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Upcoming Events

Make sure to come down to our second jazz night at The Olive Tree Restaurant after an extremely successful launch! The Coffin Dodgers are coming along to play again, and they wont disappoint! It is £4 for entrance or £10 for entrance and a curry. There is a paid bar serving alcohol and soft drinks. It is sure to be a fun and entertaining night! 1st June 2018

The Events Room at Garners Garden Centre

FREE introductory lecture!

Image result for Helen Harrison – Snowdrops

Helen Harrison – Snowdrops – 20th February – 10.00 - 11.30 Free of Charge

Helen Harrison is the chairman of Stone Chrysanthemum & Dahlia Society. Book a place to listen to Helen Harrison perform a lecture on Snowdrops on the 20th February 2018. Receive discount on snowdrops and a money off voucher in the Olive Tree Restaurant. As an introductory offer to our new events room this lecture will be free of charge.

Mike Byford – Hellebores – March 20th - 10.00 - 11.30 - £5

Mike Byford has the National collections of hellebores. Read more about Mike via

Graham Wagstaffe – Greenhouse crops – 24th April - 10.00 - 11.30 - £5

Graham Wagstaffe is the National Vegetable Society judge & lecturer. Graham and his wife maximise the use of their garden to produce sufficient vegetables for their year round culinary needs and this talk reflects his particular aspect of gardening. He grows on the deep bed system which avoids having to stand on the soil and he also covers everything with fleece or enviromesh to avoid the use of chemical sprays.

He believes in avoiding gluts of produce by sowing in succession and only sowing/planting only small quanities at a time. He also argues that two Purple Sprouting Broccoli plants, rather than two rows, is enough for the average family! He also aims to get at least two, and sometimes three different crops, from every part of his ground over the course of the year. Plants from the legume family, like peas and beans, which fix their own nitrogen needs with bacteria in their root nodules, are harvested at soil level. The roots are allowed to remain in the soil to help the next crop of nitrogen-hungry brassicas, rather than dug up and composted. His ground is also infested with club root disease but he overcomes this problem by growing his brassicas on in 5 inch pots before planting them out with a layer of lime applied to the inside of the excavated hole. By the time the infection has permeated through the lime layer, the plant will already have grown well beyond the stage where club root becomes a damaging influence.
He also uses his cold greenhouse and outdoor frames to full effect in order to bring on early crops but one of the secrets is to select only those varieties that are bred for early cropping. He grows early potatoes like Swift and Lady Christl in 5L pots, for example. It will be a very interesting talk on greenhouse crops.

Duncan Coombs – Climbers and wall shrubs – 22nd May - 10.00 - 11.30 - £5

Duncan Coombs - BSC MHORT (RHS) MIHORT MIBIOI from Worcestershire and a lecturer at Pershore College for 23 years.Duncan is a passionate plants man and plant hunter. He is an advisor at the RHS Centre, Pershore College and a gifted and entertaining speaker so we can expect an informative presentation with new insights into the world of climbing plants.

Please Note: You must pre-book your place in advanced as there is only thirty places available for each lecture. If it is a lecture that charges, we will call at a later date to arrange payment. To confirm you’re booking email or call 01782 636428

Wellbeing - the garden as a place to be calm

People often seek bright and lively gardens with space to entertain being the prime requirement. There may also be a need for a quiet place where you can suspend a busy or stress-filled life and just slow down. Such a place can be designed to engage the senses and to encourage taking time to simply observe that which is present.

You may choose to sit still, either bathed in sunshine, or perhaps on a seat beneath an arch that carries foliage. Depending on the season it may be leafy or just a tangle of bare winter stems - nevertheless there is privacy and a place where nature can begin to reveal itself.

You may first become aware of the plants about you and begin to appreciate not only colour but shape. Plants may not excite with bright colours but rather soothe as you study their form and texture. You start to notice leaves that are shiny or smooth, rounded, jagged or angular in shape. Large textured leaves as well as very tiny ones can be intriguing. Plants with variegated foliage can vary in their detail from leaf to leaf, so each seems an individual fingerprint.

By this time you may have caught the attention of a robin that will assess you with a sharp discerning eye. The garden may begin to come alive as you become aware of moving and shifting foliage. As well as any scrimmage around a bird feeder you may (if you are lucky and remain still) sense the movement of foraging creatures and can even forgive a blackbird for tossing debris onto your recently brushed patio. There may be busy bees and other insects just getting on with their lives. There may be tiny sounds that you can’t identify.

Air will touch your skin and you may hear snatches of birdsong and catch elusive drifts of fragrance or aroma. The more you settle into stillness, the more you will connect with the natural world.

Here are ideas for plants that can contribute to your sense of wellbeing in your quiet place.

There are many plants with interesting leaves: The rounded crinkle-edged leaves ofAlchemilla mollis (link The smooth angled leaves of hollies, especially the evergreen foliage of Ilex cornuta (link Observe the large ribbed leaves of Hosta 'August Moon' (link and the tiny busy leaves ofThymus 'Silver Posie' (link There are also the questing fingers of Japanese maples such as Acer japonicum 'Aconitifolium' (link and the smooth bell-shaped leaves of Cotinus 'Candy Floss' (link

In sunny gardens you can enjoy the soft waving shape of Stipa tenuissima (link The weepingHakonechloa macra 'Aureola' (link against the rigid upright lines of Calamagrostis x acutiflora 'Karl Foerster' (link and, space permitting, the shifting, spangling glory of Stipa gigantea (link Catch the aroma of sticky-leaved Cistus ladanifer (link with a balsam-like fragrance that is especially noticeable in the mornings. Feel the soft woolly foliage of Ballota acetabulosa (link, or even that unmistakable aroma of curry from the foliage of Helichrysum italicum (link!

In shady spots you can relish the extraordinary marbled foliage of Arum italicum subsp. italicum 'Marmoratum' (link, the shiny kidney-shaped leaves of ground-hugging Asarum europaeum (link and the silvered foliage of the small fastidious fern Athyrium niponicum var. pictum 'Pewter Lace' (link Enjoy the subtle pattern on the large heart-shaped leaves of Brunnera macrophylla 'Langtrees' (link and the textured mounds of Epimediums with patterned spring foliage such as Epimedium x youngianum 'Roseum' (link Finally, in winter, the subtle beauty of Sarcococca hookeriana var. digyna 'Purple Stem'(link which has shiny lance-shaped leaves on purple-flushed stems as well as tiny, exquisitely scented flowers.

