Category Archives: Gardening Tips

The Autumn Garden: Helping your garden wildlife survive the winter.

A good wildlife habitat

A good wildlife habitat

As the clocks go back autumn is well and truly under way and winter is just around the corner. Traditionally autumn was a time for the keen gardener to cut down, sweep up and make the garden tidy for winter. However our understanding of the needs of the wildlife that live and visit our gardens is much greater and most of us want to garden in a way that will encourage and help the many species that rely on gardens to survive the winter ahead. So here are some helpful hints to help the wildlife in your garden.

 seedheads are an important food .

seedheads are an important food .

The not so tidy gardener: leave herbaceous plant seed heads to stand over the winter, only cutting them down in early spring, these are an invaluable food soruse for birds small mammals and over wintering insects can take refuge through the winter.

toad hibination habitat.

toad hibernation habitat.

Similarly do not go completely mad removing every fallen leaf from the garden, the odd pile at the back of the border, or under the hedge, or piles raked to the edges of paths or in heaps on noncultivated bits of ground are wonderful hibernation habitats for a range of creatures including, amphibians, frogs,toads and newts. Reptiles like slow-warms and of course for small field mice and other mammals as well as a good habitat for intersects of many species.

Try to find room in your garden for the odd pile of small twigs and even logs, again in the corner of a border or down by the compost heap, somewhere where the piles will not be disturbed, if the piles are large enough and have leafs piled through them they may even turn out to be a suitable hibernation spot for a hedgehog to carry out it’s over wintering hibernation. Sadly Hedgehogs are becoming an increasingly rare sight in  domestic gardens and we must all do our bit to try to create the right habitat for them.

a group of 'Bug Hotels'

a group of ‘Bug Hotels’

Many other species will also use these twig/stick and log piles from a mass of different insects to over wintering bees, small mammals, reptiles and amphibians. A more decorative solution may be to hang a ‘bug hotel’ from a fence post or up under the eves of your house roof.

Hedge hog house

Hedge hog house

There are also ready made hedgehog houses on the market, these should be placed in a quite sheltered place away from any disturbance, including the local cats and any dogs. The hedgehog house should be in a position where it will not be disturbed through the winter months and preferable somewhere it can stay long term. The other big problems for Hedgehogs is habitat loss, the domestic garden is an important habitat but with implementable close board fencing now being the norm for garden boundaries rather than the porous garden hedge, the hedgehogs are struggling to move about the garden environment and are not able to have the size of territory they require for a healthy existence. So if you have a sturdy fence then think about cutting a small gap say 100/150mm wide by about the same high or a little bigger at a few points down your fence and on the corresponding side of the garden to allow hedgehogs to freely roam.

 mice nesting in long grass.

mice nesting in long grass.

Grass cutting, consider leaving the grass longer at the edges of the lawn perhaps 4 to 6 weeks growth, to allow a different habitat for over wintering species. Also if possible is there an area of grass that you can let grow to seed and leave uncut till early spring, this will become an invaluable area for insects, reptiles, amphibians and small hibernating field mice, particularly if this taller area of grass can edge a hedge or shrubby area.

a selection of bird feeders

a selection of bird feeders

Winter Feeding, from bird tables to nut and seed feeders to fat balls, and a whole range of bird feeders that are now squirrel proof, the market is flooded with all sizes and types to suit every situation and bird and gardener. Make sure you site the feeders well, not just for your enjoyment to see the birds from the kitchen, but also at a good height where the birds will not fall pry to the local cats. Also put out a low pot or bird bath for the birds, With both the feeders and bird bath it is very important to keep them regularly clean to prevent the spread of disease

So now you have an excuses not to be such a tidy gardener, and I hope these suggestions have inspired you to do your bit in your garden this autumn to help the animal species that live in and visit your garden get through the winter weather, be it a mild southern one or one with the odd attic blast.

For more information see for general information about helping wildlife in your garden. Also see for help and information on bird food types for what bird species and for advise on different types of bird feeders

The Late Summer Cutting Garden

Vibrent late summer flowers

Vibrent late summer flowers

September is the summers last cheer and with it brings a large pallet of richly coloured herbaceous perennials that produce arm fulls of vivid coloured flowers perfect for cutting whether in formal flower arrangements or more informally spilling out of large jugs and vases. Here are some favorates

Dahlia 'Bishop of Oxford'

Dahlia ‘Bishop of Oxford’

Dahlia ‘Bishop of Oxford’: The striking flowers and this case dark purple foliage are worth fighting the slugs for. This Dahlia makes a good clump of attractive foliage with bright tangerine orange single flowers with a bronze stamen centre to 90cm tall. Grows in draining good fertile soil. Grow in full sun.

