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Reorganising The Garden For Winter...

Posted on 31 May, 2017 at 19:15

If there is one job in the garden which is perfectly suited to this time of year, it is reorganising or redesigning an old, established garden. This is because almost any plant can be transferred to a new position at this time, whether it be an evergreen or a deciduous one.

All gardens need to be regularly thinned out by removing old, diseased or unsatisfactory trees or shrubs. Sometimes, as the weeks or years sneak by, we tend to take our gardens for granted and fail to see badly overgrown or untidy, straggly trees and shrubs. Some of these plants, which seem to have lost much of their early vitality, can be rejuvenated by careful pruning or re-siting.

There are many reasons why plants gradually lose their vigour and ability to produce good displays of bloom. Excessive competition from more aggressive, dominant shrubs or trees is one of the most common reasons why flowering diminishes in some plants.

Listed below, is some simple rules-of-thumb to get started on redesigning that garden of yours...

1.  Walk through the garden, and mark every plant which you dislike, or has been unsatisfactory. Then get rid of them all by grubbing them out and carting them away.

2. Examine all the plants that are left, and where two or more of them are madly competing for space and light, make ruthless choices about which ones are to be removed altogether and which transplanted to another spot. Naturally try and retain the most attractive and expensive. For example, if the choice is between a well-sized rhododendron and a much more vigorous cotoneaster, you would be mad to chuck out the rhodo. The chances are that a place for the cotoneaster can be found somewhere else in your garden.

3. With the clearing out done the sun will be shining into areas which have not seen bright sunlight for years, and this will give plenty of scope for some totally different types of plants. Try belladonnas, nerines, Cuban lilies, jonquils and daffodils. You could also consider paeonies, dianthus, and the superbly beautiful gypsophila. Two years ago I dug up a gypsophila which had remained stunted and concealed under a heavy, dense shurb, and replanted it in an open spot with well-limed soil. The growth which occurred was extraordinary, developing into a bush over a metre in height and width.

4. Having made a shurb clearance, turn your attention to the lawn. It is here that all sorts of dramatic changes can be made to totally transform the character of an old garden. Most lawns, particularly in some of the older gardens, are squarish, boring, and occasionally dotted with miserable-looking shurbs which always seem to be partly dwarfed by the constant competition of the surrounding grass. Many of these plants, because of their stunted state, are very easily transplanted into the shurb garden. Lawns are best left as open as possible, because this helps to make the tiniest garden look larger. The shaping of an old lawn, even by cutting off any sharp corners and by developing gentle, flowing curves, will have the double advantage of making the garden appear more spacious and interesting, while eliminating corners which are difficult to get at with a mower. Extra planting spaces will also be created.

5. Some plants can be transplanted even if they have been growing in one place for many years: rhododendrons, azaleas, camellias, dwarf and medium sized conifers, ericas, most deciduous trees and shrubs during winter, and a host of other plants. The main characteristic of many of these plants which can be moved from one place to another without major setback, is the tight, compact rootball in the case of the evergreens, and the easily arranged bare roots of the deciduous palnts in winter. These plants which resist transplanting, unless they have only recently been planted, are many Australian native plants, all brooms, cistus, ceanothus, laburnum, established roses, podalyria, nerium and very old climbers such as wisteria.

Transforming an old garden into a new one is one of the most exciting and satisfying of all landscaping operations. At the end of each day's work the changes which have taken place can be quite dramatic, so much so that once the mood gets a grip, you can hardly wait to get back to work again the next day...


Creating A Rock Garden...

Posted on 15 March, 2017 at 21:55

A rock garden can be a stunning feature in any garden. The options are endless, they can be small enough to fit into a large container, or big enough to cover a substantial part of the garden. Correctly built and planted, they rarely get out of hand and are easy to maintain. With carefully placed dwarf conifers, interesting rocks and every crevice filled with tiny, creeping, tufted or drooping alpine plants, a miniature landscape can be created which will be a constant source of pleasure.

Rock gardens must be in open sun and the drainage perfect. They cannot succeed in the shade. Even the dappled conditions of an overhanging tree, with plenty of good light, can be a disaster for some alpine plants. The destructive drip of moisture from above means a lingering death for these normally tough plants.

