Here is some of the reaction on Twitter to the Which? Gardening trial that gave a Don’t Buy rating to all the peat-free composts that were tested in a recent trial. What do you think?
The Being a Man festival at the Southbank Centre started this morning and continues all weekend. There are music and theatre events, panels and talks, looking at “what it means to be a man today”. We’ve all got our answers to that, even if it’s a stoic reproach that navel gazing for men should go no further than clearing out belly button fluff. Gaze a little deeper though and part of what it means to be a man today might include gardening.
Photograph: b.gruener/Creative Commons
There are a tangle of different reasons why young men are taking up gardening. For some men, it’s a way to grow their own veg and live more sustainably and for others, the urban grit of something like guerilla gardening or community gardens makes more sense and makes it more accessible. The increase in stay-at-home dads – and fathers playing a bigger role in childcare generally – also means that more men are venturing into the garden.
It’s easy to make too much of it, but there can sometimes be a particularly masculine nature to how young men garden. Areas like tropical gardening and rock gardens are disproportionately the domain of men, where discussions might go over the technical details of overwintering a banana or the obsessive pursuit to collect all the different species of Chinese primulas. Men will also tend to be the ones using gadgets and technology. There have been quite a few projects on the Kickstarter crowdfunding website for hydroponics kits or devices that keep an eye on how much light or water your plants are getting.
None of these different strands of gardening are part of the mainstream (yet), but that’s almost the point. Gardening is a broad enough church to support various niches and young men are casting a hobby in their own mould – one which is confident and relaxed and takes gardening on its own terms. It is neither looking over its shoulder for the ghosts of Victorian ladies and their cottage gardens, nor seeking approval from chest-pounding Tarzans who define their male identity in terms of sex and violence.
Still, when you move past the intellectual beard-stroking, what you’re left with is the fact that gardening is intensely satisfying. Perhaps it’s a universal interest and young men are simply less inhibited about enjoying it.
It was only yesterday that I heard about Leucanthemella serotina for the first time. There are some plants that we all know, like roses and lilies and daffodils and tulips. Others for some reason don’t get their time in the limelight.
The name probably doesn’t help. ‘Leucanthemella’ isn’t particularly romantic, but then we manage fine with names like ‘chrysanthemum’ and ‘pelargonium’. Whatever the reason for it being elusive, it deserves to be more widely known and widely grown. Or perhaps it’s just my own ignorance and everybody has been growing this fine plant all along?
I’ve got it mentally filed away for when I need a tall daisy for a partially shaded position. The leucanthemella that I met yesterday was just under 6ft tall and it had an upright habit. Importantly, and unexpectedly for a taller perennial, it didn’t need staking. There’s a relaxed informality to it that I think best suits a naturalistic scheme like a prairie style border – I can imagine it looking very effective planted in a drift with a grass like Molinia caerulea subsp. arundinacea ‘Transparent’.
They like soils that don’t dry out (as do molinias). Other than that, Leucanthemella appear to be easy-going plants. The RHS have deemed it worthy of an Award of Garden Merit (AGM) and it’s rated as H7 for hardiness, which is the coldest category. It probably hangs out with penguins and polar bears.
Is it too soon to be thinking of Christmas? The first flickering red of the autumn leaves has only started to catch. There are plenty of late summer flowers that are still out in full force. If anything, now is a good time to just enjoy the garden in its moment because there isn’t going to be much more growth above ground before the frosts hit, so we can all stop preening over the plants in the border. Sit back and relax.
It’s difficult not to plan ahead though. Some of us will want to start thinking about which sweet pea seeds to get for autumn sowing in early November, or what shrubs and trees to get planted while the soil is still warm.
One of my own wee traditions at this time of year is to get some amaryllis bulbs started. I’ll give some of them away as Christmas presents and I’ll keep some for myself to enjoy the flowers over the winter.
Amaryllis ‘Dancing Queen’. Photograph: Sycamore Trading
An amaryllis was one of the very first things that I ever grew, a couple of years before I was eventually let loose outdoors on the family garden. I spent my pocket money on one big bulb of the traditional red amaryllis and looked on as the flower stalk emerged and climbed and climbed. When it eventually flowered, I thought I was a miracle worker. I guess I had reasoned that something this dramatic and showy had to be tricky to grow. Nowadays, the sense of wonder is still there but I know now that amaryllis are actually quite easy and they put on a big display more because that’s what they’re programmed to do – and less because I have magic green fingers.
