Archive for January, 2012


The Beauty Of Bonsai

January 26, 2012

wwwgardendesignercouk-24.JPGBefore Christmas I noticed that more and more shops were selling bonsai trees and Bonsai growing kits.

Bonsai is the art of growing miniature trees in shallow containers, which originated from China.

Whenever I go to gardening exhibitions, I always marvel at their stunning beauty, it certainly is a work of art creating such a splendid living sculpture.

Bonsai trees are ‘real’ trees so therefore they need to be grown outside, however there are trees that naturally grow in a warm climate that could be suitable to be grown in the dry atmosphere of the home.

There are three main methods of miniaturising a tree. The first is to grow it in a shallow container and to keep it in that same size container. Bonsai trees also need to have their roots pruned.

The top pruning of the miniaturised tree is to achieve the framework and overall shape required.

Top pruning will also produce smaller leaves and help produce more denser foliage.

Even though Bonsai is mainly an oriental passion in Japan and China, you don’t have to use exotic trees as many of our British trees will respond to this technique.

After you have chosen your tree you will need to choose which style and shape that is best suited to the tree’s natural design.

There are several main design styles that a tree can be grown into. Formal upright types have their trunks growing straight and upright. Informal upright types grow to their natural form.

Slanting types grow at an angle, but the branches need to be pruned so the tree doesn’t look lopsided. Cascade styles look as if they are naturally growing cascading downwards on a mountain’s side.

Windswept designs make the tree look as if it has been exposed to strong winds, similar to trees growing in windswept coastal areas.

To achieve many of these shapes and design styles, a wiring method is used. The trunk and branches can be wired and then gently bent into the desired shape with the wire removed at a later stage.

Bonsai is not a short-term hobby and it will take many years and even decades to produce the appearance of a mature Bonsai tree, but the rewards will be tremendous.



Planning The Year Ahead!

January 25, 2012

flora4.jpgIt’s during this time of year that many of us plan our next summer holidays and possibly reminisce about our last summer’s break.

When I’m on my summer holidays in my favourite parts of the world, I often think how nice it must be to live in the part of the world where the sun shines most of the time, and then I realise how much I would miss what we have here…

… seasons.

It’s with the seasons that we’re lucky enough to have such a wide variety of plants.

I know that most of us hate the dreary winter months, but natural beauty can still be found in our winter gardens. A winter garden shifts its emphasis from the focus and details of leaves, flowers and colour to more of the outlines of solid and definite geometric shapes.

There’s nothing like a cold frosty morning with the garden sparkling and glistening as the sunlight shines on the plants creating a vivid winter wonderland. I think our gardens take on a completely new dimension in the winter, particularly when it snows and it all looks neat, clean, crisp and uncluttered.

If you’re lucky enough to have outdoor lighting, don’t just use it in theflora4.jpg summer nights when you’re outside with friends, turn it on in the winter evenings and enjoy your stunning night-time winter garden. The forms and structures of a garden such as deciduous trees and pergolas become striking canopies covered with frost or snow, and the winter’s low sun angle will create artistic silhouettes and shadows.

Clipped hedging and topiary create prefect shapes and I think they’re the backbone to a winter garden. A well placed statue or an decorative bench will create a focal point and add interest to dull corner and in a winter garden and will come into its own when most of the surrounding plants will have lost their softening foliage.

Certain plants look so lovely when touched by the frost such as the fine foliage or feathery plume seed heads of ornamental grasses or the frozen long pendent catkins that look like hanging Christmas tree decorations of the evergreen shrub Garrya elliptica.

It’s always interesting going abroad and seeing the native plants and even the weeds; some of which we here regard as tropical plants, however it’s always good to come home to my own garden… and of course, the British seasons.

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January’s Offerings

January 19, 2012

wwwgardendesignercouk-41.JPGIf you take a close look at your garden you will notice that new growths are beginning to emerge. This is a true sign that spring is around the corner, but there is still some way to go.

Early flowering bulbs are starting to push through like Snowdrops, dwarf Irises, Crocuses and Narcissus to give the garden some much-needed forth-coming cheery colour after the dull winter.

A lovely flowering plant for this time of the year is the Hellebores, also known as the Christmas rose, but despite its name it seldom seems to flower in time for Christmas… something to consider for next Christmas.

The flowers of this plant are pendent saucer shaped and come in a variety of subtle colours from white, cream, pink, purple or green. Most Hellebores’ prefer shade, and have evergreen leaves. I think this is a super perennial for winter interest and have several in my own garden.

There are several winter flowering shrubs to choose from to liven up the garden at this time of the year, such as the Hamamelis, Witch Hazel, with its lovely spidery yellow scented flowers blooming on bare branches.