Slopes are a great advantage when building a rock garden, but the soil in flat areas can be built up into an irregular mound or two to increase the planting area and improve drainage. One of the most effective I have seen was on both sides of a garden path which became a winding valley between two superbly-planted mountains.

The secret of success lies in the soil mixture. Most rock plants originate in alpine areas and grow in a mixture of small stones, decayed plant material and little soil. These tiny mountain plants develop a long root-run, well-protected from excess heat and cold. Good quality garden soil, relatively free from clay, with large quantities of fine road metal mixed into it is ideal. These small stones can form up to fifty per cent of the total volume. If generous amounts of granulated peat-moss are also added, the final mixture should resemble the enriched scree in which alpine plants naturally grow.

The advantages of this mixture are: water-holding capacity, easy handling, coolness and easy weeding. After the soil has been prepared it can be moulded into a flat-topped mound, perhaps with an off-centre saddle. Any perennial weeds or clods should have been removed during the mixing. If the soil is acidic, dolomite-limestone at a rate of a double handful to the square metre can be worked into the top thirty centimetres. Old pulverised animal manure and blood and bone can also be added.

The rocks should be as large as it is possible to handle. Small rocks are of little value because they always appear insignificant. If the large rocks are also weather-worn and covered with lichen and moss, they will add enormously to the character of the garden. However, even freshly-spalled quarried stones can be used because the plants will soften their angular shapes. If the water in which potatoes, rice or even spaghetti have been boiled is allowed to cool, then sprayed or painted on to the surface of bare rocks, lichens will soon appear, along with other primitive forms of life.

The aim, when placing the rocks, is to try to imitate natural rock formations. Try to aviod the 'plum-pudding' look by locating the rocks in clusters, obviously relating to each other. Above all, don't stick a group of pointed rocks on the top of the heap, unless that's where your taste lies. We must cheat a little when trying to duplicate nature, by ensuring that all gaps and crevices are wide enough to insert a hand or trowel into. Placing rocks in a new rock garden is also creating spaces and bays for the plants. Above all, try to keep the 'face' that is the most attractive side of the rock, upwards, and lay flat rocks down to allow creeping plants to take them over, rather than having them balanced precariously on their edges.

Once the rocks are in position and secure, the soil between them can be smoothed and then mulched. However, unlike other parts of the garden, alpine gardens are not mulched with pine-bark or woodchips. Organic materials like this will eventually cause the death of many of the plants. The mulch to use is fine bluemetal screenings or similar, spread to a thickness of about five centimetres. This will allow air to circulate around the sensitive base of the plants, while suppressing weeds and sealing in moisture. After forming the garden, fertilize with blood and bone and, if the soil is acidic, add a good handful of dolomite-limestone to each square metre of the surface, then water well.

If there is a rule about planting a rock garden it is this; avoid those plants which have large leaves. They make rocks appear small and the whole effect can be lost. Use small-leaved plants, such as dwarf conifers, low down the sides. Fortunately, rock and alpine plants are still inexpensive and many are easily propagated. Some garden centres have a special section, devoted to these plants, although care must be taken to choose non-invasive species. Crevice lovers like the androsaces form into tiny tussocks which produce pink or white primrose-like flowers. Alpine asters, campanulas, prostrate silvery-leaved chrysanthemums, diminutive brooms, daphne and a whole range of clove-scented alpine pinks are all easily available.

In addition there are many bulbs, corms and tubers sutiable for colonizing pockets in a rock garden, some growing to perfection in the sharply-drained soil. So there you have it, some tips on how to create your own rock garden. Give it a go! You'll be surprised how quick you will get the hang of it...




Getting The Best From Your Trees And Shrubs

Posted on 16 October, 2016 at 16:30

It would be rather presumptuous for me to tell you how to lay out your garden. Garden design is very much a personal matter, but it is not something that is done very frequently and there are people who like to have advice. All the same, the choice of plants and the general atmosphere of a garden is a matter of personal taste, in the same way that the design of the interior of a house reflects the taste of the owner. You are the person who has to live with your garden and like it. The choice of colours; the balance between flowers and greenery, and between lawn and borders or other features; all should be in tune with your taste and lifestyle. In a sense, trees and shrubs can be likened to the exterior fabric of the house: once they are established, they are permanent, short of a major upheaval.

