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Issue No 154 Winter 2017


Celebrate the festive season

NATURE’S WAY Perfect gifts for gardeners House plants for winter

Great looking Christmas trees SOMERSET GARDEN EVENTS THROUGH TO THE NEW YEAR A family run business that has been growing since 1967 CROCKERTON, WARMINSTER, WILTSHIRE 01985 217413


Coates English Willow growing willow since 1819

NATURAL, SUSTAINABLE FENCING AND GARDEN PRODUCTS We offer a full range of willow hurdles, trellis and arches. Standard sizes from £29 or bespoke sizes available on request. In-situ service also available - we will come and weave your fencing on site. Please ring 01823 490249 for a quotation and delivery charges.

PH Coate & Son Ltd, The Willows & Wetlands Visitor Centre, Meare Green Court, Stoke St Gregory, Taunton, TA3 6HY

Please visit our website for further details

Up Front!

‘From December to March, there are for many of us three gardens - the garden outdoors, the garden of pots and bowls in the house, and the garden of the mind’s eye.’ - Katherine S. White


Get Somerset potato days in your diary For those with a love for growing potatoes, a potato day is the beginning of the growing season. So here are some dates for your diary for next year as another series of popular potato days are planned by leading Somerset nursery Pennard Plants. Potato days, as the name suggests, are a place to buy seed potatoes and often with 80 to 100 varieties to choose from, it is easy to spend longer than you ever thought you could looking at potatoes! It’s the 12th season Pennard has held its potato days in conjunction with garden clubs and societies. New venues have been added for 2018 so you should find an event close to you. Many events are free, some make a small charge for entry towards club funds, all will have parking nearby. Refreshments are available at most of the events. The full list of dates is available at Dates for Somerset include: SUNDAY, 14TH JANUARY Bristol Potato Day & Seed Fair. Beans and Herbs, and Pennard Plants.Windmill Hill City Farm, Philip Street, Bedminster, Bristol BS3 4EA. Free admission. 10am-1pm. SUNDAY, 21ST JANUARY Somerset Potato Day. Caryford Community Hall, Maggs Lane, Ansford, Castle Cary. BA7 7JJ. Free Admission. Ample parking.10.30am to 1.30pm. SUNDAY, 18TH FEBRUARY Dulverton Potato Day. Dulverton Middle School, Fishers Mead, Dulverton, Somerset, TA22 9EE. Refreshments, Free admission. Organised by Dulverton Gardening Club.

Forde Abbey gardens get all lit up One of the most spectacular gardens in the south west is to have a special Christmas makeover. Forde Abbey, near Chard, is offering a chance to share in the joy and wonder of the season with an enchanting trail around the gardens. For the first time, they will be lighting the long borders, illuminating the champion trees and casting a magical shine over the house - Forde Abbey as you’ve never seen it before. You can warm your hands on a mug of mulled wine in the tearooms and enjoy mince pies and a selection of homemade festive favourites on the menu. Forde Abbey’s ‘White Christmas’: 7th - 21th December, 4pm - 8pm. Normal admission prices apply.

Celebrating the Chistmas tree The hugely popular Christmas Tree Festival is being held at St John’s Church, The Park, Keynsham over the weekend of 8th to 10th of December. Seventy trees will be available for groups to decorate in their own unique style. The weekend is a community occasion where local groups can showcase their work by entering a decorated Christmas tree. During the festival there will be musical events and refreshments available. For enquiries please ring 0117 9862088 or email treefestival@ St John’s Church, The Park, Keynsham, Bristol, Somerset BS31 2BL.

Anne Swit hinbank at Chardstock Gardening Club

Anne Swithinbank, one of Britain’s best known gardening presenters and a member of Gardeners’ Question Time for BBC Radio Four, is the keynote speaker at Chardstock Gardening Club on Wednesday, 17th January. She has written many books, the most recent being The Greenhouse Gardener, published by Frances Lincoln. She has also co-presented Channel 4’s extensive coverage of Chelsea Flower Show. Anne will talk about ‘under cover gardening’, raising and caring for plants in greenhouses, conservatories and indoors. The talk starts at 7.30pm at Chardstock Community Hall. This is a ticketed event, tickets available at £6, free to club members. For more details about the evening phone 01460 221619.

SOMETHING T O LOOK F ORWARD T O The new 2018 season Spring edition of Somerset Country Gardener will be available over the weekend of 9th, 10th and 11th February.

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Snowdrop garden openings in Somerset for the NGS Plantsman’s garden ELWORTHY COTTAGE near Exmoor, historic NYNEHEAD COURT near Wellington, and EAST LAMBROOK MANOR, the former home of the gardening legend Margery Fish, will all be opening for the charity. ELWORTHY COTTAGE is a one-acre garden in a tranquil setting planted to encourage wildlife by owners Mike and Jenny Spiller whose garden is attached to their plant nursery.

Elworthy Cottage

Auction of over 20,000 trees and shrubs at Dulford Nurseries After nearly 40 years Dulford Nurseries in Cullompton are closing the gates for the final time in December this year. The nursery was open until 17th November. They then shut in preparation for an auction of all remaining stock on Saturday 2nd December, starting at 10am. Everything must go - over 20,000 trees and shrubs and the nursery equipment and machinery. The nursery covers 15 acres planted up with a range of native and ornamental trees and shrubs with sizes from small hedging plants to mature trees. Most stock has been propagated on the nursery from seed, grafts or cuttings. The stock will be sold individually and in bulk. There is also a wide range of containerised specimens. A full list can be obtained by e-mailing Sale catalogues are available at or contact Stags on 01769 572042 for a catalogue. Email or Tel: 01884 266361 Dulford Nurseries, Cullompton, Devon EX15 2BY.