Kew Gardens have a detailed guide on how to grow them. The main things for me are to:
Soak the roots overnight when you first get the bulbs, but without getting the base of the bulb itself wet. You’ll probably want to suspend it in a cup or a jar.
Leave anywhere between a third to two-thirds of the bulb poking out of the compost when you pot it up. They don’t need big containers. If you’ve got enough space to fit your fingers right around the edge of the bulb then that’s fine.
A quick point to keep the botanists and the more pedantic gardeners happy – these are technically called hippeastrums, and not amaryllis. But now that that’s out of the way, I’ll just keep calling them amaryllis because that’s what I know them as and it’s what you know them as.
On the Plantedd marketplace, Sycamore Trading have 6 varieties of amaryllis for sale. They’re not cheap. Each bulb costs £17.25. (There’s free delivery, as with all of Sycamore Trading’s items, but it might still seem like a lot for one bulb – there’s good reason though.)
Here’s why they they’re £17.25. Each bulb is the size of a cantaloupe melon! They’re huge. The average amaryllis bulb is only the size of an orange. These big top-sized bulbs are 42/44cm in circumference, whereas most of those sold in the shops are 26/28cm.
It’s fairly common to get 3 flower stalks from bulbs these big, so it’ll be an impressive show. The hard part is deciding whether to treat yourself or your friends and family. (Or both, I suppose!)
Amaryllis ‘Magic Green’. Photograph: Sycamore Trading
Project Piggy-Goes-To-Market was launched at early o’clock on Saturday morning. The plants were pristine, the wind was blowy and I was one breakfast away from being a fully functional human being. Plantedd is an online marketplace, but we decided recently to branch out into doing plant boxes as well so that’s why I found myself setting up stall at a real-life market.
The farmers’ market takes place from 10am-2pm at Mansfield Park in Glasgow’s West End, every 2nd and 4th Saturday of the month. We’ll also be at the farmers’ market at Queen’s Park on the 1st and 3rd Saturday of the month – so that’s this coming Saturday. (On a sidenote, somebody please rewrite Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park and set it in the one in Glasgow. Please.)
It’s always interesting when you unleash an idea into the wild when it’s been brewing in your head. I came up with plant boxes after the Chelsea Flower Show because a lot of people I spoke to weren’t sure what plants would grow well in their garden. I’m hoping that the plant boxes take the guess work out of choosing plants. As the blackboard says, it’s your own garden designer in a box. I was looking forward to seeing the reaction to them.
Happily, the plant boxes got a good reception at the farmers’ market. Some people had new borders that they wanted a little bit of help with to give the planting a boost and get them started, others didn’t know what to plant underneath their tree and there was one lovely woman who didn’t have a garden, but she liked the idea so much she was going to tell all her garden-ful friends about it! (Hello there, if any of you are reading this…)
There was a little raincloud moving in on all this sunshine though. A sour-faced woman shuffled over to inspect the display and seemed to begrudgingly approve of what she saw. Then she got to the crocosmias. “Oh. I have these. Mine are much bigger.” And with that, she smirked and let out a small half-laugh. Now, what I had brought along was Crocosmia pottsii ‘Culzean Pink’ and it turns out that she was growing C. ‘Lucifer’. I wonder if she goes up to people walking their Labradors and tell them that her Great Dane is much bigger. Of course it’s bigger. I just smiled and nodded at her as she moved on to her next hapless victim.
The Soor Ploom aside, everybody was lovely and after being fed some cake and coffee (thanks Lewis!) I was on my way again. Slowly but surely, the message is getting through that there’s a difference between a nursery and a garden centre, and that it’s becoming more important to buy plants from independent nurseries because garden centres are becoming more and more like supermarkets.
We’re starting off with local deliveries in Glasgow. Then we’ll move on to Edinburgh. If you’re interested, you can get in touch on 0141 280 7222 or email. We’re also working away behind the scenes to make plant boxes available by post, UK-wide. Watch this space!