The bulbs are coming - ideas for Spring colour

This is the time of year when colourful packets of spring bulbs appear on the shelves. The pictures of all those perfect flowers are alluring and the idea of them appearing in your garden can be irresistible. Think about your garden and how you can add to its spring appeal by procuring the right bulbs.

Do you want to fill a few containers for a splash of colour? Perhaps these could be placed outside the front door, outside a window, or grouped on the patio. Maybe you want a substantial display of colour. Perhaps you would like a hundred or more daffodils or tulips to strut their stuff in one area. Your preference may be for a few colourful incidents, scattered about the garden to enliven beds that appear dull and empty during spring. There may even be a rockery or raised bed, or perhaps a permanently shady place that would benefit from some colour in spring. Possibly, you find that you want bulbs for all of these places!

For big displays daffodils or perhaps tulips are the obvious choice. When planted in wild-looking areas simple flowers work better than complicated double ones. Flowers on long stems look better than, for example, small daffodils like the otherwise delightful Narcissus 'Tete a Tete' (link which can look lost in a large setting. Robust trumpet daffodils like Narcissus 'Golden Harvest' (link are excellent grown en masse. For something elegant and appealing the snowy purity and refinement of Narcissus 'Actaea' (link may be attractive. Tulips grown en masse can look better if planted in a formal group with clean edges to make a crisp contribution. Try the bold and lively single-cupped Tulipa 'Mickey Mouse' (link, coloured rich yellow with red flashes, adding an exotic touch.

If you wish to create areas of interest, perhaps around deciduous shrubs that look bare in winter, you may choose to create carpets of crocus. It may be necessary to buy several packets to make a show. If left to their own devices they should gently spread over the years. The best effects are achieved with the use of a single variety if you are generally looking at them from a distance. White and yellow will show up more clearly than purple. The simple white Crocus tommasinianus 'Albus' (link is generally reliable, or try the confident golden yellow of Crocus x luteus 'Golden Yellow' (link When the flowers open they resemble the goblets of magnolia. Colonies of Anemone blanda (link, with its blue, white or pink daisies are a delight, though they may fail to establish themselves.

Those who have a rock garden or a raised bed can plant some of the small exquisite bulbs that are often sold in threes. The enchanting ice blue of the tiny Iris 'Katharine Hodgkin' (link captures many hearts. If you have a warm south-facing spot the chunky blue pyramid of the Cuban lily, Scilla peruviana (link is a plant to cherish, whilst small daffodils such as the dainty sweet-scented Narcissus 'Minnow' (link or the starry yellow flowers of ground-hugging Tulipa tarda (link could be tried.

For permanently shaded places the strangely named dog’s tooth violet with mottled foliage and curious flowers with bowed heads and swept back petals can be an aristocratic addition. Try the modest Erythronium dens-canis 'Purple King' (link or the pale yellow Erythronium 'Pagoda' (link You may even be able to establish a drift of the delightful wood anemone Anemone nemorosa (link or one of its forms.

Finally, if you have an area of grassland or grow wild flowers that are only cut back after midsummer, you may be able to establish a colony of the stately Camassia, such as tall Camassia leichtlinii subsp. Leichtlinii (link which adds distinction to any garden.

Easy-going clematis

The summer-flowering clematis that belong to the viticella group are the easiest, possibly even the most-satisfying of them all. If you have never grown clematis before, or have had some disappointments with them, the Viticellas are the perfect solution.

They flower from late June or July, sometimes going into autumn. They are vigorous climbing plants that are remarkably easy to grow and care for. Most of them reach 4 metres or more and provide masses of flowers that spread over a good area, thus providing a substantial visual return for your investment. The flowers are generally single and quite simple in appearance, often with a nodding habit, and sometimes having contrasting stamens at their heart. These forms provide invaluable cover for vertical surfaces, particularly fences and walls that can be a loud presence in small gardens. The clematis will soften boundaries and provide a backdrop to other plants.

Growing ‘Just the one’

It can be helpful to try growing a single specimen for a while. This will give you experience of the general character of these plants and their fit to your style of gardening. For starters try the soft but deep red blooms of Clematis 'Kermesina' (link This has quite large flowers for the group and provides a rich show from late June through most of August. Red shades look particularly attractive against green foliage shrubs.

Clematis with roses

Classically clematis are combined with roses, often to beautiful effect. Viticella forms are unsuited to roses that are described as ‘summer flowering’ since these flower in June and finish about the time the clematis get going. Therefore choose climbing roses that flower through the summer. Good combinations are pink and purple shades. An example being the rambling rose Rosa 'Rural England' (link with its' clusters of small warm pink flowers combined with the velvet purple of the rounded blooms of Clematis 'Royal Velours' (link

For a fresh white and pink combination try the sophisticated Rosa Swan Lake = 'Macmed'(link with the unusual four-petalled Clematis 'Minuet' (link strikingly coloured white and dusky pink. Finally, the nodding fan-shaped blooms of light blue-mauve Clematis 'Betty Corning' (link with the unusually colouredRosa 'Crepuscule' (link that has clusters of copper-hued yellow flowers that are fully double.

Clematis trained over plants

The viticella clematis is beautiful when trained over substantial shrubs. The dark green of yews or columnar Lawson cyprus such as Chamaecyparis lawsoniana 'Kilmacurragh'(link can be combined with the white, green tipped flowers of Clematis 'Alba Luxurians' (link or the rich red ofClematis 'Sodertalje' (link Finally, for something really bright, combine the velvety black-red nodding flowers of Clematis 'Black Prince' (link on the golden foliage of conifers such as texturedPlatycladus orientalis 'Pyramidalis Aurea' (link

Care details

Viticella clematis is hard-pruned in late winter or early spring when the plants are cut back to the first pair of buds above ground level. The old foliage can then be pulled away from its supports. Vigorous young shoots will shortly appear. As with all plants, clematis need plenty of water and should be fed regularly or use a slow-release fertiliser in spring.