 Dahlia 'Black Cat'

Dahlia ‘Black Cat’

Dahlia ‘Black Cat’: Large clumps of mid green foliage up to 110cm tall. With striking dark burgundy red velvety cactus formation flowers. A real show stopper in any flower arrangement. Grows in draining fertile soil. Grow in full sun.

Flower preparation tips: Best to cut flowers that are in bud nearly open or fully open, as they will not open further once cut. Cut the length of stem needed for the vase you are using, don’t cut more stem than needed. Cut the stem diagonally. Re-cut the stems before arranging them. Place the stems in about 50/70mm of very hot (not quite boiling water) leave the stems for about 1 hour. This conditioning of the stems will help your blooms last up to 6 days.

 Gladiolus alba 'The Bride'

Gladiolus alba ‘The Bride’

Gladiolus alba ‘The Bride’: Easily grown bulbs in a sunny position. Gladiolus bring a touch of elegance and height to any flower arrangement. Pure white flowers held along the stem. 50cm tall.

Gladiolus ramosus 'Robinetta'

Gladiolus ramosus ‘Robinetta’

Gladiolus ramosus ‘Robinetta’: Deep rich red flowers with an ivory throat make this Gladiolus a flower arrangers delight. 60Cm tall.

Flower preparation tips: When choosing which blooms to cut choose a stem that has 3 or 4 flowers at the bottom that are part open. To condition you flower stems, place in a mixture of warm water and floral preservative. Then place the stems and container in a dark cool place for several hours to fully condition your flowers before making your flower arrangement. The conditioned flowers can last from 6 to 12 days.

 Heliopsis hellianthoides var.scabra

Heliopsis hellianthoides var.scabra

Heliopsis hellianthoides var. scabra: Often called the false sun flower, this herbaceous perennial packs a mighty punch in the flower boarder and the vase. Large clear yellow single flowers raise to 1.50m tall grown in full sun in any good moist fertile soil.

Flower preparation tips: Choose fully open flower. For soft stems, cut before conditioning at an angle. woody stems hammer, for both allow to harden in a deep depth of tepid/warm water for several hours. The flower will last 5 to 8 days.

 Echinacea purpurea 'Magnus'

Echinacea purpurea ‘Magnus’

Echinacea purpurea ‘Magnus’: Clump forming mid green foliage with one of the largest of the Echinacea flower at up to 175mm wide. Of dark magenta pink petals and a dramatic rust yellow centre stamen cone. This flower takes centre stage in the late summer bouquet. Grows in full sun in in most soils, but it does not like drying out. Grows up to 90cm tall.

Flower preparation tips: Choose flowers that are newly fully open to lengthen the vase life. Cut the stems again before placing in a deep container of tepid water for a couple of hours to allow them to condition before arranging the flowers.

Veronica spicata

Veronica spicata

Veronica spicata: the foliage forms a compact tussock, with dense spikes of lavender purple flowers reaching 60/75cm high. This adds some drama and height to flower arrangements. Easily grown herbaceous perennial in any free draining soil in full sun.

Flower preparation tips: Choose flower stems that are fully out. Cut stems before placing in tepid water over night to harden off and condition. Flowers last 4 to 5 days approx.

Now with all this flower power a little foil is needed, ornamental grass seed heads are beginning to come into their own in September and the light seed heads lifts and lightens the late summer flower arrangement with it’s bold vivid colours. Try Miscanthus sinensis ‘Morning light’, with feathery pinkish heads or Stipa gigantea with it’s large golden oat grass like flower heads.

Miscanthus sinsensis 'Morning Light'

Miscanthus sinsensis ‘Morning Light’

Stipa gigantea

Stipa gigantea

So now you are inspired to not only to plant with late summer colour for your garden but also to bring the last heat and vibrant colours of summer into your home.

home grown garden flowers make a splash as flower arrangements.

home grown garden flowers make a splash as flower arrangements.

If you would like some help creating areas of planting in your garden that are suitable for flower arranging and for cut flowers at home then I know a woman who can help you, just give me a call. Ring Emily tel:01273 470753.