It’s been a busy couple of weeks at Plantedd. I wrote a piece for the Guardian website, picking six New Zealand plants for UK gardens and I found out that Plantedd are one of the five finalists for the Enterprise Challenge business competition. That’s not all though.
(1) Achillea ‘Terracotta’; (2) Sedum ‘Matrona’; and (3) Carex testacea
I’m also pretty excited about something new for Plantedd customers. We’re going to start doing plant boxes. What’s a plant box? It’s like a veg box, but only with plants for the garden (and not for the kitchen!) – so each month we’ll choose plants that look good and grow well together and we’ll have a special deal to buy them as a collection. You’ll also be able to subscribe to get a plant box every month. The plants are grown by independent British nurseries, so we’re continuing to support the expert growers. All that’s different is that Plantedd will be the ones sending the plant boxes out. You can, of course, still buy from the nurseries through the marketplace. These plant boxes are just special offers and our selection of what we think are the best plants.
First Plantedd plant box
Here is the first plant box to kick us off. You can buy the ‘Summer Sunset’ collection below. We’re building a permanent home on the website where all our future plant-box deals will live, but this first one is on the blog and if you click through you’ll see that we’re using ShopLocket for our secure checkout.
Scroll down for all the information on the plants and more pictures. All the pictures that you see here are photos of the actual plants at the nursery.
• The last day for placing an order is Saturday, 27 July. Your plants will be sent out on Tuesday, 30 July.
• A combination of three summer perennials that will put on a long display of bronzed sunset colours right through until the end of September.
• Nine plants for £49.
• 3x Achillea ‘Terracotta’; 3x Sedum ‘Matrona’; and 3x Carex testacea.
• FREE delivery.
• Good-sized plants grown in 2 litre pots, which are looking good now.
• These are drought-tolerant plants, but water well in the first few months so that they can establish themselves.
• Achillea ‘Terracotta’ (80cm) – An easy-to-grow plant with an upright habit, and flat heads of burnt-orange flowers that fade to a wheaty yellow. Popular with hoverflies and butterflies (but oddly not so much with bees, in my experience). Achilleas tend to be short-lived, so they sometimes need replacing after three years but this is easily done with cuttings taken in spring, by pulling off pieces of new shoot from the old crown and potting them up.
• Sedum ‘Matrona’ (60cm) – The whole plant is suffused with a tint of dark red with very long lasting flowers. Another easy plant. Attracts bees and butterflies. This is a particularly good form of the more commonly grown sedums and it has been used by designers like Piet Oudolf in naturalistic drifts, combined with grasses. Sedum ‘Matrona’ is easy to propagate by stem cuttings, but you can also take leaf cuttings. Sue at Bluebell Cottage Gardens has a good guide on how to do this.
• Carex testacea (50cm) – An evergreen grass that forms soft tufts which are an excellent foil for other plants. The base of the plant is olive green, but this extends out to a russet-bronze colour. It’s used to good effect outside the new Glasshouse at the Royal Horticultural Society’s garden at Wisley. Carex testacea should be given full sun for the strongest colouring.
Achillea ‘Terracotta’ (1) overview picture and (2) leaves, with emerging flower buds
Sedum ‘Matrona (1) overview picture and (2) leaves
Carex testacea (1) overview picture and (2) leaves
My gran doesn’t do quite as much gardening as she used to. The rose bed in the front garden has gone, but she still puts in a big block of pillar-box red pelargoniums every year. There’s also the hedge. Or to give it its proper respect, The Hedge. The Hedge is a thing of solid precision, with crisp lines and a reassuring permanence, and my gran takes the same pride in it that certain neat-minded men take in a well-tended lawn. However, it’s become increasingly difficult for her to trim it. The hedge trimmer quickly gets too heavy and the manual shears are a tiring effort.
It was a bit of good luck then that Argos got in touch recently to ask Plantedd to review one of their gardening products. I decided to try the Bosch mini hedge trimmer (the Isio Shape and Edge) to see if it was worth getting one for my gran. It could be the lightweight alternative that ensures that The Hedge continues to get its short back and sides. The tool also doubles up as a lawn edger, but I’m primarily reviewing it as a handy way to keep hedges and topiary tidy.