Enjoy your clematis.

Clear reds for distinction & quality

Deep clear red flowers have a distinction and quality all their own. There are surprisingly few flowers that have an unadulterated red hue. Red shades vary from the delectable purple and plum hues to the ‘in your face’ vermilion hues that have a touch of yellow in their make-up. The clear reds are best in a simple setting rather than in a crowd that babbles with colour. Green foliage complements red and assists the strong statement that rich red makes. You don’t want too many flowers of this colour at the same time. An excess of prima-donnas can destroy the party! The shade of red takes centre-stage with glorious flowers, often for a short time. Plan for a succession of these reds to provide intense colour hits for the different seasons.

In March the small anemone coronaria forms provide fresh clear colours in blue, white and mauve as well as a scarlet of, for example, Anemone coronaria De Caen Group ' Harmony Scarlet' (Harmony Series) (link Grow a container filled with this plant to maximise impact or plant a patch in your garden, perhaps in the spot where the dramatic oriental poppy will later flourish.

The oriental poppies are in flower during late May and June. Papaver orientale Goliath Group (link is perhaps the ultimate red statement. The huge scarlet flowers with papery petals, a bold black heart and black basal blotch can dominate any garden with their assertive floral beauty. They take up a fair amount of space and, after flowering collapse gracelessly. The classic trick used by clever gardeners is to plant Gypsophila paniculata (link behind it so that its foam of white flowers covers the declining poppy foliage.

To continue the theme through summer there are some stunning roses such as the double flowers of Rosa The Times Rose = 'Korpeahn' (pid8323) or the single blooms of Rosa 'Frensham' (link both of which repeat flower well. On the patio, a container or two of begonias such as one of the non-stop series, specificallyBegonia (Nonstop Series) 'Nonstop Deep Red' (link with its lush green foliage.

Later in the summer there can be high drama with an exotic Canna such asCanna 'Brilliant' (link or the glow from a group of herbaceous plants such as the columnar flowers of late summer lobelia. For example Lobelia x speciosa (Fan Series) 'Fan Scharlach' (link or the bold trumpets of white-throatedPenstemon 'Rubicundus' (link

Certain dahlias can provide exceptional interest with their combination of near-black foliage and red flowers; grown in a group they provide a powerfully coloured feature. There is a single flowered favourite called Dahlia 'Bishop of Llanduff' (link or the double flowers of Dahlia 'Grenadier' (link These will provide interest in late summer and autumn. Dahlias are often treated as annuals, but the tubers can be dug up and kept in a frost-free environment over winter, and replanted the following year.

Finally, end the season with the biggest colour hit of all with the autumn foliage of Acer palmatum 'Osakazuki' (link Ravishing in autumn and needing a warm sheltered spot, it will earn its keep all year through with its elegant framework and beautiful foliage.

Planting for an extended season of interest - silver, grey & purples

In spring it is very tempting to rush to the garden centre and load your trolley high with beautiful flowering plants. You weed and dig enthusiastically so that for a few weeks your garden looks wonderful, but the flowers will finish their season of beauty and you are left with lots of green plants that may not perform for another 11 months. One solution to this is to select a range of plants that have different seasons of interest, so there is always something ‘strutting its stuff’. In addition, include plants that have foliage interest, or strong shapes, so interest continues, even if low key.

For this example, plants have been chosen in a soft colour palette using silver, grey, and purples. The plants are suited to any area where there is plenty of sunshine and well drained soil.

Start with the rear of the site which in this example is backed by a fence or a wall. This could be planted with a quince, in this case white flowered Chaenomeles speciosa 'Nivalis' (link with flowers like apple blossom, appearing in March and April. Alternatively (or as well as, given room) the dainty mauve pink spring flowers of Clematis 'Diamond Anniversary' (link could be used.

It is always worth investing in a deep border where there is room as it is much easier to build up a display that is deeply satisfying. If you have a shallow border it is best to miss out the taller plants as they can literally look uncomfortable as they develop, as though they are falling out of bed.

At the back use vertical flowers like Delphiniums (which need slug protection), and include the giant 2.2 metre deep violet flowered Delphinium 'Summerfield Oberon' (link, or the more compact Excalibur range that includes the one metre high Delphinium 'Excalibur White' (link Delphiniums are summer flowering and may give you a repeat in autumn if you deadhead promptly. The grand Acanthus spinosus (link has a stout pale purple spire during summer.

Shorter plants with a strong vertical line include the delicate grey-green foliage and blue-purple spires of Perovskia atriplicifolia 'Blue Spire' (link which is mid to late summer flowering but contributes a ghostly winter presence. The vivid purple of exotic Lobelia x speciosa 'Hadspen Purple' (link stands 0.7 metres high and flowers in late summer and autumn. Finally, try one of the silvered eryngium such as Eryngium bourgatii (link with its spiky-looking silver-blue flowers from midsummer.

Mounding plants make a good mid-to-front row. The small shrub Pittosporum tenuifolium 'Tom Thumb' (link has purple foliage, lime green in spring, which is appealing in winter. Delicate grey-violet flowered Geranium pratense 'Mrs Kendall Clarke' (link, summer flowering, or the rose purple blooms of small and spreading Geranium 'Dilys' (link, which flowers in late summer. Small, spreading Polemonium 'Lambrook Mauve' (link is good in spring and early summer.

Flat heads look good. Try sedums including Sedum spectabile 'Iceberg' (link with late summer flowers. The flat brown heads can be left all winter to combine with the contrasting shapes of the Perovskia and Pittosporum.

Finally, plant bulbs – tall round-headed alliums to poke through lower plants such as 1 metre highAllium hollandicum 'Purple Sensation' (link in early summer. Plant crocus in the spaces for early spring and include tulips, planted deep that will reappear each spring for many years.

You may not be able to buy all these plants at the same time. Many are only for sale when they come into season. But it is easy to move most herbaceous plants around (except Acanthus which doesn’t like to be moved) if you are unhappy with the arrangements. That is part of the joy of gardening!