How about the Scarcococca, Christmas Box with its sweet scented small white flowers? Other fragrant flowering shrubs are Chimonanthus praecox, Wintersweet with waxy looking yellow flowers on bare stems or the Lonicera fragrantissima with small creamy white flowers.

Another good shrub for the winter garden is the Daphne odora, which is evergreen and has a sweet, delicate perfume of pink flowers. Another early flowering shrub is the Chaenomeles, Japanese quince; this comes in a variety of colours from white-pink, deep rose-pink, orange, scarlet and red, and can look really super grown against a wall.

If you’re looking for some vertical interest, then you could opt for the winter flowering Clematis, Clematis cirrhosa, which is evergreen and has small bell shaped cream flowers with red flecking on the inside.

Other winter interest in the garden can be provided by the beautiful six to eight inches long grey-green pendent catkins of the Garrya elliptica, Silk-tassel bush or by the catkins of the contorted hazel, Corylus avellana.

For architectural foliage in a winter garden, I think that evergreen ferns look especially stunning when they’re dusted in frost. I think that trees also take on a special magic during this time of the year when the attractive trunks of deciduous trees can now be seen clearly, like the polished mahogany looking bark of the Prunus serrula or the snake patterned bark of the Acer capillipes. The peeling bark of the Acer griseum is particularly tactile.

If you haven’t got enough going on in your garden this month, then do some armchair gardening and plan where you would like some special winter colour and interest in your garden for next year.



In The Cold Of Winter

January 12, 2012

I feel that there is always a special beauty in a winter garden, especially when the frost is glistening on the plants or if there is a blanket of snow covering the trees and shrubs. It never fails to make the garden seem all the more magical for me.

But how do plants survive when temperatures drop so low and they are covered in snow or frozen by the frost? Snow can actually act as insulation for some plants protecting them from the freezing cold.

The damage snow can do to plants is to break branches or stems with its weight, so if there is snow sitting heavily on a plant then simply brush it off. In harsh weather some plants shut down and become dormant to protect themselves. Many plants will reduce their moisture levels or water movement during the wintertime to help avoid frost damage. Most plants are not resilient to cold weather, so they develop hardiness as the light levels decrease and as the length of days shorten. So a sudden hard frost early autumn or late spring will do more damage to the plant injuring un-hardened tissues.

Underground parts of plants such as the roots, or bulbs, corms, tubers and rhizomes are less resistant to the cold as those parts above ground as soil temperatures do not fall as low as the air temperature. These underground parts of plants also act as storage organs for both food and water supply for the plant. The composition of the food material also helps prevent these organs for being frozen by freezing temperatures.

Some plants, such as alpine plants, have adapted well to growing in harsh cold conditions by growing low in compact or mound form as this helps them to withstand the weight of heavy snow. Plants in containers outside may need some insulation for extra protection, as there is not so much soil around it to protect it.

Slightly tender perennials or shrubs can be given extra protection form the frost with a good layer of leaf mould or a layer of straw packed around the base and steams of the plant. We may not be very busy in our gardens at the moment, but we can enjoy, appreciate and marvel at the different natural qualities our garden takes during these winter month.

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Adding Colour In January

January 12, 2012

snowdrrops1.jpgEven in this cold month of January in the gloomy winter season there are plants that can liven up more or less any garden and even make it a flowery, scented and colourful winter wonderland.

One of the first perennial bulbs to pop up around this time of year is the Galanthus plicatus, otherwise known as the Snowdrop. A carpet of Snowdrops with their dainty nodding delicately scented white flowers look so lovely grown beneath trees and shrubs or naturalised in turf.

Another plant worth having in our gardens around this time of the year is the Lonicera, or the shrubby Honeysuckle, with its wonderfully scented flowers. This shrub grows to a height of six feet with clusters of small white flowers and likes a sheltered spot in sun or dappled shade.

The Sarcococca hookeriana, the common name being Christmas Box or Sweet Box, is a useful small shrub for a small garden as it only grows up to two feet in height. This is an evergreen shrub with lovely dark green glossy leaves and clusters of very small honey-scented pink-tinted white flowers and prefers growing in a shady site.

If I had to choose, then I would say that my favourite winter flowering shrub has to be the Chimonanthus praecox, Wintersweet, because of its glorious powerful scent. It also has interesting small waxy-looking yellow flowers and will grow to a height of twelve feet.

