefits.

The Garlic Recipe

You will need

2 Large Garlic bulbs Romanian Red is the best

Blender

2 pints of water

saucepan

Cloth to strain mixture

dark coloured bottle

 Get two large Garlic bulbs place in a blender.  Once finely crushed add contents to two pints of boiling water, let it boil for 2-3 minutes or until the garlic looks like it is blanched.  Let it cool best to do this outside it does smell a bit.  As soon as it is cooled get an old pair of stockings and place them over the saucepan and drain off the liquid into a dark plastic bottle the stockings help to filter out the small garlic pieces. Or pour into ice cube tray and freeze the concentrate. Now you have a concentrated liquid of garlic.  With this liquid put two tablespoons into your watering can, or two ice cubes, about two gallon size or 10 litres and with a fine spray rose on your watering can water this over the leaves of your hostas best to do it in later afternoon after the strong midday sun has passed over.  Spray your plants every 14 days during active growth i.e. from the first shoots starting to emerge to late August-September.

 I have found this mixture can be bought ready made called “Garlic Barrier”  if you search online you will find it.  As it is totally organic it does no harm to the air or soil it actually improves the vigour of the Hostas and gives the leaves a good sheen which also helps build up good root systems as if the leaves are healthy they are able to produce more food to put back into their roots therefore producing more “eyes” so your plants will bulk up better.  It also means you do not have to spray nasty chemicals so much only if you get a sudden outbreak of mildew or botrytis that you would need to spray with a fungicide.  Yes I still use commercial grade slug pellets especially before the plants start to emerge as the garlic only works on the foliage, it leaves the leaves a nasty taste for the slugs they will bypass them for a hosta not treated with garlic.  With slug pellets I only have to use 80% less than I did before I started using garlic so that is a marked improvement.

 Try making your own garlic spray and just do one or two plants to start with so as you can see the difference with the Hostas that you sprayed and ones you left alone.  Within a month you will see a good difference.  I know the smell puts people off making their own but it is worth it I can assure you.  Make sure when spraying the plants that the leaves are dry so as the spray will stay on the leaves and the liquid will dry on thus giving the protection.  I only spray every 14 days but weekly would be even better.  “Garlic Barrier” also do a granule form that you can mix in with the compost I tried this on 100 pots of Hostas but did not get the same results as I got from the liquid sprays but this was only a small scale trial it might work for you and there is hardly any smell of the granules

Bali-Hai Mail Order Nursery http://www.mailorderplants4me.com