The Mid-Summer Border.

As we speed towards the longest day of the year and summer feels well under way, the vibrant greens of the spring growth give way to the exuberant pastel shades of the mixed mid-summer border. Here are a few favourites that give good depth of foliage texture and good flowering and work well together.

Kolkwitzia amabilis 'Pink Cloud'

Kolkwitzia amabilis ‘Pink Cloud’

Kolkwitzia amabilis ‘Pink Cloud’ : A fine shrub that should be planted more, medium sized forming a dense mound of twiggy habit with small mid green foliage. With clusters of small bell shaped flowers in clear shell pink that cover the whole shrub giving a riot of colour are produced from late May into June. Copes well in thin dry chalk soils. Grow in full sun.

Choisya 'Aztec Pearl'

Choisya ‘Aztec Pearl’

Choisya ‘Aztec Pearl’: a good medium sized shrub that adds that evergreen backing to a border. It grows well in full sun or part shade. Mound forming habit, with delicate mid green slenderly divided leaves. Clusters of white highly scented flowers are produced May/June. Will cope with most soils but not water logging.

Cistus x argenteus 'Sliver Pink'

Cistus x argenteus ‘Sliver Pink’

Cistus x argenteus ‘Sliver Pink’: A small fast growing evergreen shrub with arching habit. Sliver foliage which is aromatic when brushed. A mass of papery soft pink flowers cover the shrub in late May into June. A must for the middle of the border. Full sun and free draining soils, also a good coastal plant.

Erysimum 'Bowles Mauve'

Erysimum ‘Bowles Mauve’

Erysimum ‘Bowles Mauve’: A small mounded sub-shrub, the perennial wall flower punches well above its weight. With its evergreen sliver grey foliage and long flower stems of small purple flowers which are produced from March through to the end of June. It grows well in full sun in all well draining soils.

Paeonia 'White Wings'

Paeonia ‘White Wings’

Paeonia ‘White Wings’: This herbaceous Paeonia adds a touch of class to the middle of the boarder with classic dark green palmate foliage. The large saucer shaped single flowers have delicate papery white petals and a mass of golden yellow stamens at their centre. Flowering end of May and into June. All free draining soils.

Hemerocalis 'Joan Senior'

Hemerocalis ‘Joan Senior’

Hemerocallis ‘Joan Senior’: A wonderful medium height herbaceous perennial. Swords of mid green foliage make a great edging plant to the front of the border. Stems of flowers rise above the foliage, with white semi-ruffled edged flowers with a deep green throat. The flowers are produced in secession in clusters at the top of the stems and flowers for most of June.

Geranium 'Johnston's Blue'

Geranium ‘Johnston’s Blue’

Geranium ‘Johnston’s Blue’: a superb low growing mound forming ground cover geranium. Which has mid-green divided foliage and clear blue/purple flowers produced in abundance from mid May to mid June. Shear the dead flower heads off for later flowerings. Great to plant as ground cover around the edges of larger shrubs or as a planting along the front edge of the border. Likes full sun but will cope with a bit of shade and grows well in all free draining soils.

Alchimilla mollis

Alchimilla mollis

Alchemilla mollis: no mid-summer planting scheme would be complete with out this self seeding ground cover plant. The pea-green rounded gently palmate leaves catch early morning dew and look stunning. Drifts of sulphur green tiny flowers are held above the leaf clumps from June into late July. A good sun loving ground cover plant. All well drained soils.

Allium hollandicum 'Purple Sensation'

Allium hollandicum ‘Purple Sensation’

Allium hollandicum ‘Purple Sensation’: Bulbs are not all about early spring. Mid May and into early June this handsome member of the onion family adds a sticking appearance to the mid-summer border. Round globes of dark purple flowers are held on 70/90cm high stems and they glide well above the lower planting in the middle of the boarder.

A boarder in full mid summer bloom.

A border in full mid summer bloom.

I hope these ideas have inspired you to get the best out of your mid-summer planting if you need help to create a new planting area or to revitalise an existing tired border then I am the woman for you. Please do give me a ring to discuss planting ideas and planting plans. Telephone Emily on 01273 470753.

Winter Rose Prunning

Winter Rose Pruning.

