Keeping Slugs Away !

We all fight what is normally a losing battle against slugs and snails.

Whammy them with nematodes, but new generations keep rolling (slithering) in !

So how about a rethink ?

How about planting your garden to make it very unappetising for slugs and the like (does anybody like slugs ?)

Where to start, well how about alphabetically, original huh !

Astrantia isn’t just a lovely, delicate plant, its a plant that really repels slugs. In fact if it didn’t grow so high, about 70 cm, I would suggest it as a protective border against the things.

Astrantia

This is Astrantia ‘Ruby Wedding’.

Plant them in soil which is not too dry, and preferably in a light or lightly shaded area.

They are not really fussy, but much prefer damp to dry conditions

How about Alchemilla mollis , ‘Ladies Mantle’

Ladies Mantle

Particularly if you like a green ‘spread’, although I think their small yellow flowers really offset the dense green of their leaves.

Not the slugs idea of breakfast at all, although the plant itself is not fussy.

It is fully hardy, likes being moist but well drained and prefers sunny or lightly shaded areas. It will grow to about 50 cm up and round.

Fancy something a little more colourful ?

Aquilegia_columbine_magpie_cultivar_2

How about an Aquilegia ? This is ‘Columbine.

Again not really a fussy plant, happy in sunny (but not to hot) or partially shaded areas.

Weekly watering should do, but I add some wormcast extract to the water to really keep their colours bright.

They can get a bit tall, although 50 cm is normal, but they do look lovely gently swaying in the breeze.

Do you like flowers looking softly elegant in a gentle breeze ?

Well I do, and so I love Astilbes.

astilbe

We have quite a moist bit in the garden, not sure why, but these plants are perfect and so easy to grow !

All they ask is never to be dried out and then they will gracefully grow to about 1 metre.

There are Begonias which I could have included, lovely plants but a bit tender I think.

I prefer plants that stand up for themselves, so I’m going straight to the lovely Crocosmias.

Crocosmias

These lovely plants are happy in partial shade, and just ask to be kept moist.

(Although starting them off with some biohumus rich soil would give them a real treat !)

They welcome being divided each spring, and can grow over a metre tall.

Can anything look more delicate and dainty than a Fuschia ?

Fuchsias

Although these are really shrubs , they are quite small shrubs being only 50 cm high and wide and could give you colour throughout the Summer and early Autumn.

Keep moist and well drained, mulch in winter, and these lovely plants will really give you a a long lasting display, just nodding away to the humming of the bees.

Now I just have such a soft spot for Hellebores.

Hellebores 2

Their shy bobbing heads come out in the darkest months, just when you’re really in the dumps !

There are so many different colours, and so many self seed.

Cannot remember ever having to look after them,  but there they are, just cheering me up every year.

If you can bring your self to cut them, float the upturned heads in a glass bowl.

It makes a beautiful centre piece !

Another lovely plant that just gets on with it is the Japanese anemone ‘Praecox’.

Praecox Anemone

So long as you do not let it get too wet in the winter, it will pop up again in the Spring to give you colour all late Summer and  Autumn.

Divide it in the Spring though, it spreads by suckering and growing to over a metre you may like to tame it a bit.

(But I think a large patch of these Anemones looks absolutely beautiful.)

Simply couldn’t exclude from these suggestions for keeping slugs away without including Penstemons.

Penstemons

Delicate, beautiful, lady like flowers which will repay a bit of feed with lovely flowers from Summer to Autumn.

Just give them a good start with good soil (recommend some biohumus again) in a sunny, or partially shaded position then let them get on with it.

They do not like the cold mind, so mulch well in the winter. Also after the frosts have gone  late April or May say – cut back the old woody stems a bit.

Lastly, because I suspect your getting bored now, there is Lavender.

Particularly god old English Lavender Lavandula angustifolia

(Because it puts up better with British weather !)

English Lavender

It loves the Sun, but does not like heavy soil much so get that compost well dug in !

Prune in late Summer, or early Spring if you like, and enjoy that lovely, genteel fragrance  all summer long.

