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Blog posts tagged with 'plants'

Plants to avoid in the family garden

Recently in the news there have been reports of plants causing blisters or being poisonous, as if this had never been discovered before.

Well, as a favour to all the loyal Town and Country customers here is a list of the top plants to avoid in the family garden and why.

1. Monkshood (Aconitum). Beautiful. All parts deadly poisonous.

2. Euphorbia species. The plant contains a sap that burns the throat and eyes.

3. Box. (Buxus). The plant sap contains a substance known as buxine that can burn the throat if ingested.

4. Stagshorn (Rhus). The leaves contain a substance that creates painful blisters on the skin.

5. Giant Hogweed. A Gertrude Jeykll favourite. The leaves and stems contain a substance that can cause the skin to blister in the sun.

6. Laburnum. A member of the pea family the seeds look edible. Don't believe this. I spent a day in hospital having my stomach pumped when I was four years old because I thought they were good snacks. A similar plant with pea like seeds is broom.

7. Solanum. Any member of the potato family has the distinct ability to poison if not treated with care. Some more than others. Deadly Nightshade is one to avoid!

8. Rhododendron. The leaves are toxic.

9. Chrysanthemums. The leaves can cause an allergic reaction and the flowers  are quite toxic.

10. Wysteria. Another beautiful and toxic plant that has pea-like fruit. Is there a theme here?

11. Sweet Pea. My children love eating peas straight from the plant, but I have to make sure they always ID the plant before they ingest anything!

Whilst talking of ingesting seeds and berries, try to identify what you have in your hand. The fashion for wild foraging is growing and so too are the incidents of accidental poisoning.

There are many plants that look pretty, that are not in any way shape or form to be consumed. A short list of the ones you may come across every day is: Holly, Ivy, Asparagus, Horse-chestnut, Broom, Spindle tree, Oak and Privet. Interestingly Yew leaves and the seed in the berry are toxic. However the red pulp is not - but I do  not recommend you try this out!

Appreciating your garden
August is always the time we most appreciate the garden. It is the time when we supposedly see the garden in full. The flowers are a riot of colour. The vegetable area is providing bounty. The birds are singing, the insects are buzzing. We are at peace.
 
Accordingly, I always go my to my gardening library – which is approaching somewhere in the region of 400 books on the subject - and research the plants I see in other peoples’ beautiful gardens. One thing I am always surprised by is the actual length of time these plants have been in our gardens. Our modern media would have us believe that plants are new and exciting, never before seen, but the reality is that much of what we see at flower shows and in the local nursery are the result of mere tinkering with the genetic inheritance. For example, those most beautiful of garden perennials, the peony were introduced to this country by the , Romans, but the Celts, the Saxons, Normans and countless other immigrants have added to the wonderful mix. For example, Acanthus, Iris, the Sweet Chestnut, the Walnut, Dianthus, Wall-Flower, Asparagus, Cabbage, Onions, Tanacetum, and many other plants we now regard as commonplace. There are of course many plants which are indigenous to the UK, but I think the really exciting thing is to realise just quite how long we as a species have been trying to improve the environment around our home. Imagine being the first man in Britain to have an exotic ‘Yellow Flag’ Iris growing in your courtyard. That is why we still find going to the local flower show or garden centre such fun. Finding a hidden gem I am sure is genetically intrinsic in our nature. But let me offer you some tips on buying.
 
Never buy a plant in full bloom – it will last less time than if you buy in bud.
Check for insect damage or indeed insects attached!
 
Try not to buy a plant that is either pot bound (you can tell by the roots pushing out through the bottom of the pot) or a plant that has a huge amount of moss on the top compost – this means it has sat around for long enough for something to grow on the soil and is therefore quite an old plant for the pot size and something may be wrong with it. Do not buy a plant in a pot that has dried out, this is a bad sign that the plants are not well looked after by the nursery. Try not to buy on impulse. Think of the space the plant is going to fit into. If it is going to get to ten feet tall it won’t fit on your patio.
Be weather wise!
 
If we are lucky, we have warmth in the day, but the nights can still be cold. As our ancestors recognised, it is a month that can easily turn back into winter. If I look at the past few weeks, the day temps have been up in the high teens, but the nights have been down almost to zero on some occasions. If you recognise that this is quite a large margin of difference, then you will realise just how remarkable plants are. Then you have the rain, hail and frosts to contend with too.
 
All this proves that the soil is still not very warm - hence the old custom of putting your bare elbow or perhaps your bare bottom on the soil, to see if it is ready for some of the more delicate plants. Some plants like Cymbidium orchids need a few cold days to help them flower, but a frost is definitely a no-no.
 
I am quite often frustrated by the weather news on the TV or internet as it is massively generalized to cover several hundred square miles - although I must admit they have got better in recent years. Once, in the middle of the last decade, whilst living in Norfolk, the weather girl reported it was going to be a lovely dry night, yet outside my window some 20 miles from her studio, the rain was hammering down. Did I see a hint of embarrassment on the poor girls face? In those days, my obsessive temperament noted they had only got it accurate on 15 days in the entire year. Which is better than a soothsayer I suppose.
 