January is a good time, in the mild South-East of England to carry out rose pruning. The principal reason for pruning roses is to maintain health and vigour. The removal of dead and diseased and damaged wood is particularly important in roses. They are prone to a variety of aliments and when planted in their traditional form on mass in a roses garden disease can spread with ease. So good rose health is important and winter pruning is a way to improve this. The pruning is not just about removing dead and diseased wood but also about improving the shape of the plant and possibly it’s size but also to maintain an open ‘airy’ habit that will help prevent disease being harboured and spread.

Basic techniques: an angled cut 5mm above an outward baring bud. For cutting out dead and old wood to remove it from the rose, a square flush cut.


stunning roses at Mottisfont Abbey

So you can enjoy healthy roses with a long flowering season in the year to come.

R. Ruby Wedding. Hybrid-tea

R. Ruby Wedding. Hybrid-tea

Hybrid Teas: Remove any shoots that are dead,diseased or damaged, cutting back to healthy wood. Position cuts to encourage outward growth that will not cross the centre or other stems. Shorten all remaining growth down to a height of 20cm above ground level.

R. The Queen Elizabeth. Floribundas

R. The Queen Elizabeth. Floribundas

Floribundas: Cut out all dead,damaged and diseased wood back to healthy growth or remove to the base of the plant. Remove any stems that are rubbing or likely to rub against one another. Shorten any laterals back to 2 -3 buds from the main stem, cutting to an outward facing bud. Shorten the remaining stems to 25 -30cm from ground level.

R. Arizona sunset. Patio-miniture

R. Arizona sunset. Patio-miniture

Patio/Miniature: Remove any dead,diseased or damaged growth. Relieve congestion by cutting out the oldest stems entirely. Tip prune main stems to remove any of last seasons flowers. Prune any laterals back to within 1 or 2 buds of the main stem.

R. Iceberg. Stanard

R. Iceberg. Stanard

Standard: Remove all dead, damaged and diseased growth, back to main stem. Remove any crossing shoots that may damage another stem by rubbing. Main stems shorten to suitably-placed buds and shoots, laterals cut back to a healthy bud.

R. Iceberg. Stanard

R. Moyesii. Species

Species: Completely remove 1 or 2 old,very woody stems to the base. Remove all dead,damaged diseased wood. Remove all week stems. Remove all crossing stems that are likely to rub. Shorten all laterals to a side shoot or bud 5 -15cm from the main stem.

Old Garden Roses: Alba, Bourbon, China, Damask, Gallica, Mose, Portland, Provence Roses are all pruned the same way.

R. Great Maidens blush. Alba

R. Great Maidens blush. Alba

Remove all dead, damaged and diseased wood cutting back to healthy growth or cutting to the ground. Remove any stems that are rubbing. Cut back the main stems by about 1/3rd . Reduce laterals by about 1/3rd to a strong healthy outward facing bud. Remove all low arching stems that will touch the ground.

R. Madame isaac pereire. Bourbon

R. Madame isaac pereire. Bourbon

R. cecile brunner.China

R. cecile brunner.China

R. Madam Hardy.Damask

R. Madam Hardy.Damask

R. Tricolore-de-flandre-Gallica

R. Tricolore-de-flandre-Gallica

R. William Lobb. Mose

R. William Lobb. Mose

R. Jacques Roses. Portland

R. Jacques Roses. Portland

R. The Bishop. Provence

R. The Bishop. Provence

New English Shrub and Rugosa

R. Penelope.New English shrub

R. Penelope.New English shrub

Are pruned the same way.

R. Rugosa alba. Rugosa

R. Rugosa alba. Rugosa

Remove all dead, damaged, diseased and rubbing growth back to healthy wood. When growth becomes crowded remove 1 or 2 of the older stems that have become unproductive down to the base. To maintain a compact habit and encourage good flowering tip prune a proportion of the side shoots on the outer edges of the plant.

R. Pink bells .Groundcover

R. Pink bells .Groundcover

Ground Cover: These roses live up to their name with vigorous spreading habit, with side stems arching and hitting the ground, rooting and marching ever onwards so little pruning is required apart from ‘crowd control’ and removing any dead or diseased wood to healthy growth and pruning back hard to the base any stems heading skywards.

All this hard and very thorny work will give you healthy and free flowing plants that will look and smell wonderful come peak rose flowering season in June. If it is all sounding a bit too much like hard work, then I know a woman who can help you out! Give me a ring now on Tel:01273 470753 to book your January/February rose pruning session in.