Another winter stunner is the Hamamelis, Witch Hazel, which has super, fragrant, spidery, yellow flowers on bare branches and it truly is a good choice for providing winter interest in a garden.  It can be either grown in a shrub, border or as a specimen plant.snowdrops2.jpg

An attractive ground cover for winter colour is the Eranthis hyemalis, the Winter Aconite, which is a vigorous spreading perennial. With its attractive round rosettes of leaves with a bright yellow cup shaped flowers in the centre, it will really brighten up any garden that looks a little sorry for itself around this time of the year. Grow this perennial in full sun but under the canopy of a deciduous tree or shrub, so that the soil isn’t too dry during the summer months.

A winter flowering perennial that I adore and think is a “must” for lovely winter flowering interest is the Helleborus niger, which is also known as Christmas Rose. This beauty has white saucer shaped flowers that are sometimes tinged with pink and it flowers from winter to early spring.

The Helleborus orientalis, better known as the Lenten Rose, comes in a variety of interesting dusky colours and flowers from mid-winter through to spring. After the Helleborus have finished flowering, they continue to provide evergreen interest for the rest of the year with their architectural leaf form.  Helleborus prefer a dapple shaded site where the soil doesn’t dry out too much.

So those shady spots in the garden can really come to life with some winter flowering plants to provide colour interest in the garden for winter.

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It’s In The Stars!

January 10, 2012

saturn.jpgWhether you believe them or just read them for fun, the newspapers this month are full of our horoscope predictions for the coming year. What will be our destiny?  What are the predictions for our wealth, health, career, romance… or how about gardening?

Now it might surprise you that there are schools of thought that suggest the astrological movements in the heavens can actually affect plant growth and help with gardening.

It is said, that as the moon moves through the signs of the zodiac every couple of days, it can govern as to what chores are best carried out in the garden at the best time in order to achieve the optimum result.

As we know the moon has a gravitational effect on the earth and causes the oceans’ tides to rise and fall as well as having a gravitational effect on the fluids in plants. Therefore plants that bear fruit above ground and need the fluid drawn upwards are best planted at New Moon and plants that bear fruits below ground that need the fluids to flow down to the root system should be planted in Full Moon.wwwgardendesignercouk-40.jpg

Astrological gardening is another step on from planting by the phases of the moon. As the moon orbits around the earth and passes through the twelve signs of the Zodiac, it is said that as each sign belongs to one of the elements of Earth, Air, Fire or Water, each sign will have its own characteristic influence on gardening.

When the moon is in the earth signs such as Taurus, Virgo and Capricorn, these signs are said to be very ‘fertile’ and therefore good for planting.

When the moon is in water signs such as Cancer, Pisces and Scorpio, these too are fruitful and productive signs. Scorpio is also a good sign during which to carry out pruning.

The moon in air signs such as Aquarius and Gemini means that the time is barren, very dry and will only work for some plants. Libra is an exception to the rule as it is semi-fertile.

Fire signs too are dry and barren; these are Aries, Leo and Sagittarius. When the moon is in these signs it is a good time for weeding and to harvest.     Apparently, when the moon is void it’s time to take a break and enjoy the fruits of your labour.

So, taking into account as to which zodiac signs promote growth and which are barren, together with the actual phases of the Moon, it becomes apparent that there are ideal times to carry out certain gardening tasks.

So, whether you’re hoping to meet that tall dark stranger or hoping for a bumper crop in your garden, the fate of your garden may be in the stars!




“A New Start…”

January 10, 2012

I always regard January as being the month for armchair gardening.

It’s the time to browse through seed and gardening catalogues or books and plan the garden for the next growing season.

Unfortunately many people don’t think about planning the garden until spring and wish for a perfect garden by the summer, which is not always possible, so now is the time to get planning if you want that lovely garden to enjoy later in the year.

In this weather there’s no better place to plan you garden than by the fireside.

However, if you do feel the need to get out into the fresh air and do some gardening exercise to burn off a few of those festive calories then there are always a few jobs that can be done in the garden.

To start with, rake and sweep up the last of the fallen autumn leaves to keep good hygiene in the garden. You may also find that the frost may have killed off perennials in your flower borders, so these need to be cut down and cleared away and of course there is always a bit of weeding that can be done if you can the brave the winter elements.

Pick a mild day to prune fruit and deciduous trees, cut out dead, diseased or any crossing branches to maintain a healthy tree. Also this is the time of year to plant bare rooted trees, shrubs and roses and again chose a dry mild frost-free day and never plant into frozen ground.

If you need to stretch your legs, then there are so many gardens that you can visit, just wrap up warm and enjoy a bracing walk to blow away the winter cobwebs. You can contact the National Trust and the Royal Horticultural Society and they can give you details of which gardens are open during the winter and details of the opening times.

Most of these gardens will have a restaurant or café where you can enjoy a hot drink to warm up while you get your ideas for your own garden. I think that winter gardens can be very attractive and interesting is planned well.

That’s it again for this week.

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