To the review then.
The mini hedge trimmer comes in a metal tin, with a hedge trimmer attachment; a lawn edger attachment; an instruction manual and a charger.
The manual says it can run for up to 50 minutes on a full charge – enough time to clip the average household hedge, but perhaps not for your larger jobs.
It’s a reasonably light thing. I weighed it on the kitchen scales and it came in at around 600g (about the same as a jar of marmalade incidentally…). There’s a good grip to it, with soft non-slip plastic on the top and the underside of the handle, and the whole thing feels quite well made. Although I’m reviewing the tool as a hedge trimmer, I did swap the attachments around to see how that works. It was a bit of fiddle. You need to line up a hole in the attachment with a metal nub on the device and then slide and click the base lid back on. It’s not the most straightforward click-click and away-you-go sort of process, but it’s ok once you get the hang of it.
I decided to put it through its paces by giving my box ball a haircut. When is the right time to prune a box hedge or topiary? The second half of June is a good bet, so when Wimbledon kicks off then that’s your time but really any point from May through to the end of June is ok. The box plants put on most of their new growth from April to June, so you’re cutting back the new growth to encourage it to be bushy. And then most people give the hedge or topiary a second trim in August to tidy up the shape.
Here’s how my box ball looked before and after its visit to the barber.
I’m happy with the results. The hedge trimmer was easy to use, and because it’s relatively small you can wield it with good control so the awkward angles or tricky bits are a little less awkward and a little less tricky. The cuts were clean and it didn’t ‘chew’ the stems. There’s a safety catch that you have to push before you can press the trigger all the way to make the device come to life, and if you release the trigger then the safety catch locks back on. I didn’t have any problems with the hedge trimmer, but it did occur to me when I was using it that my gran might find it difficult to keep squeezing the trigger for too long. Perhaps holding it with both hands, like a lightsabre, would help.
There’s enough bite to it to tackle the sort of occasional trim that most of us would need to use it for. The mini hedge trimmer is a good choice for people who are maintaining the shape of a couple of existing hedges or some topiary. If you’re at the other end though and you’ve got a hedge maze or a whole zoo of topiary animals, then it’d be like trying to dig a hole for a big tree using a trowel.
All in all, I think it’s a good wee gadget. The verdict is a thumbs-up for this handy little power tool.
Argos have kindly supplied an extra one of these Bosch mini hedge trimmers to give away to one of you lucky people.
To be in with a chance of winning, you can enter the prize draw below. Either use your Facebook account or your email address to log in. Everybody has up to six entries but each chance to enter is earned, for example, by leaving a comment or by tweeting.
The prize draw is only open to those 18 and over with a mainland UK postal address (sorry to disappoint anybody out there!). The winner needs to respond within 7 days of contact because failure to do so will mean that another winner gets picked.
Argos sell the Bosch Isio Shape and Edge mini hedge trimmer as well as other tools for the garden on their website and in their stores.
Simple flowers. From March to September.
That’s really what it comes down to when we’re looking at what plants to grow to help bees. We all know that bees have been having a tough time of it recently and there are a number of reasons for it. Neonicotinoid pesticides have been getting the most attention, but there’s also been a reduction in the variety of different flowers for them to forage throughout the year. Gardens can offer something of a sanctuary though because a garden, unlike a big field of oilseed rape, can have a diverse feast of flowers over a long period.
There are some useful lists out there of bee-friendly plants – for example, from the British Beekeepers Association (why don’t they have an apostrophe in their name??) and the Royal Horticultural Society. As a general rule, stay away from plants that have overly fussy double flowers that are packed full of petals. These are no good for bees. You want to choose plants with simple, single flowers so that the bees can reach the pollen and nectar easily.
One effective way of encouraging bees is to let your weeds in the border and the lawn to grow and flower. After all, these are wild flowers and the vast majority are British natives so you can be sure that bees will like them. However, in case you don’t fancy going too unkempt, I’ve picked out five plants that bees love and which gardeners can enjoy too!
Pulmonaria is in flower just now and it’s been going since March, so it provides nectar in spring when the bees are stirring from their hives.