This is definitely not an exhaustive list of all plants that slugs will try and avoid.

They tend to hate plants with hairy or bitter leaves, they don’t like waxy or glossy ones much either.

(Roses in particular I could have included. Even a Hosta, the ‘Blue’ types, are said to be definitely not on a slug’s menu.)

There are other defences too, all organic.

I have mentioned Nematodes, but  coir mulch mats work wonders for my brassicas

( and my Cosmos come to that, no idea why slugs seem to love it so.)

And how about a small pond ?

It doesn’t have to be big, get a few tadpoles in there and they will really get stuck in when they grow up.

common-frog-

Encourage those endangered Hedgehogs, perhaps with a ‘des. res’

and perhaps a little cat food at night, just to wet their appetite.

DSC_0002Hedgehog 2

Loads of things we can do, but perhaps in the end we are just going to have to accept slugs

need if not TLC at least a bit of supper, just don’t let them be too greedy !

Getting Rid of Those Aphids

Have had loads of inquiries about how to deter Aphids without using chemicals.

Aphids
You could plant onions, garlic, coriander and french marigolds to put them off (incidentally they love Nasturtiums so perhaps planting these could attract them away – works to keep caterpillars off your cabbages too, but I always feel so sorry for the Nasturtiums! )

Nasturtiums
Before I suggest other stuff though, emphasise that I’m not trying to sell you anything it’s just that we do have various remedies because that is what we’re all about, using nature’s natural stuff to help solve problems.
Firstly there are bio controls  http://www.thenaturalgardener.co.uk/aphids.php these are mainly little wasps that get stuck in, they are only suitable for greenhouse application though, but they certainly won’t sting you !
Secondly we have had a lot of success with Neem Oil  http://www.thenaturalgardener.co.uk/pure-organic-neem-oil.p… this is quite thick though and you keep on having to shake the sprayer, coating the leaves and stems really helps ( though some people think it’s smelly.)
Then there is a solution made from boiling soap nut shells  http://www.thenaturalgardener.co.uk/soap_nuts.php, let it cool and spray all over.


We have heard of people digging in banana peel around plants, but a surest, most natural, method is getting lacewings, ladybirds and hoverflies into your garden and I have shown below just some plants that will attract them.

LadybirdlacewingHoverfly

(Always feel the Hoverfly gets a really hard time – whopped regularly because people think they are wasps!)

Achillea – ladybirds and lacewings

Alyssum – hoverflies

Alyssum – hoverflies
Angelica gigas – lace wings
Convolvulus minor – ladybirds and hoverflies
Cosmos bipinnatus – ladybirds and hoverflies
Daucus carota (Queen Anne’s lace)- ladybirds, lacewings and hoverflies

Queen Annes Lace
Filipendulina – Ladybirds and lacewings
Foeniculum vulgare (fennel) – ladybirds and lacewings
Iberis umbellate – hoverflies

Iberis
Limonium latifolium (Statice) – hoverflies
Lupin – hoverflies
Petroselinum crispum (parsley) – hoverflies
Tanacetum vulgare (tansy) – ladybirds and lacewings.
Tagetes tenuifolia Marigold – lemon gem – ladybirds and hoverflies (This plant deters Aphids by itself.) 

Lemon Gem

There are some weeds that are also ideal to attract these good guys – Dandelions for example – but maybe that’s going too far (but I leave an entire patch ‘cos bees like them too!)

Have a great season.

Wonderful Winter Smells

We have a pretty small front garden, basically only about 15′ wide down to the lane, but the size doesn’t stop it giving the most wonderful fragrances even at this time of the year.

These are the shrubs whose lovely smells really cheer us up every time we go out into the cold.

This is Viburnum x bodnantense ‘Dawn’

Viburnum 'Dawn'

This lovely shrub grows over the years to about 2.5 metres, but long, long before that it will be giving you lovely fragrant flowers right through the winter. Very tolerant of all soils, just likes a bit of drainage and will even tolerate a bit of shade.