Planning Your Small Scale Garden
Part 4 -Trees

Established trees have a strong presence, especially in a small garden. One can look up and into their structure. Their foliage dances in the breeze giving shifting patterns of light and shade on the ground. Solid trees have a welcome mass that can obscure unattractive features outside your garden. Their large size means their shape, flowers, fruit and foliage are high impact. Beyond this a tree is an investment, a commitment to your future life. It may even have been chosen to commemorate a special family event and can develop a significant emotional value. It is worth taking time to plan for your tree.

Apart from meeting their environmental needs – soil, water and temperature - consider their ultimate height and spread. They shouldn’t overwhelm your property or that of the neighbours – who may not welcome branches over their boundaries. Don’t plant too near drains, and remember that leaves falling in gutters can be a problem.

For a really narrow garden try the slender Prunus 'Amanogawa' (link with pale pink spring flowers or, with neutral or acid soil the smaller, more shrubby Amelanchier alnifolia 'Obelisk' (link 22149) with spring foliage interest and autumn colour as well as flowers.

For very compact gardens trees with a weeping growth habit could be chosen. These are often grafted onto an upright stem so that they will not get any taller. (In the event that a branch becomes upwardly mobile a quick cut with the secateurs soon resolves the problem!) An unusual choice would be Ulmus glabra 'Camperdownii' (link, an elm with a picturesque growth habit. (Beware though it could eventually succumb to Dutch elm disease in high risk areas.)

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Other notable weepers include the silver birch Betula pendula 'Youngii' (link that can be grafted at heights between 2 and 4 metres, or the small weeping crab apple Malus x scheideckeri 'Red Jade' (link loved for its flowers, fruit and autumn colour. Finally, a pink weeping cherry, Prunus 'Kiku-shidare-zakura' (link has bronzed young foliage as well. For something unusual try the Styphnolobium japonica 'Pendula' (link with creamy yellow flowers at summer’s end and striking foliage packed rigidly on dangling branches.

Where space is not so tight there are a good range of small trees that provide multi season interest. Hawthorns are solid and full of character, Crataegus laevigata 'Paul's Scarlet' (link massed with double red flowers in spring, being one example. Rowan trees are hard to resist and among many Sorbus alnifolia (link with flowers, fruit and intense orange and red autumn colour is a multi-season delight.

Where soil is acid or neutral, a solid and chunky Cornus kousa variety with white flowers, red fruits and autumn colour, makes a solid specimen, try Cornus kousa var. chinensis 'China Girl' (link Alternately elegant and airyCercidiphyllum japonicum f. Pendulum (link, with the scent of burnt sugar in autumn is a highly distinctive beauty. Where there is good deep soil, warmth and shelter try the exquisite tiny foliage of delicateAzara microphylla 'Variegata' (link or one of the Japanese maples with their wonderful foliage and exceptional autumn colour, such as the coral bark of Acer palmatum 'Sango-Kaku' (link

Finally consider some of the larger shrubs that can be trained as small trees. As they mature the lower branches can be removed to reveal the bare trunks to ornamental effect. Try the common spindle, Euonymus europaeus (link with red autumn colour and curious fruits. Finally the superb spreading cotoneasters such as Cotoneaster x watereri (link which has long outreaching branches that can be walked under. This will give you flowers, berries and autumn colour.

Planning Your Small Scale Garden
Part 3 - Ornamental Fruits

Most people love holly with its rich shiny leaves and bright red berries. There are many other plants with highly ornamental fruit that provide interest, often during autumn and winter when flowers are scarce. The following are a few of the many choices available.

Starting small with the summer dormant bulb Arum italicum subsp. italicum 'Marmoratum' (link It has short columns of showy red berries in autumn, followed by marbled leaves that last through winter. Plant this with Hellebores and spring bulbs and it will naturalise if happy. Another lowly, often overlooked plant is the Gladwin iris, Iris foetidissima (link, with informal clusters of red berries in winter and fan-shaped spikes of green leaves. This is useful in difficult shady or dry places, a plant of quiet quality. Finally try Honesty, Lunaria annua (link (Also available with showy variegated foliage). The sprays of white or purple flowers are followed by rounded white papery seed pods that appear in summer and which are loved by children.

[image “JOP 201602 ornamental fruit1.jpg”]

Moving on to compact and medium-sized shrubs there are new ranges of the Tutsan, Hypericum that have been developed with a resistance to the rust disease that had blighted them. Some of these have names prefixed with ‘Magical’ or ’Miracle’. They are truly eye-candy when the shiny yellow flowers combine with clusters of berries from late summer. The berries are coloured in shades of white, pink, red, and mahogany, all eventually turning black. One example is Hypericum x inodorum Magical Sunshine = 'Kolmasun' (link They make attractive shrubs, around a metre in height with pleasing foliage and a neat shape that looks good in the foreground. Try some of the smaller and sometimes prostrate cotoneasters that have white flowers in May and masses of berries from August or September. The low-growing or prostrate Cotoneaster conspicuus 'Decorus' (link has orange-red autumnal fruits. For a characterful plant, good in a container or enhancing a rockery or raised bed the small but craggy Cotoneaster microphyllus (link has small red berries that last and last.

Many roses have showy hips (don’t deadhead if you want these to develop), they include the prickly Rosa 'Fru Dagmar Hastrup' (link that has fragrant pink flowers. Finally, the exceptional flagon fruits of red-flowered Rosa 'Sealing Wax' (link stands around 2.5 metres in height but can have lower shrubs planted in the foreground.

Many climbers also have showy fruits. The bold pyracantha is probably the supremo for in-your-face displays of red or orange berries from autumn. Among the number available is Pyracantha Saphyr Orange = 'Cadange' (link

For something different there are the purple autumn pods of the annual climber Lablab purpureus 'Ruby Moon' (link If you are really brave and can handle a 12 metre high climber, there’s the shiny green wall-covering leaves of Celastrus orbiculatus (link Its fruits are curious with yellow-lined pods that burst open to show its red berries. For a warm spot the subtle Schisandra rubriflora (link has dangling red flowers and red fruits, both distinctive and unusual.