Roses at David Austin garden-and-plant-centre

Roses at David Austin garden-and-plant-centre

The Wonders of Wisteria

Varieties and maintenance.

June brings the sight of one of the most beautiful and dramatic of climbers, the Wisteria. The side of a building or a large tree dripping in the long racemes of light mauve flowers is a glorious opener to the summer flowering season. This is a mighty plant in many respects not only dose it put on a brilliant vibrant show it has a formidable growing habit. This climber is no shrinking violet even if it has lightly perfumed show stopper flowers. This climber comes from the foothills of mountains in Japan and China and in it’s native habitat scrambles up trees on the edge of forest margins to reach the light. So a 6ft garden fence or some dominative ornamental arch you have brought from the garden centre will not be a good home for this mighty beast.

Varieties: Wisteria sinensis, from China and perhaps the most planted Wisteria in Britain vigorous growth habit reaching 18 to 30m in height, with racemes up to 30cm long, flowering May-June. Two good varieties are W.sinensis ‘Black Dragon’ with dark purple flowers.

Wisteria sinenensis 'Black Dragon'

Wisteria sinsensis ‘Black Dragon’

W.sinensis ‘Plena’ with delicate double flowers of soft lilac.

Wistia sinensis 'Plena'

Wistia sinensis ‘Plena’

Wisteria floribunda, from Japan, flowers with the leaves in May-June. A less vigorous plant reaching heights of 4m.

W.floribunda ‘Alba’, normally flowers earlier than it’s purple counter part, trusses of white flowers with a mauve tinge 45 to 60cm in length.

Wisteria floribunda 'Alba'

Wisteria floribunda ‘Alba’

W. floribunda ‘Macrobotrys’, this is the ‘big daddy’ of the wisteria world and if you have the room to really show off it’s 1m long flower trusses to the for in the form of a very large pergola with a sturdy lattice work for this big beast to scramble over. So the 1m long flowers can hang in a dramatic purple curtain down through the frame work, for you to walk under and enjoy. Then this surely is the Wisteria for you. That or the side of a very large building indeed.

Wisteria floribunda 'Macrobotrys'

Wisteria floribunda ‘Macrobotrys’

Wisteria care: Now there is a lot said about pruning of wisterias and a lot of mystic surrounds it to. So I am going to try to give some good basics to get you started in the right direction.

A new wisteria: training it on a wired wall.

A) Pruning on planting

1) Cut back the leader to a strong bud approx. 75-90cm above ground level,taking care not to cut below the graft union on grafted cultivators.

2) Remove any existing laterals to stimulate a strong leading shoot.

B) 1st year summer

1) tie in the leading shoot vertically.

2) Select 2 strong laterals and tie them in at 45. angles. Prune any side shoots to about 15cm or to 3 or 4 buds, to begin the formation of flowering spurs.

30 Surplus laterals can be removed.

C) 2nd Year winter

1) Cut back the leading shoot to about 75cm above topmost of the laterals.

2) Lower the pair of laterals and tie into the lowest horizontal wires. Prune them back by approx. 1/3 of their length, to strong ripe growth.

D) 2nd Year summer

1) Continue to tie in the leading shoot.

2) Select the next pair of strong laterals and tie them in at 45. angle.

3) Remove unwanted growth at the base or form the main stem, cutting out completely to it’s point of origin.

4) Tie in the new leading shoot of each lateral, and spur-prune any side shoots back to about 15cm or 3 to 4 buds.

E) 3rd Year winter

1) Cut back the leading shoot to about 75cm above the highest laterals.

2)Lower the topmost laterals and tie in to the nearest horizontal wire.

3) Prune all laterals back by 1/3 to strong growth.

F) Pruning an established Wisteria summer.

1) Continue to tie in the main lateral growths and cut them back when allotted space has been covered.

2) About 2 months after flowering (August), cut back laterals and side shoots to with in 5 to 6 buds,or 15cm of a main branch.

G) Pruning an Established Wisteria winter.

1) Once plant is well established then the planting can and ties can be removed.

2) Cut back the laterals and side shoots pruned in the summer to with in 2 or 3 buds of their base. These will bear the coming seasons flowers.

3) Remove wispy late summer growth made after the summer prune.

4) There should now be several tiers of laterals tied in horizontally.

Wonderous Wisteria!

Wonderous Wisteria!

PLEASE NOTE: these are general guide lines only.

