Gardening with Patricia Jordan
AT LAST we can get out into the garden – how I have been waiting for this month. All summer I have been dead heading and assiduously weeding and watering and hoping that something would survive into the autumn and I’m glad to say that not too many plants died. Surprisingly the mature offspring of some euphorbias, which I grew from seed when I first came here, decided that enough was enough and died. We tend to think plants will go on and on, but they eventually come to the end of their natural life. They usually leave a big hole, so sowing seeds will not fill the spot. Nowadays there are lots of nurseries and garden centres which sell mature shrubs that can be planted in these spaces, but before you replace them ask yourself why the plant died – was it undernourished, growing in the wrong place or neglected? There is no point in putting a similar plant into the old hole if it is not suitable.
Designing the garden around your house may seem a daunting task to those who have little knowledge of gardening. Yet a well designed garden will enhance your living space and set off your home in the most pleasing manner. Most people get their ideas from watching TV programmes, reading magazines or visiting stately homes in other countries, but what may look magnificent in a huge space, would probably dwarf your small plot! Mature plants are ideal for landscaping new gardens, as they give a feeling of permanence but they are expensive. Many people like to grow from seed which gives a feeling of being at one with nature, while others are more impatient and want to get on with creating the finished garden.
I am just back from a trip to Pennsylvania and I never cease to be amazed at all the greenness there. The widespread use of grass on front lawns, medians and edges of the highways has a very calming effect, although generally the USA is big and bustling. Most modern houses seem to have a variety of small shrubs or conifers and evergreens around the frontages of their houses, rather like you would find around German houses. Maybe it is the harshness of the winter in both places that ensures that pines and conifers are the best plants to withstand the coldness of the ice and snow in a Pennsylvanian winter. I was also amazed at the numbers of weeping willow trees growing everywhere with their delicate and graceful branches trailing to the ground and moving gently in the summer breezes. The high water table there must have something to do with that as they are very thirsty trees.
WHAT TO DO IN THE GARDEN THIS MONTH
If you have not been down to a garden centre recently you are in for a great surprise! Whilst there are still hanging baskets of annuals, there are also literally hundreds of packets of bulbs on the shelves and what a choice there is. I always go for Paperwhites first, as I know that they will sell out quickly and I like to give them as potted gifts at Christmas. Huge bulbs of amaryllis are available in various colours. Buy them now but don’t plant them yet, as you don’t want them to flower too soon. The same goes for freesias and tulips, the latter can even be planted in late November. If you plant freesias too early then they will shoot up far too fast and their foliage will flop about all winter. I dig up my freesias each spring after the foliage had died down and sort out the bulbs. The tiny ones will not produce flowers for several years, so I discard them and just keep the big ones. Each year I buy some new ones and mix them up with the older ones so that they will make glorious scented display in March and April. Remember that bulbs won’t make roots in dry soil, so wait a while until it is really damp.
Daffodils and hyacinths can grow on for several years but tulips will only give of their best in the first year and they are often grown in tubs because of this. There are some really splendid colours about. Tiny bulbs like muscari have very dainty blue flowers, but seed themselves everywhere.
If you are planning to grow vegetables, again wait for the soil to be moist and make sure that the plugs are moist too. I have decided to rest my vegetable plot this year, as I have been growing veggies in the same spot during the winter for many years now and it is time for something else. It is lovely to have broad beans, broccoli and kohl rabi straight from the garden, but they are all plentiful in the shops, so we shan’t do without.
Almond trees need some attention now as they can put on enormous growth of up to 1.5m and so as to be able to collect the nuts, of which we have had a good harvest this year, cut back the new growth. Pecans nuts will be filling out so watch out for the flights of crows which just know when the outer pods will burst open and they can wrench the juicy nuts from inside. Sometimes if they pick them too early and they are too hard, they dunk them in the pool to soften them!
Collect any leaves from underneath plants and bushes if they are free from bugs and then pop then into your compost bin as a dry layer. I had to buy a new bin recently so had to get my under gardener, my husband, to drill holes in the sides and bottom to allow for any excess liquid to escape, otherwise I would have a very soggy and smelly mess inside. I bought some ‘Irish’ potting compost recently and am very disappointed with the content. I noted that it said the peat included in it was not from any protected peat bogs but what else was included in the mix I wondered, as I kept finding bits of wood and scraps of plastic and paper. While I am all in favour of protecting the peat bogs around Europe, I don’t want to be mulching and growing plants in a medium which is full of yuk, and certainly not at €10 a bag!
I have heard from lots of you about the piece I wrote last month on mealy bugs and scale insects and I have to report that we have had success from using Mospilan 20S and our hibiscus hedge is looking fine now with only a few bugs about and they are easily dealt with. Harris Solomou of Solomou Garden Centre in Nisou, reports that mealy bugs have been a major problem for everyone this year – growers and gardeners alike. He did recommend another product to try to remedy the situation, but I am reluctant to pass on the names as it is poisonous. Always remember to protect your eyes and face when spraying and try not to breathe it in. Someone mentioned that a soapy water spray didn’t do the job but that treatment is usually only for greenfly and blackfly infestations. The mealy bugs have needed something more drastic!
PLANT OF THE MONTH Parthenocissus quinquefolia
Parthenocissus quinquefolia orVirginia Creeper is a great plant to cover a wall or fence and the autumn colouring, caused by lowering temperatures, is just breathtaking and equal to many North American woodlands. Alas, it looks like a bunch of dried sticks during the winter, as it is a deciduous climber and loses it colourful leaves then. It can reach great heights sometimes 20-30 metres if it enjoys the place where it is growing. The adhesive pads on the forked tendrils aid it in climbing, so a smooth wall is not a handicap to its growth. To grow it to its best it prefers a slightly shaded to partially shaded site away from other plants, as it can smother them and cause them not to photosynthesize. It can also tolerate periods of dryness.
The leaves are composed of five leaflets, which have toothy margins and are green when young. The flowers are small and greenish too and appear in late spring and are really of no consquence, other than for their berries later on, which birds will feed on during the winter. The berries are toxic to humans and some mammals, and the creeper can cause irritations if rubbed against the skin, so take care when handling this plant.
Some pruning away of dead or diseased wood in the late winter and feeding with an all round fertiliser in spring will ensure a plentiful supply of gorgeous red leaves later on.