If you have room for larger shrubs consider the native guelder rose in the beautiful form Viburnum opulus 'Compactum' (link with clusters of shiny red fruits. The largerViburnum opulus 'Xanthocarpum' (link is a beauty with its translucent orange berries. For intrigue, try the blue berries of Clerodendrum trichotomum (link, the large but delicate sprays of red berries on Nandina domestica ‘Richmond’ (link, that last all through winter, or, finally, the violet fruit of Callicarpa bodinieri var. giraldii 'Profusion'(link these have a haunting quality all their own, most effective in late autumn.

There are also plenty of ornamental fruits on trees, but these have to wait till next time when ‘Trees for Small Gardens’ will be covered.

Planning Your Small Scale Garden

Part 2 - Planting for Your Small Scale Garden

In a small garden every plant counts and plants with ‘multi-season’ interest are particularly valuable. Look for plants that offer flowers and fruit, foliage and flowers, or plants that have autumn colour or interesting stems or foliage during winter.

Plants that have both flowers and fruit

These include plants that have the added bonus of foliage interest as well. Berberis forms can really come into their own here, for example the tiny Berberis thunbergii 'Tiny Gold' (link which has yellow leaves, young red shoots, yellow spring flowers and red fruit in autumn. Berberis thunbergii f. atropurpurea 'Admiration' (link has red-orange leaves but is otherwise similar. There is now a range of disease-resistant Hypericum which have yellow flowers and coloured fruits, try Hypericum Magical Beauty = 'Kolmbeau' (link for its berries that start peachy-pink. If you want a good-sized, handsome shrub the fan-shaped, golden-leaved Leycesteria formosa Golden Lanterns = 'Notbruce' (link has red flowers and purple fruits that provide interest all summer through.

[image “JOP 201601 small garden flowers and fruit.jpg]

Plants that have winter interest

Consider flowering plants with foliage that changes colour in winter. Some Hebes have this quality, coming in a range of sizes and needing a spot that has sunshine in winter. Try the compact Hebe 'Caledonia' (link with violet flowers and rose-purple winter foliage whilst Hebe 'Pascal' (link has copper-red winter foliage. Amongst herbaceous plants Bergenia often have burnished winter foliage, for example Bergenia 'Overture' (link has bright pink spring flowers and leaves that are burgundy in winter. The stems of dogwoods can positively glow in winter sunlight – for beautiful variegated foliage and red stems try Cornus alba 'Spaethi' (link or Cornus sanguinea 'Midwinter Fire' (link for good autumn colour followed by orange winter stems. These are cut back to near ground-level in spring, once established.

[image “JOP 201601 small garden winter interest.jpg]

Plants with exceptional foliage

Evergreens in particular can provide interest throughout the year. Pittosporum tenuifolium 'Gold Star' (link has dainty shimmering foliage and can be pruned for containment if space is limited. In warm gardens the exotic Coprosma and Lophomyrtus forms, some of which change colour at different seasons, can be fascinating. Try Coprosma repens 'Tequila Sunrise’ (link or Lophomyrtus x ralphii 'Red Dragon' (link with red to black foliage. Slow but beautiful Nandina domestica 'Wood's Dwarf' (link glows red in winter and is gold, green and red in summer. For foliage drama where a feature plant can be accommodated Fatsia japonica 'Spiser's Web' (link is exotic, with huge variegated leaves.

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Plants for a hot and dry place

Where your garden has a hot and dry area, herbaceous plants can be invaluable. Slugs permitting, try Alstroemeria, coming in a huge range of sizes and happy in a container, such as Alstroemeria 'Orange Gem' (link Striking Abutilon with big bell-flowers can be grown as annuals, try apricot-flowered Abutilon 'Linda Vista Peach' (link Colourful Zinnias have a long season, if deadheaded, an example being Zinnia marylandica 'Zahara Yellow' (Zahara Series) (link Sedums also have a place in a hot spot. In winter they provide architectural interest with their flat brown seed heads, try grey purple Sedum 'Matrona' (link Frothy purple fennel is lovely placed at the rear, especially Foeniculum vulgare 'Purpureum' (link Requiring little attention Salvias, such as the small shrub Salvia microphylla 'Pink Blush' (link has rich pink flowers for months whilst silvered Convolvulus cneorum (link is decorative all summer.

[image “JOP 201601 small garden hot and dry.jpg]

This has just dipped a toe into the possibilities. We haven’t even started on walls and fences that can be clad in repeat-flowering climbing Roses paired with Clematis...


Susan A Tindall

Hellebores - the Christmas rose

Hellebores must be in the top ten of desirable garden plants, delivering flowers from December to May, and generally lasting for years if happy in your garden. The simple charm of the wild species has been supplemented by ever more complex hybrids to produce plants that are beautiful in both leaf and flower, excellent in a container as well as the garden.

Helleborus niger (link, the Christmas rose, has always been one of the earliest forms to flower, often, as the name suggests, around Christmas. In recent years showier forms have been introduced with marbled foliage and flowers that turn pink with age, an example being Helleborus niger HGC Snow Frills = 'Coseh 230' (link The robust Helleborus argutifolius (link with its pale green scented flowers, is an old favourite and good for lightening shady spots. Its easy-going habit may not appeal to those who like rigidly disciplined plants.

The Helleborus x hybridus forms look particularly good planted in the garden. There are both single and double-flowered forms in shades of black, purple, maroon, red, white, cream and yellow. Many of them hang their heads so, in the manner of snowdrops, you need to lift the flower gently upwards with a finger in order to reveal the beauty within. Those with light-coloured flowers, for example Helleborus x hybridus Ashwood Garden hybrids - cream-spotted (link, are visible at a distance and can be positioned so they can be enjoyed from a window. The dark-flowered forms, like the dark beauty Helleborus x hybridus 'Hillier's hybrid slate' (link, have an alluring mystery, so mysterious that they can completely disappear from view if incorrectly placed, so put these in the foreground. Elegant single-flowered forms, Helleborus x hybridus 'Harvington double yellow' (link for instance, can be combined with the many-petalled doubles.