A wisteria in full flower really is a wonder to behold if all this pruning is sounding like hard work and a bit time consuming and complicated and you have a large well established Wisteria that needs some serious TLC and need someone to give you a hand then I know a woman who can. Give me a ring tel:01273 470753. So I can come and help.

Winter pruning of mature Apple and Pear trees

Those that are not in the know, seem to think that as the leaves are off the trees and the garden is ‘asleep’ there is nothing more to be done other than putting your feet up in front of a fire and enjoying a seasonal tipple and waiting for the grass to grow in the Spring. How wrong they are, there are lots of January jobs in the garden and one of those is the pruning of top fruit.

Particularly if you have an older tree, this is essential to keep the tree in good health removing diseased stems and branches. keeping a nice open crown to help prevent the build up of pests and diseases. Also to keep your tree with in the size you want for picking and most importantly of all to rein in all that strong growth and get your fruit tree thinking about producing fruit instead.

pruning a mature pear tree

pruning a mature pear tree

Choose a dry day if at all possible, particularly if you are venturing off the step ladder and up into the crown. Arm yourself with a good pair of secateurs and loppers, pruning saw and long armed pruner for the more out of reach sections.

1) start off on the ground, remove any vertical growth coming up from ground level,next to the main trunk. Remove any lower branches that are going to be in the way of mowing or will have the apples/pears lying on the grass.

2) Walk round the tree, look at it’s shape decide if there are areas that need the crown ‘pulling in’ to reduce the over all size and improve it’s shape.

3) All pruning whether a tiny twig on the top of the tree of a branch, must be taken back to either the bud with a slight sloping cut, or back to a branch joint. NOT cut halfway a long a branch, enabling die back and an unsightly stump. So with bigger branches make your decisions carefully.

careful pruning

careful pruning

4) Work from the ground up into the tree, using good strong step ladders where needed ( if the ground is uneven then it is essential to enlist a ‘ladder holder’ with a firm foot on the bottom rung) Always make sure the ladder is stable before going up it and never stand higher than the top rung or lean out to get that last little bit how ever tempting! Most ladders come with instructions, use them!

5) Remove all damaged and diseased wood including apple canker. Remove any rotting old fruits that are left on the tree how ever small.

removing a branch with apple canker

removing a branch with apple canker

6) Reducing last seasons growth, your tree at this time of year may have a vertical hair style of straight stems, these need to be reduced down to 2 or 3 buds in length back to the main network of the tree, this will help encourage your tree into fruiting.

7) Once pruned then it is worth helping your fruit tree into the next growing season, Codling moth larvae is the enemy of the Apple tree grower, with perfect fruit being cut into to show a rotten eaten core centre, but putting grease bands round the lower trunk of the tree, just above grass level should help to reduce their impact. Also spraying with winter cold tar wash, the new version dose not have tar in and it is approved by the soil association for organic growers, it helps to kill off some of the pests and disease that are over wintering on the branches. Use as per manufactures instructions with full protective clothing including suit, gloves and most importantly a face visor, for spraying higher branches. Only spray on still days and it must dry before a frost. It is also good to clear vegetation if possible from under the tree and mulch well to help with moisture levels in the summer months.

The RHS book, Pruning and Training by Christopher Brickell and David Joyce, is a good practical guide with photos and illustrations to help you. However if this is all sounding rather daunting, and a little beyond your gardening skill, then never fear I know a woman who can, give me a ring 01273 470753 and let me carry out your fruit tree pruning for you.

A Christmas wreath from the garden

There is nothing more wonderful at Christmas than bringing the garden into the house. From garlands of holly and ivy and sprigs of mistletoe, to pots of scented forced bulbs of Hyacinths and paper white Narcissi to the brilliant red of poinsettias and bloucy pink giant cyclamen all are a joy. The icing on the cake of course, is a fresh cut Christmas tree that now sees the humble Norway spruce on the back foot out striped by sturdier and more house friendly ‘non-drop’ varieties of conifers.

But the welcoming show piece that invites both friends and family and Christmas into you home has to be a Christmas wreath on the front door. When that goes up it feels like the festive season really has arrived.

They are easy to make and most gardens have a variety of the raw ingredients needed, you can be as imaginative as you wish, from purists with just ‘naked foliage’, to adding some sparkle by using gold and sliver sprays, to adding Christmas glass balls and flashing lights and everything in between. Also who ever said it had to be round, go wild, square, triangular, or just some draped ivy with a luxuriant red velvet bow, why not?

