So Christmas is approaching and I am sure, being the thrifty and creative person you are, perhaps you are looking at making your own wreath to adorn your front door.
For a start, buy a decent pair of gloves. Warm and robust. A pair that will hold back the most fearsome holly thorn. The Town and Country Premium Leather and Suede gloves with fleece lining are exceptional if I do say so myself. Next, decide what you want to achieve? A small garland or a huge planet sized object forcing you to use the back door for the season?
Once you have decided, start to create! If you are using chicken wire, fold it into a size which will work for your design, making sure it is not impassable for the stems to pass through, but tight enough to hold the material. The beauty of using chicken wire is you can shape it. Perhaps a bell shape, or a snowflake, or the traditional circle. Make a loop of wire and attach it to the back of the frame. This will be the place to fix it. Now comes the fun part. Choosing your greenery. Go into your garden, or into the nearest area where there is a multitude of flora with your secateurs (making sure you have asked permission from the landowner). There are thousands of evergreen shrubs surrounding us, but there is also a plethora of coloured plant stems. Ilex (Holly), Tillia (Lime), Hedera (Ivy), Skimmia, Luarus nobilis, Euonymous, Jasminum, Osmanthus, Viburnum, Lavender, Santolina, not to mention all the lovely varieties of fir tree. And if you are feeling really experimental or brave, try some citrus fruits or apples, horse-chestnuts or oak apples – and maybe even feathers and seashells if you are that way inclined. When you have chosen your material, prune long lengths if you are using the chicken wire, or short if you are using the foam. Always making sure you do not leave the host plant unsightly, bald or indeed beyond any chance of life! Return home with your bounty and have fun. The trick is to add small amounts at a time. Keep the design balanced, so evenly spread out the material. If you are having problems attaching the material use the binding wire. Happy Christmas!
-- Guy Deakins
We really were spoilt this November with unusually mild weather. If that is a good thing or not remains to be seen. But this time last year we certainly were in the trows of winter with snow already covering much of the UK. Gardeners across the country saw plants, which we have come accustomed to think as hardy, killed or severely knocked back by the prolonged cold weather, snow and ice. Some plants that were knocked back have recovered slowly, others devastated by the bad weather last winter never made it back to their former glory. I've compiled a short list of plants that suffered during the winter that will benefit from some winter protection if this years temperatures drop as low as they did in 2010.
Cordyline australis- The Cabbage Tree
Cordylines have been a favourite in gardens for many years now due to their tropical look, the most popular being the red varieties. I have always advised on winter protection for these although in the mild winters they may come through unharmed. Native to New Zealand they can potentially reach heights of up to 20 metres, although in the UK climate they tend to be fairly slow growing. Cordylines are one of the species that seem to have bounced back from the harsh winter, new shoots developing from the base of the old stump. These shoots can be left on or removed and cultivated in a pot.
Ceanothus- California Lilac
Ceanothus are native to North America and are another plant that seems to have produced new growth after a complete die back of foliage last winter. Again another favourite in many gardens due to their unusual foliage colour and rich, insect attracting flowers. Leave all the dead foliage on until spring to help protect the new foliage against frosts.
It is debatable as to whether the mighty Eucalyptus tree is suitable to most UK gardens due to its eventual size and rapid growth. But they are there and people love them and, yes you guessed it, they suffered badly last winter. Eucalyptus are mostly native to Australia where the winter temperatures rarely drop below freezing apart from in the mountains. So it's no surprise that a winter of temperatures dropping to -18 degrees saw a few lost. Unfortunately the only thing to do with a dead Eucalyptus is to remove it, with the help of a qualified tree surgeon if needed. And why not replace it with one of our beautiful native trees that will be fine and dandy in most winters?
Trachycarpus- Fan palms
Trachycarpus palms are native to Asia and have been growing in popularity over the last decade or so due to their exotic appearance, many gardens now dedicated to palms. Unfortunately many species proved to be less hardy this year and as these palms usually demand a high price tag due to their slow growth, many wallets also took the brunt. Tying the leaves up and protecting the palm with straw and fleece may be of benefit in colder winters to come.
I'm sure there have been many more species of plant that have suffered in our unusually cold winters, and a bit of research in Autumn may pay dividends. But cold winters as were seen last year are not all bad. They generally help to reduce the overall numbers of many garden pests such as aphids, funguses and bacterias which in a mild winter can attack and damage dormant plants. So a little planning ahead in harsh winters is all that is needed.
-- Tom Williams
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.
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