The next shrub is which really cheers up each winter’s morning is a honeysuckle,  Lonicera x purpusii ‘Winter Beauty

Lonicera purpusii

Again this lovely shrub, which also can grow over 18 years or so 2.5 metres, is not very fussy in liking most soils.

Will also put up with some shade too.

It flowers from about January to April, and it never fails to surprise with its lovely fragrance – even on the most miserable day !

Witch hazels are lovely veratile shrubs, and we are lucky enough to have a mature Hamamelis mollis to cheer us up right through these long, cold mid winter months.

Hammelis mollis

These lovely shrubs can grow up to about 4 metres though, our mature one is about that. Although as the branches are quite delicate it certainly will not be overpowering.

They are pretty tolerant, though prefer acid to neutral soils.

Lastly we have two lovely Box’s in our small front garden, both giving colour and the warmest of fragrances on the coldest, greyest of a winter’s day.

The first is Sarcococca confusa.

Sarcococca

It will grow eventually to about 2 metres, and its small creamy flowers have such a cheerful, almost sweet, smell (and I think the really shiny black berries are attractive in their own right.)

Again pretty tolerant, although tends to prefer shade over bright sunshine, although prefers a bit of shelter from harsh winter winds.

The other Box we are really chuffed about is another ‘Sweet’ Box Sarcocca hookeriana

Sarcococca hookeriana

We have this planted next to the ‘confusa’ and both are now mature at about 1.5 metres. They are pretty similar and tolerant in requirements, but are not very happy in full Sun.

With all these shrubs, happily sitting amongst the snowdrops, the long, essential (but to me sometimes frustrating) dormant period of winter seems a bit more bearable.

Also don’t forget how you will be helping those early rising bees – they will be even happier than you with your oasis of winter colour and fragrance !

Take some cuttings from amenable gardeners in the Spring or Summer, and in a couple of years you could have a fragrant garden on the darkest of days !

Wonderful world of colour……..In your vegetable garden

“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” they say (in fact who did  first say that) but although we all love growing, and eating, vegetables can we really say they all look beautiful in our garden ?

Well I think most do, but if we have limited space, perhaps a town garden or just a raised bed or two, then wouldn’t it be great if we could combine growing vegetables with something nice to look at ?

Anyway I just thought a few ideas of particularly attractive vegetables, which could give you colour through a lot of the year, may be helpful.

(Just my ideas – sure you have lots of your own !)

How about starting with ‘Bright Lights’ Chard, really love this plant which can give quite vibrant colour from mid summer until quite late in the Autumn.

Bright Lights Chard

Now I know Broccoli is not everybody’s favourite, but an early sprouting purple broccoli can bring a bit of cheer to your veg. bed as early as March.

Early Purple Sprouting Broccoli

Sticking with the Broccoli family, you may even get the kid’s interested with the fascinating ‘Romanesco’

Romanesco broccoli

By seeding at different times, early Spring to July, you can get a crop through Summer to Autumn.

Allow a bit of room though, the plants can spread a bit !

I think the beautiful red flowers on Runner Beans are lovely, but unfortunately they are quite short lived before the beans come along.

runner bean

But how about if you could grow beans where the actual bean pods themselves gave some really interesting colour ?

For example here is the Borlotti Bean

Borlotti beans f

Again you can sow at different times to ensure colour from Summer to Autumn. You can  pick them as ‘Dwarf’ beans or let them grow up a bit.

I love the colours of Borlottis, but how about a bit of a contrast with the ‘Hildora’ Dwarf Bean ?

Dwarf Bean Hildora

This little bean, which keeps its colour after cooking, can be harvested from July onwards.

Some of the prettiest and daintiest vegetables are in the ‘Lettuce’ family ( huge family the ‘compositae’ even includes Sunflowers !)

Have a couple of real favourites though.

First the  gorgeous ‘Red Salad Bowl’ bringing your bed such vibrant colours.

lettuce-red-salad-bowl1-lg

But can you imagine a circle of these lovely plants being offset by some Lollo Rosso, perhaps in the middle ?