But of course for you at home, there are ways of telling if the air and soil is warm enough and what the weather may bring for yourself. Buy a weather station. With a glance you can tell if the air has been chilled to uncomfortable levels overnight whilst you were tucked up in bed with Gardeners World. You can also have an inkling of what the weather is threatening to do with a barometer as your guide. If you are like me and become lost in the green world, a clock will help you realise supper was 2 hrs ago and perhaps the kids need feeding at some point.
 

 

In truth the UK has a fantastic array of weather and micro-climates from the abhorrently wet, to the surprisingly dry. Do yourself and your plants a favour and get a bit scientific.
Don’t forget the birds this winter

 



If you want to help birds over the winter months, then a few careful considerations on planting will do just the trick. To encourage birds into the garden, plant a mixed hedgerow of native species plus some standard edible trees, bushes and berry-bearing vines. This can include rowan, holly, whitebeam, spindle, dog rose, guilder rose, elder, hawthorn, honeysuckle and ivy. Cotoneaster, pyracantha and berberis are especially good forage for a wide range of birds. Pyracantha makes a lovely show of red berries which are only palatable after hard frosts.

Winter is a good time to plant trees, shrubs and hedgerow plants. Nest boxes put up in time for spring may be used by birds as a warm refuge in colder weather.   I also put feeders out full of high energy seed mixes and peanuts. Fat balls made from lard and seeds provide a valuable energy supply too. Keep your bird baths ice free too, so that birds can still take a drink. Activity in your garden will soon pick up and wildlife will become more visible as winter’s grip gets looser and the shoots of spring start to show through.


-- Rob Amey

Hanging Baskets

 


Want to know the secret of beautiful hanging baskets? Read on...

Properly planted hanging baskets are a glorious sight, so it’s a pity that all too often they end up looking like abandoned bird’s nests. A fabulous basket can be yours with a little preparation and lots of easy aftercare.

Plant a basket at the beginning of May to give it a fortnight or so to thicken up before hanging it in place. It can be left in a porch or a cold greenhouse or even in a sheltered spot protected with polythene.

To plant…
• Balance the basket on a large flowerpot or bucket
• Line it with a fibrous liner
• Make sure all the chosen plants are well watered in their trays or pots
• To retain moisture, place a circular piece of polythene in the base of the basket on top of the liner
• Use a soil-less multipurpose compost and mix with water retaining granules
• Put a little compost in the base of the basket
• Take each of the plants which are to form the first layer, tip it from its container and squeeze the rootball to make it small enough to fit through the basket mesh and liner - you’ll need to push a hole through the liner with your fingers first. Never feed the foliage from inside to outside, always feed roots in from the outside as the plant will suffer less damage.
• Space the plants between 10cm / 4inches and 15cm / 6inches apart around the edge of the basket
• Build up layers of compost and plants
• When the basket is filled to within 2.5cm / 1inch of the top, plant up the top with bushy plants.
• Water the basket well and make sure it never dries out. Lack of water is the biggest cause of failure. Once hung in place water every single day!
• Feed with dilute liquid tomato fertilizer once a week to keep it flowering well

NOTE: Don’t forget to check your brackets and chains before hanging. You don’t want all your hard work unceremoniously dumped in a heap on the path below!

And some plant suggestions...
Trusty Trailing Plants
These bedding plants come in beautiful trailing varieties.
- Lobelia Bidens
- Ivy-leaf pelargonium
- Lysimachia
- Fuchsia

Brilliant Bushy Basket Toppers
These cast their stems out sideways making them suitable basket toppers.
- Verbena
- Petunia
- Begonia
- Pelargonium
- Fuchsia

-- Rob Amey

Healthy Living with Houseplants

Houseplants can help combat winter ills and ailments and make your home healthier. Not only do they have a good psychological effect on occupants, but also as natural humidifiers, they have other good effects in addition to generally making us feel more comfortable. So, as we turn up the heating to contend with the cold months of winter ahead and encourage the harmful effects of dry air such as blocked sinuses, do not despair, houseplants can help!

Up to 97 percent of the water you give a plant will be returned to the air, although some varieties are more suitable than others to improve humidity levels in centrally heated conditions.

The air always contains bacteria. Other ailments transmitted by air include eye and skin irritations, but perhaps worst of all are the nasty cold and 'flu viruses which are bountiful this time of year. Houseplants can help reduce these. As houseplants absorb toxins from the air - and also have a good psychological effect on occupants - minor ailments such as headaches, blocked noses and skin irritations are reduced substantially when interior landscaping is installed.

Dust is another potentially harmful everyday indoor substance, because it picks up harmful toxins, which we inhale. But again, plants can come to the rescue as they trap dust particles. Hairy and lipophile leaf surfaces attract the dust in the air directly and absorb the toxins that it contains.

