Rhododendrons and Azaleas
Rhododendrons and azaleas do not like alkaline soils, so if this is what you have, restrict yourself to the smaller varieties and grow them in tubs - raised beds filled with ericaceous soils will only work until the roots go down into the soil below and the plant will then slowly die. Having said this there are some rhododendrons that have been grafted onto a different rootstock which are fairly lime tolerant, look for the word "Inkarho" in the name. All prefer at least some shade.
All rhodendrons are evergreen but some azaleas are deciduous. Flowers tend to come in late spring, but varieties are available that flower from any time from December to August. Some are scented.
Rhododendrons are usually categorised in terms of their eventual size even though there are distinct species. The species are so numerous you would need a lot of study to know your way round, so far better for the amateur to decide on what size, colour and flowering period he wants and order accordingly.
Azaleas are usually divided into two groups, the deciduous and the evergreen. Deciduous azaleas, most of which come from Asia or America, are the best ones to grow on a sunny site and come in a range of sizes and colours, mainly yellows and oranges. Flowering is mostly in spring although some modern varieties extend the season to July. Autumn colour as the leaves prepare to go can be an added attraction. Size in maturity is usually between one and one and a half metres.
Lets be clear from the start, this is an introduction and not a text for the expert. First fact roses are deciduous. There are literally hundreds of roses, thousands if you include all the hybrids, so if you want a rose in your garden you need a bit of knowledge to get a suitable one that will do what you want, hopefully this will help.
Simplest of all are the Species Roses these are the wild roses and their derivatives. They are mostly single, some are perfumed. The flowers are generally quite small, come once a year (not continuously) and the plants have a tendency to be straggly and untidy. This is not the type for a formal garden but can be excellent in more natural areas and hedges. They frequently give an excellent display of hips in the autumn and winter- the well known rosa rugosa is an example.
The next category is the Old or Heritage Roses. These have been developed from the wild roses and include a number of sub-groups: Gallica roses (including Rosa Mundi) are single or double, once flowering and some are scented.
Damask Roses derive from Gallica roses and are hybrids. Some are repeat flowering, and most are taller than the Gallica from which they derive. In very cold areas hardiness can be an issue.
Cabbage roses were developed in France and developed in Holland. They have many petals and have very heavy flowers which frequently fare badly when wet.
Moss roses are all red or pink, double and heavily scented. They get their name from a moss-like covering on the buds. Rain damage can be severe.
Alba Roses are all pale coloured and lightly scented. Introduced by the Romans, this is the white rose of York.
Now we start to head towards the more modern roses. China roses and tea roses are the result of significant hybridisation. The china roses are a bit straggly, and include a number of climbers. Both types include many double varieties and all are slightly tender but will survive in all but the coldest sites in the UK.
Modern Roses also have a number of categories, of which we will limit ourselves to the three most important. Hybrid tea roses are the most popular roses to grow, the range of colours is very good, many are beautifully scented, they flower repeatedly throughout the summer and autumn and have large flowers. Floribunda roses are similar to hybrid teas in many respects, but bear clusters of flowers. English Roses have been bred by David Austin as an improved version of the Heritage Roses but with a greater range of colours, repeat flowering, improved perfume and more vigour.
Gardening in November
So we finally enter the month of November with all the jollity associated with it. In our former garden we had a number of holly trees which supplied us with decorations for the festive season. However, our current garden has no holly trees at all, a situation we must remedy. Not only are the berries a seasonal tradition, they also provide lots of food for birds and small mammals during the lean months. Finding the best location for a couple of small trees will exercise our brains for a while this month.
If you planted hyacinths earlier in the year for a Christmas display indoors, do remember to keep checking them to see if they need watering. They should soon need to be brought out of the dark and into a light and warm room, so the flowers can develop and open in time to perfume your home over the holiday period.
There is still quite a lot to do in the garden this month. Wisteria and climbing roses can be pruned, taking the summer growth of wisteria back to about two or three buds. The roses need any dead or damaged shoots to be removed, and older flowered side shoots should be cut back by two thirds of their length. If any of your rose bushes suffered from rust or blackspot, collect the leaves from around the base of the bush, and add them to your bonfire, to kill off any spores.