Lollo Rosso

You can keep seeding lettuces from February on to late summer, but they may need a bit of thinning.

Artichokes are another vegetable that doesn’t get everyone’s taste buds going – don’t care though, I love ’em !

The Violetta di Chioggia is a particularly beautiful plant.

Violetta di Chioggia Artichoke

Almost a shame to pick these, particularly as you only normally eat the base of the leaf.

They are perennials, but they may need some protection during the winter .

Ever tried fried Courgette flowers ? They are delicious !

Courgette flowers

Amazing crops you get from a Courgette plant too, for constant cropping you just need to keep picking. They will crop right up to late Autumn sometimes.

I like Borage in salads, and know people who also use it regularly in soups.

I also love its blue flowers.

(It’s used in both a traditional and modern medicine too, for a huge range of ailments!)

Borage

This is not an exhaustive list of wonderful looking looking vegetables, just a taster really (terrible pun.)

But I would like to finish on a real looker, but one perrenial you will need to keep under control.

The ‘Lardizabala’, which comes all the way from Chile.

(Like some of my favourite Sauvignon !)

Lardizabala

This is an evergreen climber – that can turn into a tree.

The soft, pulpy fruit is considered quite a delicacy in Chile and Peru, anybody tasted one ?

Don’t forget that you can add lots of colour to your vegetable garden with companion planting too.

Nasturtiums

Nasturtiums for example, lovely edible plants that can attract caterpillars and black fly away from your beans and lettuces.

Marigolds too are really bright and lovely, and their smell wards off the Aphids, but attracts the Hoverflies which feed on them (the greenfly that is !)

Double Whammy !

330px-African_Marigold

This is the Tagetes erecta – the African Marigold.

In fact companion planting is a fascinating subject, but one for another blog.

Dreaming of …….anything but mud !

“Really welcome the seasons, each has its joys”, that’s what I’m supposed to say.

But really I hate being cold, surrounded by greyness and constantly having my wellies pulled off in the mud !

O.K., O.K. I know it’s essential, that this dormant period really is part of the overall ‘design’, and  so many plants needing the cold – but I don’t have to like it.

Particularly needed cheering up today as we have had to take down a lovely old apple tree that grew outside our back door.

People who know, practical people, said it was causing the cracks in the wall, causing subsidence ; they were right of course, practical people nearly always are.

But where are the blue tits and sparrows going to squabble when they wait in the queue for the bird table ?

        OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

And what is that beautiful, wonderfully smelly, Musk Rose now going to grow up ?

Mind you, it was when I thought of this glorious, if short flowering rose, that I began to cheer up.

Cheer up by planning what plants, what climbers, I could plant on perhaps a trellis or pagoda to if not replace at least partially compensate for the loss of our old tree.

(And I’m sure the birds will squabble quite happily on the ‘cross’ pieces – sorry terrible pun !)

There are so many to choose from, and here is just a few ‘contenders’.

I love the fragrance of Woodbine (Lonicera periclymenum) and Fragrant Virgin’s Bower (don’t you just love the old names – we call it Clematis flammula)  although I know I would have to keep both under control.

             Clematis - Virgin's Bower

         ‘Virgin’s Bower’

But there are so many others, Forsythia Vermont Sun (Forsythia mandschurica), Chocolate Vine (Akebia quinata ), Lemon Vine  (Aloysia triphylla), Pink  Jasmine ( Jasmine x stephanese), a  lovely Honeysuckle (Lonicera delavayi )

                                              lonicera delavayi                                                            Lonicera delavayi

or then there are  roses: the ‘Dublin Bay’ with so many flowers, the ‘Maigold’  really cheering us up with early flowering and then on to ‘Golden Showers’ which will bloom well into the Autumn.

But then thinking about Autumn made me think of winter again, and was warmed by the idea of another Jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum), which blooms when Spring seems so far away.