Hellebores can be planted in small well-spaced groups or dotted amongst spring bulbs, pulmonaria, epimedium and primroses. Plan for their summer foliage effect when spacing plants as hellebores can become substantial. The hellebore x hybridus varieties have large whorled leaflets and, as they mature, make a mound of dark green foliage that makes a quiet interlude when not in flower. They can usefully be planted in front of taller deciduous shrubs that will be a highlight in your garden at other seasons. They thrive in part or light shade and can be planted on the ‘shady side’ of large plants, provided there is an access path that can be used to view them. During winter, when, or before the plant flowers, the old leaves are best cut to the ground so the flowers are visible, the young foliage swiftly re-grows.

Luscious hybrids have been developed to maximise foliage, as well as floral appeal. These are both expensive and irresistible. They merit extra care, with soil that is always moist, a sheltered, partly shaded position and some space. They can work well as ‘spot plants’ in the garden, or often succeed best as specimens in large containers. Helleborus (Rodney Davey Marbled Group) ‘Anna’s Red' (link with pink and green marbled foliage, Helleborus x ericsmithii 'Pirouette' (link with jagged silvered foliage, and dusky pink Helleborus x ballardiae Snow Dance = 'Coseh 800' (link among many others, are good examples of these aristocrats.

Camellias - Flowers from November to May

Camellias are much loved for their glorious flowers in shades of pink, red and white. By choosing different plants it is possible to have flowers from November through to May. The earliest camellias to flower are generally the Camellia sasanqua (link forms, which may bloom as early as November. Their flowers are very delicate and have a wild beauty all their own. They are perfect in sheltered positions in open woodland, but can also be grown against a wall. Some of the hardy, free-flowering Camellia x williamsii varieties are also early to flower, the most common perhaps being the strong pink blooms of Camellia x williamsii 'November Pink' (link Camellia 'Cornish Snow' (link is usually in flower for Christmas, as is the beautiful Camellia 'Black Lace' (link

The camellias that are most commonly encountered are Camellia japonica varieties, most of which are in flower from February onwards. A good number of camellias will still be in flower during May and these include the popular Camellia 'Leonard Messel' (link and Camellia japonica 'R.L.Wheeler' (link

Different flower shapes

If building up a collection of camellias, as well as choosing different flower colours and seasons, variety can be achieved by choosing forms that have different flower conformations. Examples of these are:

Growing Camellias

Soil: Camellias like acid soil, though many can tolerate neutral conditions. If your soil is alkaline or even neutral, it is quite easy to grow them in a container using acidic soil. It is helpful to give these an annual watering with iron chelate, commonly bought as ‘sequestrol’, to help keep the leaves healthy.

Watering: Tap water is often alkaline so it pays, if possible, to have a water butt and to water them with the soft water that has fallen from the sky. Camellias are not drought-tolerant and need regular watering in dry periods. This is important in dry autumns since this is when the flowerbuds for the next season are being formed. Camellias do not like poorly drained soil that give them “wet feet”.

Position: They like some shade rather than blazing sunshine, but need a bright position to flower well. Since they flower early in the year, there can also be a problem with frosts and moisture on foliage and flowers if exposed to early morning sunlight. Against walls, east or north facing positions are best.

Prune to control dimensions: If grown in a container it will be necessary to contain the plant’s height and spread. On established plants that are becoming large, prune once flowering is ended and remove almost all the growth that the plant made in the previous year. If you look carefully you will see that there is a change in colour between young and old wood. Old wood is grey and the young growth still has hints of green. Cut away most of this new growth. If you grow a camellia reticulate form in a pot, the pruning must be very gentle, only removing a portion of the growth each year.

Using ground cover plants

Groundcover plants are used to cover patches of ground for which one has no alternative use at the present time, providing an attractive alternative to weeds and bare earth. They provide soothing areas of carpet-like texture, or quiet colour that doesn’t ‘shout’ or draw attention away from your showy ornamental plants. They are always low maintenance once established, and are usually good “bee” attracting plants.

The essential qualities that are looked for in such plants are: their ability to spread, to look after themselves, to suppress most, sometimes all weeds, to be readily divided, dug up, moved, eradicated or perhaps given away as your needs change. They are not “choice” plants or rare new cultivars, and are hopefully fairly inexpensive. The following are a few low-growing suggestions suited to domestic gardens.

Periwinkles: Vinca forms (link These make foliage clumps that root and spread, dense and impenetrable when well established. The leaves are neat, smooth and shiny and the flowers are a pretty incident in spring. They take shade, the growth being sparer in dry and shady spots. They are capable of climbing over small shrubs. Place Vinca major forms 45cm apart, Vinca minor at 40cm intervals.

Dead nettles: Despite the unappetising name, the Lamium forms (link make appealing groundcover. The most vigorous, the Yellow Archangel especially Lamium galeobdolon ‘Florentinum’ (link with its silver-patterned leaves, makes quickly spreading groundcover, especially beautiful in spring. This can smother small plants and can get ragged but is very accommodating in part or full shade, needing a little moisture. Space at 75cm intervals. The more compact Lamium maculatum forms are much slower in growth, good for small areas, and need spacing at 30cm intervals. The more sombre forms look better in a mass planting.

Creeping Jenny: Lysimachia nummularia, especially the gold-leaf form ‘Aurea’ (link makes a flat-carpet of rounded leaves with yellow spring flowers. It rapidly makes a dense prostrate mat. Easy to pull up and redistribute, and excellent at the feet of shrubs. Clumps can be planted at 40cm or strands at 15cm intervals. For sun or shade.

Sedum: For dry and sunny places there are a number of creeping forms that make attractive foliage mats, these include Sedum spurium (link which makes spreading rosettes with pink flowers in summer. Plant at 45cm intervals. For long-lasting non-spreading cover with ornamental value, clumps of Sedum spectabile (link planted at 30cm intervals just needs cutting back in spring.

Geranium macrorrhizum (link makes excellent groundcover in dry shade or sun. Good at the base of north walls and around shrubs. It flowers in spring and has lovely aromatic foliage. Plant at 60cm intervals.