The number of different shapes of gardens is infinite and so, consequently, is the number of possible garden designs. The basic message for anyone designing a garden is to keep it simple! This is particularly important in the smaller garden, where over-planting or convoluted lines will create a fussy and overdressed look. Restrict straight lines to boundary hedges; simple curves are more attractive elsewhere.

Even in a comparatively small garden, shrubs can be used to provide a sense of drama and adventure by obscuring sections of the garden, which suddenly come into view as a corner is turned.

Winter flowering shrubs and trees can be ugly during the summer, so they should not be planted in a prominent position. On the other hand, they should ideally be placed where they can be seen from the house or from a path; it is no good having to trod through the winter mud to see them.

Trees can grow very big and their number should be carefully controlled in the smaller garden. Avoid planting them too near the house, and remember that they will eventually cast a large amount of shade.

In the next blog I write, I will list a number of ways trees and shrubs are often used in the smaller garden...

First Week In August - Plant Vegetables!

Posted on 1 August, 2016 at 18:45

I love winter! And sadly as I write this, we don't have months left of winter, we have days! Yeah I know, right now, look outside and you can't really tell Spring is in the air - but things are starting to take shape...

Spring is definitely in the air and the soil is getting warmer. Lets talk about planting vegetables and seeds which can now go in, while many of our trees, shrubs, houseplants and perennials are beginning to demand their nutrients. Pruning is still being carried out, deciduous plants being planted, perennials divided, lawns made and the ground is being dug or prepared for later sowing or plantings.

In the vegetable garden, don't go silly and use up all your space. And remember if you live in a cool district, i.e. the Southern Tablelands, it is still too early for tomatoes, capsicums, French of climbing beans, sweetcorn or pumpkins. But leave them plenty of room. Now for potatoes, plant a row or two, either directly into the soil, or on top of the ground with a thick layer of straw and manure spread over them. Even if you decide to plant in the orthodox way, you can still place a layer of straw over the surface too. The potato tops will have no problem about penetrating it as they grow, and meanwhile weeds will be effectively suppressed.

In most well-cultivated soil, worked to a good tilth, sow seed of carrot, parsnip and beetroot. Get rid of old seed and buy new if you wish to ensure an even rapid germination. Don't forget, carrot and parsnip seed can be a bit slow or erratic in cool soil, so don't get upset if the first 'patch' are not spectacular. And as my son says, "you get what you get, and you don't get upset"! You can help this process by mixing the seed with white sand and granulated peat. This provides a light, warm, moist seedbed to give them a good start, helps to deter some weeds and makes it easier to see exactly where you have sown for weeding purposes. Good types of carrot for deep soils are Western Red, Top-weight and Zeno.

Clay, and very shallow soils are best sown with stump-rooted types such as Early Horn or other short chantenay types. Parsnips which do well include Hollow Crown or Melbourne Whiteskin. Using fresh seed in essential.

The seeds of Beetroot are much larger, about the size of a match head. It is really a tightly-packed group of seeds, which is why more than one seedling emerges at times.

Onion seed or plants, especially of the long-keepers, can go in now too. The rule about good fresh seed certainly applies here. Brown Spanish and Cream-gold are the best of all, but like all onions they need the best soil in the garden and plenty of lime. Remember that soil which is rich, but has been fertilized for previous vegetables, is best, and avoid the use of manures or fresh fertilizers such as blood and bone at this stage. With onions, it causes onion maggot, while producing onions too large and soft for good keeping. The most important soil additive for all onions and garlic is lime. So if your soil has not had any for several years, be generous.

Most of the brassicas can be sown or planted now. The earlier they can be developed, the tastier and crisper they will be. They can also be harvested long before the big caterpillars of the white butterfly start munching away. However, leafy vegetables, including silverbeet and lettuce, are great consumers of highly nitrogenous fertilizers, especially sheep, cow, goat or poultry manures, and once they start growing fast, as they will, they will need a lot of water.