  Winter jasmine

Winter Jasmine

Broadly though, for both colour and beautiful fragrances, I think I will concentrate on three particular families, Jasmine, Honeysuckle and Roses.

But which to choose ?

Think I have decide – for today at least !

Jasminum officinale ( Poet’s Jasmine – so much nicer than calling it ‘Common’ Jasmine) with its summer long white flowers would be wonderful, particularly if planted with  Lonicera x heckrottii ( Goldflame Honeysuckle) as both really release some wonderful fragrances in the evening – or white wine time as the period is also known . Evergreen ( ‘ish’ in the case of the honeysuckle) and easy to care for, both love the Sun but will tolerate a bit of shade at least – I just can’t be doing with fussy plants ( or kids !)

An added bonus is that birds love the red berries of the Lonicera, and so that got me on to roses, or rather rose hips.

One of our summer evening delights, as well as sipping chilled white wine surrounded by fragrant climbers, is watching the birds feed.

So next I think it will have to be, as I say for now at least, a ‘Francis E. Lester rambling rose.

This is a really tough, strong rambler which may need a firm hand and, as with most roses, you must watch out for the thorns.

But it is so beautifully fragrant in the summer, the dark foliage really setting off the pale pink and white flowers, and in the Autumn there are simply masses of small orange/red rosehips which the birds will absolutely love !

So these are my three choices on this particular grey winter’s day – birds, bees and us all catered for.

But I may have other ideas tomorrow !

The choices we have are so wide, and so wonderful, that thinking about planting new fragrant plants is a perfect way to put grey, damp, cold days into the background.

There is one thing about these winter days in this dormant period though, it is the best time to plant your bare root shrubs and roses.

Just drop me a line if you need any help, but one thing I would definitely recommend is organic Mycorrhiza for the roots.

(O.K. I know, we just happen to sell it http://bit.ly/mj7NKw  – but buy it anywhere you like because it really is one of nature’s ‘wonder drugs’ !)

On to tomorrow now…… perhaps on reflection something really practical would be a real boon, a real addition –  and I love the flowers of runner beans ….. sound of the bees ….

Runner bean 2

Help Wildlife In Your Garden this Winter (Then wildlife will help you in the Spring!)

It is estimated that there are over 15,000,000 gardens in the UK, can you just imagine how much we can contribute to wildlife (or destroy it!)

Us gardeners can transform the environment, can really help those bees and other pollinators so, so easily.
How ? With wildlife havens.
Cost ? An odd pallet,few piled logs,couple of sandbags, a natural patch – BIG money !

(The photo shows a real luxury hotel, but could give you a few ideas – although couple of logs mouldering away could be Shangri La for a lot of beasties !)

wildlife-trust-insect-hotel

We can just stick on another jumper or, to be honest, turn up the heating when the weather becomes really cold.

Beneficial insects and animals chilling out the winter months can’t, and many will not make it whatever we do.
But it’s so simple to offer a ‘home’, a haven, to at least help them survive. Survive and get busy in the Spring and Summer pollinating your garden ( or getting stuck into your slugs and aphids !) 

Bumblebees ( hibernating bees are always potential ‘Queens’) hedgehogs, butterflies*, toads, ladybirds …. just so many of beneficial animals which you will really appreciate in your garden.

So it’s definitely in your interest to make sure they do wake up !

Curb all that enthusiasm to cut back and make ‘tidy’ as well, what’s scruffy to you is a well ordered garden city to them.
(And don’t forget to moan at your council next year – we don’t want those verges cut!)

* Some of our favourite butterflies overwinter as adults: Peacocks, Tortoiseshells, Red Admirals and Brimstones for example, but many others try to hang in there as eggs, or even caterpillars.

Peacocksmall tortoiseshellred AdmiralBrimstone

Edible Plants You Should Treat with a Little Caution

In my earlier blog I mentioned lots of lovely garden plants that can be eaten to make a really beautiful and edible garden.

Deliberately I left out a few that can be eaten but could in some way cause problems, but now I’m adding what I know about these plants in case I’m accused of ‘nannying’!