Top tips for making your own Christmas wreath.

1) making you basic frame; decide on the shape, traditional or your own individual style?

frame for Christmas wreath

Also the size is very important it must be in scale with the door it is going on, think of the postman here, they still need to be able to get at your letter box and you and everyone else the door handle, don’t get to carried away.

I find vines are the best for making a frame that is strong but flexible enough to bend into the desired shape. Have some thin green garden wire at the ready cut into lengths. Cut about three lengths of vine, remove the leaves, start warping the vine into the shape and size you want. The thickness of three strands should be enough, otherwise you will have a very dense frame that will be heavy and stand very proud of the door. Making it an easy target for barging shoulders in overcoats and winter gales. Use the wire to secure your frames shape, leave any longer sections of wire to help secure the foliage.

foliage hunting

2) Now get foliage hunting; cut all foliage to good lengths to allow you to weave it into the frame to secure it. A good evergreen base layer is needed, it can be holly, or ivy with fruiting berries.

vy with fruit heads

varigated ivy

or another evergreen shrub like Viburnum tinus or the common bay. Also choose some variegated foliage, either holly, ivy or Euronymus all are good.

3) The decorative touch; seed heads these can look striking sprayed with gold or sliver or even glitter spray. Alliums, Agapanthus, mop headed hydrangeas and of course teasels

4) Add the colour; Now of course we would all like holly trees dripping with red berries as featured on Christmas cards but for most of us the berry part of our wonderful hollies can be a little bit of a disappointment and if we are lucky enough to have a laden tree the chances are the birds have been feasting since September. So find another source to add that festive splash of red. Cotoneaster, Pyracanthus and of course red rose hips all would work very well.

rose hips

Once it is all safely gathered now is the time to get creative, whether on piles of news paper on the kitchen floor in the green house or garden shed. If you are going to use decorative festive sprays to add a bit of glitz then make sure you have lots of paper down and it is will ventilated.

winter foliage

5) First decide which way is up on your frame, hold it up on the front door. Now add a good length of wire round the frame for attaching the wreath to the front door.

6) Spray the seed heads and foliage, allowing them time to dry.

7) Start weaving your base layer onto the front face of the frame, tieing in with wire.

holly on frame

8) Now add your variegated and sprayed foliage.

sprayed foliage

9) Next add in your seed heads and berries, they can either be spread evenly round the whole wreath or be in groups.

10) Make sure everything is securely wired or woven into the frame it has to last a month and the winter winds.

completed wreath

11) Hanging your Christmas wreath, either from the door knocker or a hook or wide headed screw, both which can be painted to match the door so they are there for many more Christmases to come.

12) Use the wire to attach the wreath firmly to the door.

13) The finishing touch; a ribbon of your choice, traditional red but perhaps you want sky blue pink and as wide or narrow as you desire.

vy with fruit heads

Decorative Christmas Door Spray.

If you have less time and no access to materials to make a good frame then a very quick but equally beautiful Christmas door decoration is a spray of foliage.

1) Gather together foliage as above but make sure it is nice and long. Also add some long tendrils of climbing ivy either common or variegated.

2) Having looked at your door and decided how large, wide and long the spray should be with out interfering with door knobs and letter boxes, start work on your decorative Christmas spray.

3) Lay out your base evergreen layer, fan it out to the desired width.

4) add 2 or 3 long tendrils of ivy which will hang below the main body of the Christmas spray.

5) next add your variegated and sprayed foliage.

6) Decorative touch; add the sprayed seed heads.

7) Finally the berries so they lie down at different heights through the spray.

8) Now it is really important to make sure your creation, looks even and balanced and it is not heavy with foliage on one side, it dose not have to be huge to have impact, don’t forget this has to hang on the door and stay there, don’t get too carried away.

9) Next hang it on the door as above.

vy with fruit heads

10) The finishing touch, the ribbon now you can go a little wild you want about 1.5/2m in length to give you a generous bow at the top and long ribbons that wind through the spray and dip below it down to the ivy.

vy with fruit heads

I delight in bringing the garden in at Christmas and getting creative, great vases stuffed full of different hollies, gleaned fruiting ivy heads and sprayed seed heads from artichokes to alliums, and the berries and hips on anything I can find, shelves are cleared and stacked in boxes for the festive season so I can have as many over flowing vases of wonderful mid winter foliage as possible.

vy with fruit heads

I even have a Christmas tree made of rich red cornus branches hanging with Christmas bobbles and other decorations.