When cabbages, broccoli or similar brassicas get a little dry around their roots, another terrible pest, the cabbage moth grub, will strike deep into the hearts of these plants. So keep an eye on that!

If your garden space is limited, use smaller types of brassicas. There are excellent miniature caulies, cabbages and broccoli which can successfully be closely planted and there is very little waste at harvest time. One of my favourite cabbage is still the nuttily-sweet Sugarloaf. They can be comfortably grown four to the square metre and seed sown now will produce good yields long before Christmas.

Hungry Soil? What To Feed It...

Posted on 5 July, 2016 at 4:15

The importance of organic matter in the soil cannot be overestimated. It plays a role of enormous significance, not simply by helping to control sharp fluctuations in soil temperature, but acting as a kind of sponge and helping the soil hold moisture...

Organic matter also acts as a kind of larder for various minerals and other plant foods, allowing the plants to absorb their requirements in a gentle way. So, the question is: which is the best way to incorporate this important ingredient into our garden soils?

The simplest and easiest way is to spread half-decayed plant matter such as lawn clippings, wilted weeds, leaves, old straw and spoilt hay over the surface, as a mulch, and let the worms and other soil creatures do the job of gradually taking it down. It is staggering to see the speed with which earthworms deal with a layer of organic matter. One week the surface is strewn with a thick, healthy layer and a week or so later, bare patches start to appear. Before long the whole surface needs to be replenished.

The interesting thing about the role of worms is that the more organic materials available on the surface, the more the worms will multiply in the soil. Gardens without worms are invariably gardens with little organic matter in the soil. Digging plant wastes into the soil can be a bit tricky. If the material happens to be a little woody or coarse, the effect of the soil's micro-organisms trying to break it down can actually produce a serious deficiency of nitrogen. The worst cases I have ever seen occurred when people incorrectly dug sawdust or seaweed into the ground. The effect of this subsequent nitrogen deficiency was un-thrifty growth of plants, with a poor, pale leaf colour.

This is the ideal time of the year to enrich the soil ina special way. Green manure crops can go in now as seed, so that later on the resultant growth can be cultivated into the soil. Digging in this raw organic matter will not cause nitrogen deficiency problems because, being green and lush, it contains good quantities of this element, plus many more. It must seem odd to many people, to actually grow something to a certain stage and then dig it in. The secret is that this process is carried out before the 'winter-tares', as they are called, have started to form their seed and become a bit woody.

The traditional seeds for people to sow at this time, for green manure, have been Algerian oats and tickbeans. These provide good quantities of excellent organic matter and plenty of nitrogen, especially from the legume. Blue lupins too are used as a good source of nitrogen.

The other advantage of these winter crops is that they occupy and grow strongly in cool, wet soil. They keep the soil active and sweet, while the density of the planting also helps to supress weed growth.

Making The Most Of Pruning Roses

Posted on 4 July, 2016 at 23:30

If you want better quality blooms, which are less likely to be attacked by insect pests or diseases, are more vigorous and present a tidier appearance, than correctly pruned roses are the way to go!

If they are badly, brutally pruned, they still show their forgiveness by producing some good blooms. If they are left unpruned altogether, the flowers will be smaller and poorer, and the plant will suffer from diseases aggravated by congested growth.

Now is a good time, in most districts, to prune roses. In areas prone to heavy frosts, it may be better to leave this job until August to avoid stimulating new growth. This is how to prune the most commonly-grown roses.

Hybrid-tea of floribunda types:

Bush and standards are pruned the same way. After all, a standard rose is only a bush rose on a stick. Remove all dead or weak wood plus all growth which heads into the centre of the bush. Cut off flush to the branch without leaving a stub. The growth should now look a bit like a wineglass, with plenty of open space in the centre. Cut out all small, twiggy growth, then prune back the main branches to the top well-developed, outward pointing bud. The finished plant won't look pretty, but it will appear leaner and more sparse.