Now is a good time to plant up winter containers if you have not already done so, using colourful plants such as cyclamen, ivy and ornamental grasses, and place next to your front door for a cheerful greeting, or in full view from kitchen or living room windows. Extra colour can be added by using winter flowering pansies or violas. Golden dwarf evergreens are also very attractive, and can be added to your borders later in spring when you want to plant summer bedding displays
These are the dahlias of the enthusiast, the large showy flowers seen in many a famous garden. The disadvantage as far as maintenance is concerned is that being tender the corms need to be dug up and brought inside for the winter and then planted out again in spring; however, for the gardener willing to put the effort in the rewards can be stunning.
Most soils will suit, but the corms must not be allowed to dry out during the growing season, and must never be sat in saturated soil. Deep digging is recommended by the experts but is not essential. Keeping plants well watered during dry spells, however, really is essential. The more compost, manure and fish, blood and bone that is incorporated the better your results will be.
Once all danger of frost is past the corms should be brought outside and planted about 75mm deep. Corms should be placed between 30 and 90 cms apart depending on final height and a cane inserted so the plant can be tied to it as it grows. In a perfect world the plant should be in a slight depression to ensure any water gets to the plant and doesnt run off.
The vast number of dahlias has been divided into categories dependant on flower type, names such as pompom dahlias, anemone dahlias, single dahlias, paeony dahlias, cactus dahlias. There are then colour classifications within these groups, and above all this there are the three species dahlia pinnata, dahlia rosea and dahlia coccinea.
There are a number of pests and diseases that can affect your plants and flowers, all the usual culprits in fact - earwigs, flying insects, moulds etc.
If you want a new interest in your gardening life here is a very attractive possibility in which a little work can be amply rewarded.
Growing Clematis Plants
There is a very large range of clematis available; there are large showy flowers, smaller subtle flowers, scented flowers, attractive seeds, evergreen clematis, large ones, small ones, and clematis that flower at all seasons of the year.
Added to this they are pretty easy to grow, just take in a few bits of advice and you should have no trouble.
All clematis like some sun, so deep shade is out. All clematis like to have cool roots, so if you can arrange for the roots to be in the shade, but the leaves in the sun that would be ideal if this doesnt work for you then simply mulch the root area, and some pale coloured stone on the top will reflect much of the heat away. Plant large flowered cultivars with the crown an inch or two below ground.
Next choose your clematis with care some are rampant and will quickly cover a pergola or tree stump or scramble up through a large tree, others never get very big and are ideal for use in containers or climbing up pyramids.
If you do want to grow in a container, use a loam based compost, not a general purpose one. Obviously add slow release fertiliser but you will still need to feed annually in spring and after flowering,, use a high potassium fertiliser, such as rose fertiliser, or even a specialist clematis fertiliser.
If slugs are a problem in your garden it would be good to discourage them with a stony mulch and this will also keep the roots cool. Aphids can occasionally be a problem, deal with them in the normal way. There is only one serious disease and that is clematis wilt; it affects the far reaches of the plant first, but will eventually kill the whole plant. This disease is rare and caused by a fungus, and generally only affects large flowered cultivars. No treatment is available, just cut back well beyond the affected parts and burn the part removed. If you plant large flowered clematis with the crown 50 mms (2 ins) below soil level, you will greatly increase the chances of survival by cutting back ton ground level.
In the next two blogs we will look at specific varieties of clematis and their characteristics and finally the pruning of clematis, which is simple once you get the basics.
Understanding your Garden
Successful gardening should not be a fight against nature, but more a partnership with the conditions that are prevailing. Yes, there is a lot you can do to change these and indeed you nay need to, but the first thing to do is to understand what the basic character of your garden is.
Look at what wild plants are growing buttercups may indicate a heavy wet soil, most likely neutral or acidic; any bog grass will indicate very poor drainage. Yarrow, scabious, knapweed and cowslip tend to prefer alkaline or chalky soils. Do you see rhododendrons or camellias growing in the area? These would indicate an acid soil.