Geranium x oxonianum forms, such as ‘thurstonianum’ (link make hearty spreading foliage clumps, with flowers for long seasons, generally pink or purple. They can fight with grass and win, clamber into shrubs and just need shearing to near ground-level when they spread and gape. Plant at 50cm intervals.

Note: The ground should be prepared and thoroughly weeded before planting ground cover plants. Weed between them until their clumps link up. They will need watering until established, and then only watered after dry periods when they are obviously suffering badly.

Enjoy experimenting with new ideas in your garden.

Using Hydrangeas in the garden

In a container: Hydrangeas all enjoy plenty of moisture. If you can’t, or don’t wish to spend time watering the garden but can manage a few containers, fill one or more with hydrangeas. Paired pots of hydrangeas are round in shape, have a formal look and look good placed one each side of a path or entrance. Try the stylish white-flowered Hydrangea macrophylla 'Black Steel Zebra' (link which is around a metre in height and spread, with a floral season that starts in July. For a really compact container plant the 45cm high Hydrangea macrophylla 'Papillon' (link which has flowers that are pink in alkaline soil and shaped like some begonias. This could be placed with containers of Begonia (Nonstop Series) (link, to intriguing effect and they should both start to flower during July.

In the border: Hydrangeas can be surprisingly effective as part of a mixed planting in a flower border. The more delicate flowers of the lacecap forms with their domed heads can be interesting. For pink flowers try with frothy magenta pink Astilbes such as Astilbe chinensis var. tacquetii 'Superba' (link, or as a contrast to elegant hardy Lobelias such as Lobelia 'Compton Pink' (link Alternatively the exuberant whorled flowers of Monarda such as pale pink Monarda 'Fishes' (link make good companions.

If you have acidic soil and can grow those elusive blue hydrangeas (for example 1.5 metre high lacecap Hydrangea macrophylla 'Zorro' (link, try them with the dark blue columnar flowers of monkshood such as Aconitum napellus (link, the warm lavender-blue of Phlox paniculata 'Eventide' (link, or the stately pale blue spikes of Veronicastrum virginicum (link All these border selections enjoy plenty of moisture.

For something dramatic: Hydrangea paniculata forms can stand 3 metres or more in height and are at their best from late summer, going through autumn. They develop large heads of conical flowers, often white or pink, and turn pink with age. They are spectacular in flower, yet often overlooked. These need plenty of moisture and acidic or neutral soil. Try 3 metres tall Hydrangea paniculata 'Brussels Lace' (link, or for a small garden use modern cultivars at half the height such as Hydrangea paniculata 'Silver Dollar' (link Smaller Hydrangea macrophylla or serrata forms can be grown in front of them. They can also be grown in the company of other stalwart garden favourites with different seasons of interest such as spring flowering Forsythia, the colourful winter stems of dogwoods such as Cornus sanguinea 'Magic Flame' (link, or evergreens such as Camellia and Pieris.

For exceptional foliage: The oak leaf hydrangeas (Hydrangea quercifolia forms) have large leaves, like those of an oak in their shape. They have rich autumn tints as well as beautiful flowers and can look sumptuous. These come in a range of sizes but at 1.5 metres, with a greater spread, try Hydrangea quercifolia 'Sikes Dwarf' (link These hydrangeas look beautiful when grown with witch hazels such as the pale yellow winter flowers of Hamamelis x intermedia 'Pallida' (link which has fine autumn colour that complements the hydrangea.

For that awkward wall: Hydrangeas can be the perfect solution. In the mildest parts of the country try Hydrangea serratifolia (link For north-facing walls, Hydrangea anomala subsp. Petiolaris (link with its white lacecap flowers in spring, is a first rate choice.


Susan A. Tindall

Understanding Hydrangeas

Hydrangeas have showy flowers that last for a long time. Most hydrangeas enjoy part or even full shade, and they come in a large range of sizes, many being suited to growing in containers. They sound like the perfect garden plant. What else do you need to know about them?

Blue and pink

The flower colour of hydrangeas that aren’t white are in the blue and pink colour ranges. These shades change in response to the acidity or the alkalinity of the soil they are grown in. If you have chalky soil your blue-flowered hydrangea will gradually change to pink. This can be upsetting if you’ve planned a dreamy blue-flowered garden. If you can successfully grow healthy camellias or any rhododendrons in your garden borders, you have acidic soil. If you can grow blueberries, you have very acidic soil. Otherwise, it is likely that your soil is neutral or alkaline. You can grow your hydrangea in a container with acidic compost, and water using rainwater. It is worth the effort for one fabulous blue specimen.

Blue flower treatments

The acid to alkaline measure or the soil’s pH is, like earthquake measurements, increased by ten with each unit. Neutral soil is pH 7, and acidic soil at pH 6 is ten times more acidic than neutral. Although it is possible to ‘blue-up’ your hydrangeas, it only really works if your soil is slightly, rather than extremely acidic. In the old days, piles of nails were put round hydrangeas to release iron into the soil.

The mineral aluminium is largely responsible for Hydrangea ‘blues’. Alkalinity “locks up” the aluminium so the plant can’t absorb it, the addition of iron to the soil releases the aluminium content to the plant. Nowadays ’treatment’ comes in packets. Sequestrol which contains Iron chelate, can be watered in to the soil. Aluminium sulphate applied at 250 grams to the square metre, puts aluminium into the soil which the plant can absorb. Sulphur applied at 150 grams per square metre, lowers the pH by a useful 0.5. Treatments are likely to be needed annually, and using rainwater rather than the generally alkaline tap water helps when watering. An old party trick is to blue-up just one side of a hydrangea, so you get different flower colours on the same plant!

Mopheads and Lacecaps

Hydrangea flowers, especially in the case of the common garden ‘macrophylla’ form, have two types of flower. The “mophead” (Hortensia) has big, rounded flowerheads packed with individual florets that are sterile, and tiny fertile flowers that are hardly visible. The “lacecap” heads are flattish, and have tiny fertile flowers at their heart and showy infertile ones, often held on short stems, round the edges. Hydrangea macrophylla Early Blue = 'Hba 202911' (link is a mophead, while Hydrangea macrophylla 'Taube' (Teller Series) (link is a lacecap.