Suckers grow from below the bulge where the graft took place and are best cut off below the soil if necessary, even if part of the root from which they are growing is also removed. Watershoots, the vigorous new growth from above the graft, are different. They are important because they are the basis for the continued framework of the plant. Their growth is soft and rank, so they must not be pruned hard. Only the tips need be trimmed to remove seed capsules.

Climbing hybrid-tea and floribunda roses:

Start from the base. Cut out all main branches more than four years old and carefully disentangle them. The remaining young canes are left unshortened if possible, but the masses of twiggy growth sprouting from them is best trimmed away, leaving a bare, whippy growth to be tied in a fan-shape to the trellis or support. This type of pruning means that climbing roses will have most of their wood replaced over a four year period.

Miniature or hybrid polyantha roses:

The easiest of all to prune. Simply cut to a few centimetres above the grafting union, or, if ungrafted, just above the ground. Don't bother trying to look for suitable buds, but clean out all dead wood. Cuttings of these small roses will strike easily in moist sandy soil, often growing into better plants than grafted ones.

Shrub and other old-fashioned roses:

Remove weak or dead growth at any time. Prune lightly, but occasionally cut out some of the older branches from the base to prevent congestion.

Weeping standard rose trees:

Usually a floppy, rambling rose grafted on to the top of a two metre high standard. They are often mispruned dreadfully by people who think they should be converted into a stubby mini-skirt. The correct way is to thin out some of the long, arching canes, retaining the healthiest to weep to the ground. All weak, short canes should be cut out, plus any growth which wants to grow skywards. Twiggy sideshoots are best trimmed away. A correctly-pruned weeping standard rose tree is left with about a dozen or so canes trailing the ground and virtually all other growth removed.

All prunings and dead leaves should be raked up and either carted away or burned, in order to reduce sources of infection. The plants can then be sprayed with a fungicide such as Bordeaux mixture.

Companion Plants...

Posted on 17 March, 2016 at 20:55

Believe it or not, plants, like humans, are discriminating about the company they keep. They have their likes and dislikes, and the way they can be successfully associated, especially in the vegetable garden. This common term used is 'companion planting'.

Some plants produce substances which limit the growth of their seedlings, other encourage the growth and development of particular, unrelated species. The depths to which certain plants send their roots, the amount of foliage grown by others and the extent to which they can suppress the growth of adjoining plants, all have an important influence on the way plants tolerate each other.

Here are some common relationships between vegetable plants which can be utilised in order to obtain better quality yields less likely to be attacked by insect pests and diseases...

Dwarf beans: They grow better in the company of cucumbers, cabbages and strawberry plants.

Beetroot: Likes they company of beans, cabbage and onions.

Cabbages: Cabbages dislike strawberries, but will grow well alongside tomatoes, lettuces and beetroot.

Carrots: Carrots have a wonderful relationship between onions, leeks and shallots on one hand, and carrots on the other are well known among organic growers to be planted adjacent to each other in alternate rows. The fact that onions have thin leaves which do not compete, while their roots feed at a different level, partly explains this useful friendship.

Cauliflowers: They seem to grow well if planted next to celery. There is a mutual love of soil which has been recently limed.

Chives: Have been used for years to help control greenfly on roses. They grow strongly when planted between the bushes, making an attractive semi-groundcover with rosy-pink flowers.

Cucumbers: Like beans, cabbages, radishes and lettuces.

Parsnips: Germinate slowly from seed, so many growers plant radish seed in the same drill. They are up within a week, break the crust and can be harvested and eaten while the parsnips are still following through.


So there you go! Some helpful tips to get your garden looking green right through winter...

Vegetable Garden In Winter!

Posted on 17 March, 2016 at 4:55

I'm guessing its still fresh in your mind right now the cost you paid last spring for vegetables from your local supermarket!

I know! Spring is a while away now. But many people will be paying high prices for a whole range of vegetables come next spring.

With a little planning right now, and some judicious planting, you can be walking smugly past these expensive vegetables in the shops, because you have a well-stocked garden of your own.

Let me put it to you this way, here is a list of vegetables which can be planted at the end of March, to be ready for eating from August onwards.