But one of the simplest and most effective of all is to save and dry the heads of Allium Cristophii and A. Schubertii, then spray them sliver. Hang then on a long tread below a light and as they move on the indoor warmth they look like giant snow flakes, quite magical.

Go on get out there, see what treats your winter garden has, get creative!

……………..and enjoy the merry and festive season.

Autumn in the garden. November 2015

The Autumn garden is a magical place, the vibrant summer hues fading,the browns and rusts of turning leaves mingling with the rich colours of late flowering perennials, there is much to be enjoyed and much work to be done.

The new eco-sensitive gardener is of course not a completely tidy one, gone are the days when every herbaceous plant the moment a brown stem appeared is cut down to the ground, instead the prairie garden movement that sprang to life in Germany has made us all appreciate the beauty of clumps of brown stems and seed heads with frost, dew and spiders webs bringing winter beauty to the garden.

Also the gardener can do much to help the wildlife of their garden over winter from the odd small pile of leaves for over wintering amphibians, to larger piles of logs and leaves for hedgehogs, sadly a much rarer visitor to must gardens, to piles of twigs and grass for insects.

But there is still some hard graft that needs to be done. Leaves cleared from the lawns and grassed areas, if you have room, keep the leaves to make into leaf mold, just one or two black bin liners full stuck behind the shed ready for use next year is worth doing. Clearing paths of flopping dying foliage and giving them a good brush and wash down to help stop them being slippery over the winter. There is still time to plant Tulip bulbs now and Lily bulbs into December.

autumn pond maintenance

The big autumn job and one that often gets over looked is if you have a planted pond, be it formal or informal and do not be fooled by the word ‘wildlife’ pond, as natural and balanced as it may be, it will need some maintenance and now is the time to do it. If you do nothing your wonderful pond of any size or style, packed with aquatic, marginal and bog plants, will do what nature intend and in time will go from pond to swamp from swamp to bog garden and finally to land and will be a pond with open water no more.

There is nothing for it, you will have to get down and dirty and hit the water. Depending on the depth of the pond, wellys or wadders and if it is fairly big and deep then a dirty water pump is a great bit of kit to get hold off. Over several hours it will reduce the water level exposing more of the planting and hopefully you will not have to go in over your wellys. Rubber gloves or even washing up gloves are good. For cutting I find a bluntish old bread knife on the end of a long string round the neck every bit as good and easier than gardening secateurs. Containers for putting the plant debris in, plant pots or a big bucket or garden plastic trug, but with holes in. You want something that floats and drains the water out.

wildlife pond autumn maintenance

If it is a sizable pond and you are going to be in it standing on the marginal planting shelves working then see if you can get a second pair of hands to help, by feeding you empty containers to fill, otherwise walking in and out of the pond is not only hard work but you will no doubt be adding more organic matter and soil into the pond.

autumn pond maintenance

You want to cut down all the dying down marginal plants as close to the water surface as possible if you can reach the dying leaves on floaters like water lilies as well even better. You want to remove as much organic matter as you can, to stop it falling to the bottom of the pond rotting and in time filling the pond in. Also reducing the organic matter will help to keep the water in the pond well balanced.

Once you have cut down the bog plants and as much of the marginal planting as you can reach, you should now have some bare pond edges and banks. Now If possible also reduce some of the oxygenating plants as well, a plastic garden rake is best for this running it under the water surface, pulling out what you can, moving round the pond taking one sweep out of each section of the pond, so you do not remove it all. Spread the contents of the rake on the pond banks, remove any obvious aquatic snails. Leave the contents of the rake on the banks over night to allow pond insects and the odd newt to head back into the water.

autumn pond maintenance

All of the pond debris should compost well unless you have some very hardy bull rushes. Do not fear about taking to much out of the pond, remember pond plants are at best vigorous and at worst dame right thugs, if very attractive ones at that.

After all this very hard work, the pond will look a little bare and perhaps very low if you have been pumping to get at the marginals,but with winter rains coming it will quickly fill up again. If you have fish and you pond is less than 1.20/1.30m deep then a couple of tennis balls for small ponds and a football for larger ponds just to stop it completely freezing over is a good idea. By spring it will be full of another years worth of fabulous marginal planting and busy with aquatic life.