Plants are natural humidifiers and air 'scrubbers' which, given the correct location, light and care, can be effective to create more healthy and comfortable environments.

In effect, plants can transform our interiors into healthier living spaces.

Epiphytic Bromeliads, orchids and succulents exchange Oxygen and Carbon Dioxide at night rather than as most other plants do during the daytime. This makes them perfect bedroom plants to refresh the air we breathe during sleep. Some water loving plants are Schefflera, bamboos and hemp. Ferns, rubber plants and Ivy are good all-rounders for removing toxins. They are good air cleaners for rooms with central heating.

-- Rob Amey

Winter and plant diseases

Ah, November, that most delicate of months. The great languid breath of damp warmth before the winter slumber of ice and fog takes hold. I am at present busy putting the garden to bed and am enjoying the task immensely.

Which plants remain intact is my choice. Some seed heads I shall leave for the birds to pick over, other plants I shall leave as they look spectacular in the first heavy frosts. Tidying leaves, mulching borders and generally making the garden change in that dramatic way only those in temperate zones can. Last year I worked in the Botanic Gardens, Singapore and was amused to see they have built a huge glass house with air conditioning - so that they too can appreciate our seasons. Although I miss the constant warmth and sun of the tropics, we are lucky. We have a growing climate which removes pest and disease naturally. Black spot disappears from our roses (burn the leaves), slugs, snails and mice go into hibernation or die, and most fungus becomes dormant. November is a time of change to be appreciated. However, there are dark clouds looming on our horizon.

I recently had a meeting with a man from FERA the government agency charged with protecting our borders from foreign pest and disease. To be frank, things are not looking good. Our obsession with cheap imports has introduced new fungus and insects, which left unchecked will not only decimate but destroy our delicate ecosystem. “Sudden Oak Death” or Phytophthora ramorum to give its correct name, is a very real threat to all our parks and gardens. This is a disease that infects and destroys a vast number of ornamental shrubs. The threat list is extensive but includes: Arbutus, Calluna, Camellia, Choisya, Magnolia, Photinia, Rhododendron and Viburnum. The list of our native trees at risk is also horrifying. For a full list, information and images please click here.

PICTURE FROM THE VICTORIA RHODENDRON SOCIETY. BC . CANADA.


This is only one disease which is a threat to plants in the UK, so it is essential we check the plants we buy for any sign of disease. Remember also many foreign insects, such as the Asian Longhorn Beetle and Thrips palmi have also found a home in our continental neighbours and are a serious threat here too. If we work together, these threats can be addressed and hopefully eradicated from our small island.

-- Guy Deakins

Tutorial: Recycled and Crafty Plant Markers

This week we have had nothing but biblical rain so we haven't spent any time out in the garden, but being the crafty girl I am, and always on the endless hunt for things to amuse the children with we decided to do a little recycled garden related craft.
Garden labelling is always important especially when growing from seed but the wooden shop bought ones rot with the damp weather so you are constantly replacing them, but not with these!


(originally from Bunny Hill Designs)


Tools you will need:

  • Assorted old silverware
  • Anvil or a strong, durable surface
  • Letter stamping set 1/8″
  • Hammer
  • Black Sharpie Permanent Marker, any size.

The letter stamps aren't too expensive and are widely available in different font and size from eBay.
Simply place the piece of cutlery onto your desired surface and hammer it flat. Take the letter stamp of your choice, hold still and imprint the letter, and subsequent word, into the piece of cutlery by hitting the stamp with the hammer.And voila, your totally funky and unique garden markers.


As you can see from this lovely picture, they look awesome in situ!

--Liz Longworth

Summer Berries

Last Spring I finally decided to plant some new berry bushes against the brick wall that runs alongside our vegetable beds.

Redcurrants we already have, as they were left here by the last owner. We used to grow blackcurrants, but we decided to take them out as they were getting old and took up too much space. Wild blackberries we have in abundance, they sneak over the fence from the fields beyond. I also seemed to remember that blueberries are fussy about the sort of soil that they have so I discounted them too.
We love raspberries so that was one in the bag. Loganberries remind me of my Dad as he grew a thornless loganberry plant in the garden when I was a child and we loved it's halfway house between blackberry and raspberry, so I chose one of those. I then remembered a post on My Tiny Plot that spoke of fragrant Tayberries, so I thought I would give those a go too.
Last year we had a mere handful of fruit off each plant, but I didn't expect too much of them in their first year. This Spring we made sure that we covered them well with netting to stop the blackbirds stealing the fruits of our labour and we have been blessed with berries aplenty.
We have had bowls of berries with cream and made several fruit fools with them as well as adding them to cakes and puddings.
The Tayberries are the least productive, they have very spiky stalks and the fruits are so soft that they tend to come apart when you pick them. The loganberries are nice, but you must leave them until they are very dark in colour before picking. The raspberries are the best cropping, seem to get least attacked by insects and are so easy to pick and prepare as the husk gets left behind on the plant.
Soon I must get out there and get tying in and pruning to make sure we have a good crop next year.

-- Claire Sutton