Is your garden exposed to the prevailing, or other, wind? Are trees bent over as they often are near the coast? If it is badly exposed you may need to consider a shelter belt to protect it. Is your garden a frost pocket? Cold air and frost tends to roll down a hillside, so if you have to go uphill in every direction from your garden it is very likely to be a frost pocket, in which case tender plants will suffer unless given extra protection
Next invest in a pH testing kit and check the pH at several points around the garden, this will give you an accurate picture of the acidity or alkalinity of your soil. While doing this look at the humus level, humus will float to the top of your soil slurry and look like little bits of plant material (which is what it is). The more humus the more fertile your soil will be.
Finally, look at how much light reaches your soil and which direction it faces. Are there tall buildings or trees all around which shade the garden? Deep shade will limit what you can grow and will also mean your garden will be cooler than one which gets full sun. A south facing garden is generally the best in the northern hemisphere as it will get more sun and be warmest, a north facing garden will be cooler, get less sun and can suffer form cold northerly winds in winter. A westerly aspect will face our prevailing westerly windsbut will get the benefit of evening sunshine and possibly good sunsets. An east facing garden gets morning sun but can suffer from cold easterly wind in winter.
The Great Landscape Period
The essentially English Garden The Great Landscape Period
The rise of the English garden has always depended on the amount of disposable income available to the gardener. Thus in the 16th and 17th centuries the only people with sufficient resources to create impressive gardens were the rich landowners, who were not only able to afford the garden but also a professional designer to ensure that the result was worthwhile.
The earliest of the landscape gardens is perhaps best shown by the largely unchanged garden at Castle Howard near York (Vanburgh), Stourhead near Bath (Hoare), and Rowsham near Oxford (William Kent). These are based on large rolling parkland with carpet flower gardening near the house these two both borrowing heavily from the French school, particularly Versailles. Frequently a classically designed mausoleum would be included in the design; at Stourhead and Rowsham are a greater variety of classical buildings which will have been inspired by ruins the designers will have seen in Italy on the Grand Tour.
In the early stages of this design period, water features tended to be limited to lakes, especially extensions to naturally occurring lakes, but by the time Rowsham was developed, more elaborate water features were being included.
The most famous designer of this period is undoubtedly Lancelot Capability Brown. His work was more prolific than greatly original. For the most part his contribution was to move away from the French influence by removing the flower gardens close to the house and opening up large vistas of countryside, but to fine tune the beauty of the natural scenery, by extending lakes and creating artificial rivers as well as planting trees individual specimens near the house but in small copses further away where they would not detract from the long range views.
The last of the great Landscape designers was Humphrey Repton and his contribution was to basically undo what Brown had done, so flower gardens, terraces and architecture generally made a come back.
From the mid 18th century this English Landscape design started to be adopted more widely in Europe, first of all in France, but the other western European countries and even as far afield as Russia
Introduction to Japanese Gardens
Japanese gardens are very popular with Europeans, possibly because the emotions they engender are so different to those we are more familiar with from English gardens. Japanese garden design developed out of the early Chinese designs, but then took its own path generally down one of two routes either the meditation type garden originally at least associated with Buddhist temples, or the garden designed around a tea house.
The meditation garden is, at its simplest, an area between two parts of a building covered with white gravel and with a number of vertical stones. The gravel would be raked to suggest ripples in water. The design is of necessity simple and thought provoking.
The objective of the classical tea house garden is to take one from the alert, frequently stressed state experienced outside the garden in the world of work to a relaxed more social state in which one can participate correctly in the tea ceremony itself. There are certain features that will both aid this process and look beautiful, but in a low key way.
Modern Japanese gardens frequently have both these design elements as well as elements borrowed from gardens of other cultures around the world. The architecture of any buildings has to fit very comfortably with the planting and landscaping of the garden so that the whole is a restful unity. Sharp contrasts and bright colours are carefully avoided in order to preserve this peacefulness.
In the next few articles we will look in more detail at each of these types of garden and try to explain the basis of the philosophy behind them.