Broad Beans: Plant them at the end of March and they will be up and moving within a fortnight. They will continue to grow slowly until the really cold weather, then they remain without moving for a month. About August they take off again to start bearing from the end of September. This winter chilling is important because it toughens the foliage, making it unattractive to insect pests.

Cabbage: Nurseries will have seedlings available this time of year of good varieties. Plants are more reliable than seeds this late in the season. Cabbage's like a well-limed soil, preferably from a previous crop of lime-lovers, such as onions. They need plenty of well- decayed manure working into the soil, but never at the same time as the lime. Good varieties for planting now are: Superette, Oxheart and Diadem.

Lettuce: Seeds of Imperial D, Winterlake and the small, sweet Mignonette varieties can be sown now. The best soil to have for these typesis a little on the sandy side, because the drainage is so good. Also the soil will not become dead-cold during winter. Lettuce love plenty of water but it must be moving through the soil for best results.


So there you have it, a few vegetables which will be ready for next spring! Later I'll tell you how to get the best results from planting long-keeping onions, as well as high yields from peas, so prepare now by liming those parts of the vegetable garden where they are to be grown.


Lawn Making In March - True Or False?

Posted on 15 March, 2016 at 19:05

You wouldn't believe it! But around the second week of March is the best time of the year to construct a new lawn or renovate an old one. One main reason is the approaching cooler, moister weather and the enormous advantages this will give to newly sown grass seed.

Once the seed has been sown and watered a few times, the weather virtually takes over the job, so that by springtime an excellent sward will have developed. Winter and spring rains will encourage the new roots to delve deeper and spread into areas which remain moist well into the summer.

The basic difference between spring and autumn sown lawns is that the spring ones need constant watering through the summer. Even then the results, after several months, can be patchy and shallow rooted.

This time of year there is still enough warmth in the soil to ensure a fairly rapid germination of seed. This will mean the grass can compete effectively with the inevitable weeds which also pop up. Soil is more easily worked at this time of year.

When preparing an area for a new lawn, it isn't necessary to cultivate to a great depth. Usually, about ten centimetres will be sufficient, unless there is considerable unevenness to be eliminated. Deep cultivation can create all sorts of problems, particularly hollows which appear after the lawn has been laid, as the loose subsoil settles here and there.

Ideally, fertilizers should be applied about three weeks before the seed is sown, but this is not always possible. People tend to go straight into the business of cultivating and sowing without a break and there is no real harm done.

The best fertilizers include blood and bone, which is slow acting. This relatively slow availability means the roots chase the nutrients downwards as they are released, taking them into moister areas.

If virgin soil is being made into a lawn, it pays to rake in a tiny fistful of fertilizer for each square metre, actually as the seed is being raked into the surface.

One Of The Best Mulches For The Garden!

Posted on 15 March, 2016 at 18:45

The greatest source of good soil fertility comes from the sea. The best soil conditioners out there is seaweed!

When people think of seaweed, they automatically think of plenty of salt. The amazing thing about seaweed is its ability to reject salt. It does this so effectively that even though it grows in very salty water, it contains little salt.

This means it can be used directly on the garden, without washing. Taking it straight from the water, straight on to the garden is okay - as it is salt free. Seaweed is best used either as a mulch spread over the soil or as part of a compost heap. It must never be dug into the ground, as this would cause serious problems of imbalance, mainly in the form of a massive nitrogen deficiency! This also means the seaweed would lie in the soil, without properly decaying, for very long periods.

The best way to apply it to your garden is spread it directly over the surface, around and between plants, seaweed breaks down with great speed, and soon disappears naturally into the soil.

People always ask if there are any problems with using seaweed. Yes, However, the problems are actually caused by other materials such as beach sand, crused shells or dead marine creatures, all of which are mixed up with seaweed when it is collected.

What about making compost with seaweed? This is the best compost of all, especially with a good mixture of pulled weeds, straw or any other waste organic matter. With the addition of a few shovelsful of manure and constant turning while watering the compost produced is suitable for all plants, including the acid lovers.

Myths & Facts About Mowing...

Posted on 30 January, 2016 at 20:30

Is it bad to mow your lawn when wet?

Can you damage your mower blades cutting your lawn in the wet?


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