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Topical news and advice from our gardening experts

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  • Helping out the nesting blackbirds

    Posted by Miranda Hodgson on 02 May 2014 at 12:53 PM

    There are blackbirds (Turdus merula) nesting in the ivy growing on the garden wall here. I noticed when I saw a female eagerly pecking at the half apple we’d put under the bench and flying into the ivy with a beakful of it. Seeing her going back and forth a few times, I decided to add a little extra for the young birds and went out to the compost bays to dig out some worms. These went into a plastic tray with a bit of the compost and the tray was put under the bench. Blackbirds can find their own worms, of course, but it’s interesting to see them eagerly gathering up the worms and taking them off to feed their young ones.


  • It’s all happening now!

    Posted by Miranda Hodgson on 25 Apr 2014 at 01:10 PM

    It’s the fourth week of April and the garden is a hive of activity. Now that spring is underway, the garden is reacting to the warm and rainy winter by racing into growth and the things look incredibly different to this time last year. The spring of 2013 was one of the coldest I remember and garden plants were set back by at least five weeks, not catching up until the end of May.


  • Coreopsis ‘Solanna Golden Sphere’: New from Mr Fothergill’s

    Posted by Graham Rice on 22 Apr 2014 at 02:05 PM
    Coreopsis 'Solanna Golden Sphere' is a tough and prolific new perennial. Image ©DanzigerI know there are gardeners who see perennial coreopsis more as workhorses of the summer garden than plants with character and style but perhaps ‘Solanna Golden Sphere’ (left, click to enlarge) will spark some affection as well as admiration for being dependable and tough.

    Developed in Israel, and propagated by division rather than seed so plants are always of a reliably high quality, the dark green foliage makes a neat mound. The bright, sunny yellow flowers open from May to October, each is fully double, with a slightly darker centre. Held one per stem, they are good for cutting and last well in water.

    It’s worth noting that this is a plant that rewards gardeners who nip off the fading flowers with secateurs or the kitchen scissors as this encourages more buds to develop. Plants should still flower right through until autumn without dead heading but they will look more attractive and less messy – and there will be more flowers open at any given time – if the dead blooms are snipped of at the base of their stems.

    This is a very hardy perennial which can be planted in a container for its first summer then moved into the border before winter, or can be planted direct into any reasonable soil in a sunny place.

    You can order plants of Coreopsis ‘Solanna Golden Sphere’ from Mr Fothergill’s (last orders for this season 30 April).


  • Worms have been moving stones in the garden

    Posted by Miranda Hodgson on 22 Apr 2014 at 01:51 PM

    There are a couple of corners of the garden that I seldom dig – if weeds come up there, I’ll pull them out, but I like to leave these patches to see what happens to the soil surface and to gauge earthworm activity. Because we garden on Oxfordshire cornbrash, there are a lot of stones in the soil and a great many of them end up on the surface. Not only do these stones end up on the surface of the soil, they often appear to be gathered into small piles. When you look more closely at these piles, you can see that there are often bits of plant debris sticking out of the top, usually near the centre of the pile.



  • Veronica 'Blue Bomb': New from Parkers

    Posted by Graham Rice on 13 Apr 2014 at 04:21 PM
    Veronica 'Blue Bomb' is compact and long flowering. Image © Jan VershoorVeronicas, long lost in the second or third division of hardy perennials, have been making a name for themselves as cut flowers in recent years. Their long spikes and their lasting quality have encouraged florists to take them up.

    But while plant breeders have been developing new varieties for cutting, they’ve not forgotten gardeners and the latest addition to the gardener’s range is Veronica ‘Blue Bomb’.

    Developed in Holland by Jan Vershoor, well known for his phlox and other perennials, this is a very distinctive plant with tall straight stems which branch repeatedly at their tips to create a cluster of short blue spikes.

    Plants reach about 45-60cm in height, with fresh green foliage which makes a good background to show off the flower heads, and they have a very long flowering season - May to September - which is exactly what so many gardeners need now that gardens are getting smaller: every plant must give its best for as long as possible. So a long flowering plant like Veronica ‘Blue Bomb’ with an extended season of colour is ideal in a small space. And the clumps fatten up steadily without ever becoming a nuisance.

    You can order Veronica ‘Blue Bomb’ from J. Parkers.



  • A stoat visits the garden

    Posted by Miranda Hodgson on 11 Apr 2014 at 09:50 AM

    The garden gave us a new surprise the other day when we found a stoat (Mustela erminea) in the courtyard. Great find, except that this one was dying.



  • Are gardens primarily for humans?

    Posted by Miranda Hodgson on 07 Apr 2014 at 02:36 PM

    In a piece in the April issue of ‘The Garden’, the author says that ‘the garden is a habitat for other creatures, but it is first and foremost a habitat for us’. She worries that gardeners are being bombarded with unwanted advice, not unlike the barrage of advice we get about our diets and exercise, and that gardeners are being made to feel guilty for wanting to garden as they see fit.

     The summer border is filled with lif


  • Plants for Bugs Conference Previews Results

    Posted by Helen Bostock Plantsforbugs on 27 Mar 2014 at 03:24 PM


    Plants for Bugs programme and usb sticks 


  • Why some flowers change colour and a worm question

    Posted by Miranda Hodgson on 26 Mar 2014 at 04:26 PM

    I learned something new today – why some flowers change colour as they age. The reason may be common knowledge to some people, but to me it wasn’t and I’m still feeling happily surprised and more in awe of nature than ever.

     Pulmonaria officinalis showing different flower colour


  • Colourful new fragrant antirrhinums

    Posted by Graham Rice on 20 Mar 2014 at 04:38 PM

    Antirinca Antirrhinums are both colourful and fragrant.Most gardeners enjoy antirrhinums but the familiar traditional types have been joined by a number of colourful and interesting new varieties, such as the Antirinca Series (above, click to enlarge). At once it’s clear that they’re different.

    Upright in growth and reaching about 30-40cm, the rich, dark green foliage is tightly packed on the stems and is the ideal background to show off the flowers – which are unique. We’ve seen antirrhinums with flared flowers before, but nothing as colourful and striking as these. And one thing that’s often forgotten is that bees, familiar with the traditional snapdragon flower, find it very difficult to pollinate these flared flowers and the result is that each individual flower lasts much longer before fading and so significantly extending the display.

    Each flower is in fact bicoloured, with a patch of dark contrasting colour in the throat. There are four colours in the series: Bronze Apricot (above centre, click to enlarge) has apricot-and-peach flowers with deep orange centres; Peachy has pink and pale apricot flowers; Rose (above left) has pale pink flowers with a deep pink centre; Yellow Maroon (above right) has yellow flowers with contrasting red centres. In addition to the lovely colouring they’re all scented.

    These are ideal plants for sunny containers, nip off the individual flowers as they fade and when each spike is over cut it off just above the leaves to encourage more to develop. These plants are raised from cuttings so there will be no annoying off-types.

    You can order plants of Antirrhinum ‘Antirinca’ from Dobies (order by 11 April), from Suttons (order by 11 April) and from Thompson and Morgan (order by 31 March) and you well also find them in good garden centres.