Pulmonaria ‘Blue Ensign’. Photograph: Roger Bastin/Creative Commons
Lavender is a great choice because it’s rich in nectar and it flowers so profusely, but it’s particularly valuable because it’s in flower in that gap in June and July when there can be a surprising shortage of food sources for bees.
Lavandula angustifolia ‘Folgate’ (Lavender). Photograph: Laura Nolte/Creative Commons
Asters are useful because they flower in late summer into autumn.
Aster ‘Little Carlow’. Photograph: Robert Kennett/Creative Commons
This is another flower for the end of the season. When the bees (and butterflies) land on sedums, the flat flowerheads must be like dinner plates to them.
Sedum ‘Matrona’. Photograph: Scott Weber/Creative Commons
Eryngiums might look prickly and uninviting, but the flowers are very popular with bees.
Eryngium x zabelii ‘Jos Eijking’. Photograph: Roger Bastin/Creative Commons
Raymond Evison Clematis is introducing this striking new clematis, Clematis ‘Samaritan Jo’, at the Chelsea Flower Show next month.
This is a compact clematis with a long flowering season, running from late spring to late autumn. The flowers are a silvery white with a tinge of pink and there’s a line of purple at the edges, looking like the sepals have been dipped into a bowl of crushed blackcurrants. Raymond Evison Clematis suggest that it looks especially good “with grey foliaged plants and pastel-coloured flowers in the mixed border or with wall-trained shrubs and roses on archways or pergolas”. Any aspect except full sun. Prune hard in spring.
Height: 4-5ft. Flower size: 10-12cm.
A bamboo was one of the first things that I ever planted in my parents’ garden. This was about 15 years ago, and it’s still there brightening up a shady boundary along with its neighbouring epimediums and Primula florindae. It didn’t occur to me until today though that it’s still the only bamboo I’ve ever planted, so I’ve been having a think about why that is and why it is relatively rare to see them in gardens. I suspect that it’s the bamboo’s bad luck to have a few members of the family with a marauding nature. Sure, there are those like a lot of the Sasa or Indocalamus species that will conquer and plunder your garden, but there are also many more that are good-natured clump formers or ones that spread slowly.
What got me thinking about all this? I was catching up with last night’s Gardeners’ World on iPlayer. Rachel de Thame was looking at hepaticas, Carol Klein visited the cavernous Temperate House at Kew and Monty Don was at home at Longmeadow planting hydrangeas. However, the piece that caught my eye was about the National Collection of bamboos that Mike Bell grows at his garden in Cornwall.
No doubt Mike Bell has a large garden but when I was watching the bamboos on screen, it struck me that they would also be very effective in a smaller garden. The gentle rustling and swaying would add movement and sound that ‘lifts’ a garden, which is useful in small spaces that feel constricted and heavy. Using them at the boundaries of a garden would give you privacy without closing you in. If you keep the base of the canes bare by removing the lower leaves and branches then they can also have quite a small footprint (as well as showing off the canes).
The trick to keeping bamboos happy is to keep them well-watered in the first two or three summers that you plant them, whether that’s in the borders or in a pot. We’ve got a good selection of bamboos on Plantedd so it’s the perfect place to start having another look at this useful group of plants. Don’t let those greedy pandas hog them!
Here are a few suggestions for bamboos that are well-behaved:
Fargesia ‘Jiuzhaigou’ - This is still quite rare in the UK. It’s a clump-forming bamboo with canes that start off green, but which turn slowly to a red/purple colour and eventually to a light orange. Fargesia ‘Jiuzhaigou’ is especially useful because it will grow well in quite shady conditions. Height: 8-10 feet
Phyllostachys nigra f. henonis - This is a form of the popular black bamboo, Phyllostachys nigra, which has light green canes and it’s the one that Monty Don was planting in a big steel container on last night’s Gardeners’ World. As Monty said, it’s a very hardy plant so it’ll shake off any cold that’s thrown at it and it’s tall. Height: more than 15 feet (up to about 20 feet)
Fargesia denudata - A bamboo with delicate small leaves and an arching habit, so it looks very graceful. The fresh green foliage also makes it a very ‘light’ plant. This will keep to itself and form a tight clump. Height: 12 feet