These ‘be careful’ plants come in all shapes, colours – and flavours.

Agastache anisata/foeniculum – I think these are really lovely ‘all rounders’. They not only look lovely, and have a beautiful delicate scent of aniseed, but bees, butterflies and lots of birds really, really love them.

Both flowers and leaves can be added to cakes, desserts, and yoghurts for a subtle flavour and fragrance of anise.

It really is best avoided though if you are pregnant  ( its a real shame that pregnant ladies  have to miss out on stuff so often !)

anise-hyssop-agastache-foeniculumAgastache

Begonia – but only the tuberhybrida, and only the petals. Delicate lemony taste, and the crispy texture is nice, but as they have a high content of oxalic acid so don’t make a pig of yourself ! (And if you have a tendency to gout, kidney stones or rheumatism then avoid altogether.)

Begonia_x_tuberhybrida_1005Pink1

Borage – Another lovely flower I think (although I am partial to blue flowers.) Mix the flowers into salads, fruit salads or drinks to add a cucumber taste, plus they really add to the look of any dish.

Again though, best avoided by pregnant ladies and mums who are lactating . They can also have a diuretic effect, so would suggest no more than 7 or 8 flowers at a ‘sitting’ !

Borage

Catmint – Nepeta cataria is another of my favourites (blue again you see) and its flowers have quite a strong flavour combining mintiness ( surprise) and spiciness.

Goes beautifully with lamb and can pep up vegetables and pasta dishes, but for pregnant women though, the ‘Nepeta’ is definitely best avoided.

Heb_Catmint

Daisy – You can play ‘Love Me – Love Me not’ as you pull the flowers apart to make a lovely petal garnish to all sorts of dishes from soups to salads. Not much flavour, although some people think they are bitter, and be careful if you a subject to allergies or hay fever.

They can trigger both.

Daisy

Daylily – Admit I do not grow these, they really are so short lived (‘Day Lily’ the clue is in the name !)

However, they really are versatile, almost like a vegetable. The early foliage (tasting a little like delicate onion when fried) later flowers and buds (raw or cooked adding sweetness) and even the rhizomes (nutty flavour) are edible – all are often found in Chinese cooking.  What’s to be cautious about then ?

Well nothing so long as you only consume Daylillies Hemerocallis , just hate anybody to think that all lillies (Lillium)are edible – they’re not, they are poisonous !

Striped_daylilies

Garland Chrysanthemum – coronnarium. There is nothing to be cautious about here either really. The strongly spiced flowers add  pep to salads, and ‘Japanese Chrysanthemum’ soup can be a real signature dish. But I just feel the same as I do about the Daylilly and Lillies in general, only ‘coronarium’ is safe – avoid all other Chrysanthemums.

Chrysanthemum - coronarium

Phlox – paniculata. Really beautiful fragrant flowers, with a spicy flavour that adds real pizzaz to fruit salads. (Some people crystallize them as they look so lovely decorating cakes and pastries.)  Nope nothing wrong at all with the perrenial paniculata, but do not confuse it with the annual creeping phlox (Phlox subulata) this is NOT edible, and this is the only reason it’s on my ‘caution’ list.

paniculata

Poppy – Papaver somniferum and paeoniflorum. Well all poppies are poisonous, and it is only the seeds from these two species that are edible, nothing else. I do love them though baked into, or sprinkled on the top, of bread (they always go everywhere when I’m cutting a slice though !)

Unless you know exactly which poppies are safe though, think they are best left in the garden.

Think every garden should have these cheerful plants though, do you know of any flower which is so poignant, evocative and beautiful ?

Papaver_somniferum_flowers

Hope this blog gives a few more ideas for your ‘Edible Garden’.

Treat cautiously and all of the above plants will really add to your environment, and your kitchen !

 

We believe in Nature's Natural Cycle and only use sustainable, organic products to help our plants grow – that means peat and plastic free gardens. We also take the toxic stuff out of everything from paint stripper to wood treatment and pest control. Come and join the gardening revolution!

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