From traditional to trendy

The rather stolid image of the hydrangea has changed in recent years. Some of the new varieties are elegant, even dramatic. Hydrangeas have an important role to play in the most modern and stylish garden. One change to modern forms doesn’t involve the flowers at all. Varieties are now available that have shiny black stems, such as Hydrangea macrophylla 'Black Steel Zebra' (link Other varieties have near black foliage and flowers that change colour with age. These, and many more will be covered in next month’s article “Using hydrangeas in the garden”.


Hebes in the garden

Garden centres and online sites usually have a gathering of Hebes. The featured plants are generally small with long shiny leaves that may be green or carry bright, even curious variegation. There are often ‘tussocks’ of flowers in just about every shade but yellow or orange. They are indeed hard to resist, and are ideal subjects for containers on the patio. Surely one can do more with them.

Containers have their uses. They are a good setting for many modern cultivars that have variegated foliage, Hebe ‘Sparkling Sapphires’ (link for example could be used in a pair of containers set on each side of a pathway. The golden foliage of Hebe ‘Golden Anniversary’ (link can provide a warm gold backdrop to busy containers that froth with annuals.

They can also look remarkably good planted in a border or as a feature, primarily for foliage interest. Invest in a group of three, choosing plants with a good solid form, such as Hebe ‘Autumn Glory’ (link with glossy green leaves and purple flowers in August and September. Plant in a triangle set half a metre from each other and this will develop as a striking feature for year round interest. This would contrast well with other variegated and showy plants. If you want just one plant, the willow-like foliage of Hebe salicifolia (link and its frothy mass of white flowers in summer, is a delight.

Hebes also look surprisingly good planted singly in borders, or round the feet of roses. The rather unattractive rose stems can be completely hidden by a compact Hebe. Try Hebe Bronze Glow = 'Lowglo' (link with its bronzed foliage and blue spring flowers that combine so well with tulips in spring and pink or red roses in summer.

In addition to these lush, leafy Hebes there are other distinctive varieties. For sheltered spots the silvered grey and blue leaves of dainty Hebe ‘Glaucophylla Variegata' (link can make an exceptional contribution. Use it as a tall highlight above low-growing herbaceous plants in a sunny spot. Even more exquisite is silvered Hebe pimeleoides 'Quicksilver' (link which has outreaching horizontal branches, wonderful as an edging plant or on a raised bed.

Hebes that have close-textured foliage such as the tight dome of Hebe recurva 'Boughton Silver' (link make a huge contribution to often shaggy and characterful plants in a Mediterranean-style garden. The whipleaf Hebes with their conifer-like branches can make tiny specimens in a rock garden. Hebe ochraceae 'James Stirling' (link a curious shade of burnt gold, is highly distinctive.

Finally, Hebes for winter colour. Many Hebes have foliage that changes colour in cold weather, a valuable asset indeed for those long dull months. If you have space, try the magnificent Hebe 'Mrs Winder' (link coloured red-mahogany in winter, or the smaller Hebe 'Caledonia' (link which is rose-purple is equally good. There are others, worth a bit of research in your Plant Finder, if you have trouble choosing the one among many that are on offer.

Enjoy your Hebes.

Susan A. Tindall

4 Easy Ways to Improve Your Lawn

Most people think that to have a nice lawn, you need to apply lots of fertilizer, pesticides, herbicides and water. But in most parts of the country, it's actually not that difficult to grow a healthy carpet of grass. The problem is that most turf is growing on a thin layer of poor soil that contains little organic matter or beneficial soil life. To establish a healthy, low-maintenance lawn, you need to work from the soil up.

1. Aerate

Lawn Aerator Sandals

Foot traffic and lawn machinery can compact the soil under your lawn, creating a difficult environment for grass roots and soil microbes. Air passages in the soil are necessary in order for water, air and nutrients to move down into the root zone.

To loosen hard, compacted soil, you can use a hand-held or machine-powered aerator to remove small cores of soil. You can also strap on a pair of aerator sandals and walk around your yard. Spikes on the bottom of the sandals create tiny passageways for air and water. Avoid future compaction by minimizing foot and machinery traffic, or by creating permanent walkways.

2. Reduce thatch

Thatch is a layer of dead grass and grass roots that has accumulated on top of the soil surface. If this layer gets to be more than about a half inch thick, it begins to block the flow of air, water and nutrients. Grass roots start to grow along the soil surface rather than down into the soil. These roots become intertwined and form a dense mat. A lawn with a severe thatch problem has little drought tolerance and becomes susceptible to a host of pest and disease problems. Dead patches of lawn can signal thatch problems. You may also notice a spongy feeling when you walk across the lawn.

It is not necessary — or even desirable — to remove all of the thatch. A thin layer serves to insulate and protect the root zone. If you have a severe thatch problem, correct the problem incrementally to avoid damaging the lawn. Minor thatch accumulations can usually be removed by raking vigorously with a steel-tine rake. For severe problems, consider renting a mechanical dethatching machine. Early fall is the best time for dethatching. Once the thatch has been reduced, you can prevent future buildups by reducing the amount of fertilizer you apply, and avoiding frequent, shallow irrigation.

3. Fertilize

Turf, like other garden plants, depends on healthy soil to thrive. By applying Pelletized Compostand a slow-release organic fertilizer, you will encourage grass roots to penetrate deeper into the soil, and will also stimulate biological activity. Healthy, biologically-active soil has the texture and trace nutrients plants need to resist stress, disease and insect damage.

If you live in the northern half of the U.S., early fall is the best time to fertilize. This gives cool-climate grasses time to "beef up" before winter. In the southern half of the U.S,. warm-climate grasses predominate. These grasses should be fertilized lightly, several times between early spring and late summer.

4. Mow high

The roots of a grass plant tend to grow about as deep as the blades are high. To maintain a healthy root system that can resist heat and drought, do not mow your lawn shorter than about 2". For even more drought resistance and to help shade out weed seeds, try setting your mower even higher, so your lawn is no less than 3" long.