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Fences, hedges and walls

Gardening by Patricia Jordan

 I am always being asked about hedges and the best plants to grow to create a harmonious environment while protecting the garden from passersby and marauding animals. The problem in having a thick hedge around a garden is the same as having a wall, in that it blocks air from penetrating and creates what is known as a ‘frost pocket’, trapping cold air in winter and hot air in summer.

Through no fault of our own, our current garden is like that, as we inherited a huge Cupressus hedge almost all the way around our orchard, trapping the cold winter air and baking the plants in summer. And I thought that I had left all that behind in Scotland in my other large frost-pocket garden!

In places like New Zealand where the strong prevailing winds are from the Antarctic, huge shelterbelts are necessary to grow anything at all and the favourite there seems to be Photinia ‘Red Robin’, for not only does it provide a barrier, it is also attractive. Here in Mosfiloti, the hedge has enormous roots that travel a good three metres in all directions inhibiting growth of other plants in that area.

Another hedging plant that I would not recommend is myoporum, for not only does it grow to enormous heights, it sheds fresh or dead leaves constantly. At various times of the year, spent flowers and nasty black seeds are also cast! Hibiscus, a popular hedging plant until recently, now under assault island-wide by mealy bugs, is no longer in favour. So, what would I recommend? Personally, I like the rosemary hedge that I grew from cuttings, which not only smells pleasant but also can easily be kept under control.

Some people prefer fencing – a white picket fence is reminiscent of rural America, so ‘cottagey’, but not suitable for modern housing complexes. Others go for latticed wooden fencing panels, but in high winds they do not ‘give’, and as consequence, they are often blown down, supports and all! If you are going to choose a fence, then it needs to allow the wind to blow through it rather than straight at it, so horizontal panels with gaps in between will decelerate the wind and not damage the fence

The last choice is walls, which can be so attractive, especially if they are made by craftsmen in local stone, but can be rather costly. Walls are generally used as a barrier against soil erosion on banks and need to have drainage holes at various levels to allow rainwater to seep through. If these are not included, then the weight of the wet soil can cause the wall to collapse! So, these are the choices, do make sure that you make the right one!

WHAT TO IN THE GARDEN IN APRIL

Ants might start to become troublesome this month as the ground warms up and they look to make new homes. Don’t let them get into flowerpots or they will make nests there, completely killing off the plants. Either raise the pot off the ground on little Chinese ‘feet’, put the pot on a paving slab or if you are re-potting put a piece of nylon stocking or something similar over the drainage hole, to stop them from entering the pot. If all else fails, use ‘Divipan’.

Carpobrotus edulis

Look under the rims of pots that might have been lying around and turn over plant trays where you may find snails firmly attached to the undersides. Do get rid of them or they will play havoc with your spring bedding and salad crops. Sparrows are also attracted to new lettuce in particular and may peck them to pieces! Try hanging some old CDs from a pole and that should frighten them away. Plant sweet corn plugs once we have reasonable overnight temperatures, as they don’t like cold nights. Remember to grow them in squares if you are able to, as they are wind pollinated and on a breezy day you will see the pollen being blown off the tassels onto the flowers below. They do need space and their eventual height might put off people with small gardens but the taste of them, picked straight from the garden, is a great pleasure, although I read recently that canned corn is just as good for you, if not better!

We have had some decent rain since the beginning of the year for which we have to be thankful, as it delays the onset of totally desert-like gardens as a future prospect. Although I value the quality of succulents as part of the garden here, especially if the only garden area is a veranda or patio, I do like a more conventional garden in which to roam and appreciate the flowers. That doesn’t mean I have to have grass to set it all off. Why would anyone want grass? To walk on it in bare feet? To lie on it? More likely it would be for the cool effect it creates. There are now many good-looking artificial lawns in garden centres these days if you must have some green, along with advice and help on how to lay it.

Some succulent plants can achieve that cooling effect just as well. Carpobrotus edulis for one, as it is an excellent spreading ground-cover plant. This native of South Africa stays green all year round. The moisture, trapped within the succulent-type leaves and stems in the wet season, is let out gradually over the summer months, keeping the plant going. It requires very little attention and roots easily from calloused cuttings. There is the added bonus of pretty pink flowers during the summer as well. So unless you want to sit out or play croquet on your green area, try this as a substitute for grass. However, if you have grass and didn’t manage to scarify your lawn last month, you still have a little time to do it. Drag a thin-tined rake over the grass and you will be surprised at the rubbish you collect! Afterwards, give it a feed with a proprietary spring grass feed available in most garden centres.

As spring bulbs go over, remember to take off the dead heads so that the bulb can concentrate on making the flower for next year and not spend its energy on producing seeds. Leave the leaves on the plant until they are dead. I know that they can look messy but they are part of the process of renewal. Also, remove dead heads on osteospermums or they will seed everywhere.

My worry about the lack of bees and butterflies has been allayed his spring, as they have swarmed all over the tightly packed flowers of my echiums for some weeks now. Having not had many flowers in recent years, this year they are plentiful. They have also been attracting Red Admiral butterflies, I wonder where they were hiding, very welcome nevertheless.

PLANT OF THE MONTH – Laurus nobilis AGM

Bay Laurel is a very handsome tree or a large shrub when mature, and an asset to have in any garden. In some countries, it is known by the name of ‘Daphne’, due to its associations with Greek mythology: Daphne pursued by Apollo, sought haven with her mother, who turned her into a laurel tree.

Native to the Mediterranean area, Laurus nobilis can reach heights of 2-2½ metres. However, in domestic gardens, it can be kept to a reasonable height by pruning. Laurel has a tendency to throw out suckers around the root area, which should be removed, but apart from that, it is a very easy tree to maintain. Wind scorch can occur on young foliage in the early part of the year, while some cracking of the bark can be caused by overwatering although in their natural state, they are found growing near streams and springs.

In late March or early April, depending where you live, the lovely, sweetly-perfumed, cream flowers appear in clusters of three to five blooms, followed later by a black, one-seeded berry. Clipped standard laurels often stand sentinel outside front doors or are a part of parterre gardens. Laurel leaves were widely used as a symbol of honour, when poets and other people of renown, were crowned by laurel leaves – hence the term ‘Poet Laureate’. The dried glossy leaves make a welcome addition to cooking in many households around the world.

The Royal Horticultural Society gave this tree an Award of Garden Merit for its excellent qualities as a garden plant.

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