The garden will open for the NGS on the weekend of 3rd and 4th February, 11am-5pm, the nursery open at the same time. Visits are available by arrangement to see the snowdrops at other times in February and then from April to September. Elworthy Cottage, Elworthy, TA4 3PX. For more details call 01984 656427, email or visit NYNEHEAD COURT, now a residential home, has gardens that feature on English Heritage’s list of gardens of historic interest, created as we see them today during the Victorian period. Head gardener Justin Cole will lead garden tours on open days at 2pm. The garden’s snowdrop opening for the NGS is on Sunday 18th February from 2pm-4.30pm. Admission £6.50, children free. Nynehead Court, Nynehead, Wellington TA21 0BN. For other openings call 01823 662481 or email EAST LAMBROOK MANOR, two miles from South Petherton, with its noted collections of snowdrops opens for the NGS on Saturday 17th February, 10am-5pm. Admission for adults £6, children free. Teas are available, plants for sale and dogs on leads are allowed. Coaches are welcome, but wheelchair access is limited due to narrow paths and steps. There is also the excellent Margery Fish Plant Nursery. The gardens will also be open for the NGS on Sunday 13th May and Saturday 2nd June; for other opening times and details go to the feature on snowdrop gardens on page 24. Call 01460 240328, email or visit the website at

‘A CERTAIN SLANT OF LIGHT’ AT HESTERCOMBE The history of Hestercombe, just outside of Taunton comes to life as acclaimed photographer, Trish Morrissey brings two new bodies of work to the gardens, inspired by the last female occupants of Hestercombe House, Miss Warre (17901872) and Mrs Portman (1854-1951) who both independently ran the estate. Morrissey has created the work, which includes stills and film, through a residency at Hestercombe – immersing herself in the individual’s lives through archive material such as photographs, drawings, and letters. Morrissey’s work creates a visual drama that brings the past vividly to life. ‘A Certain Slant of Life’ is open now and runs through to 25th February open 11m to 4pm every day. Hestercome Gallery, Hestercombe Gardens, Cheddon Fitzpaine, Taunton, Somerset TA2 8LG



Snowdrop gardens opening in north Somerset There are lots of opportunities to see snowdrops throughout February in private gardens opening for the National Gardens scheme in north Somerset. ROCK HOUSE at Elberton, Thornbury BS35 4AQ opens on Sunday 4th February and Sunday 11th February, from 11am until 4pm both days. Admission is £3.50 to this two-acre garden with its pretty woodland where carpets of snowdrops, hellebores and spring bulbs follow in succession. VINE HOUSE, Henbury Road, Henbury BS10 7AD also opens for the NGS on Sunday 4th February, from 11am until 3pm, admission £4. The romantic gardens at historic HANHAM COURT, with its blend of formal elegance and natural woodland beauty, opens for the NGS on Sunday 11th February, 11am-4pm, as does the SHERBORNE GARDEN at Litton, Radstock BA3 4PP

which also opens on Monday 12th February from 11am until 4pm, with admission £4. Hanham Court is at Ferry Road, Hanham Abbots BS15 3NT; admission is £5. Snowdrops at Hanham Court Sherborne Gardens is more than four acres of gently sloping garden with a small pinetum, holly wood and many unusual trees and shrubs, snowdrops and hellebores, cottage garden, ponds linked by a wadi and rills with stone and wooden bridges. SOUTHFIELD FARM, Backwell, Bristol BS48 3PE opens on Thursday 22nd February between 11am and 3pm, admission £4. Apart from the snowdrops there are aconites, heathers, hellebores and more with paths through a native meadow to a woodland garden and large wildlife pond with bird hides; near the house there are courtyards and a terrace. For more details go to or look out for the annual NGS handbook available from February.

Shepton Mallet festival has unique claim to fame Shepton Mallet Snowdrop Festival, now in its second year, has a unique claim to fame: Shepton Mallet was the home of the great Victorian snowdrop collector and amateur horticulturalist James Allen (1830-1906), the first person to breed new varieties from wild strains. The Victorians were crazy about snowdrops; the humble flower was the favourite of Prince Albert and on 10th February, 1840 Queen Victoria’s wedding posy was made solely of snowdrops. James Allen had his own splendid collection, the largest in England until most of it was fatally damaged by botrytis and narcissus fly. Two of the over 100 varieties he bred still exist – ‘Merlin’ and ‘Magnet’ – and the RHS has given them its Award of Garden Merit. The festival, takes place on 16th, 17th and 18th February, and is an initiative of the Shepton Mallet Horticultural Society. During 2017 the society, aided by members of the local community, planted 130,000 Galanthus nivalis bulbs around the town, to add to the 60,000 they planted in 2016 to be in bloom for the festival. The festival will be opened on Friday, 16th February by Michael Eavis and will focus on encouraging participation from the local community with snowdrop themed events including a children’s fancy dress parade. For more information visit 6

Country Gardener

Open day delights at Niwaki tools Niwaki, the worldwide supplier of tripod ladders, fine pruning tools and other gardening tools from Japan have a special open day on Friday 24th and Saturday 25th of November. Niwaki Open House, open from 10am to 6pm on Saturday and 10am to 2pm on Sunday is the perfect opportunity to see the entire range of secateurs, pruning shears, woodworking tools, Japanese kitchen knives as well as the legendary three legged trip ladders. The Japanese tools are becoming increasingly popular with gardeners and the open day offers the chance to add them to your Christmas gift list. Niwaki, 8 Chaldicott Barns, Tokens Lane, Semley, Shaftesbury SP7 9AW. Email: Tel: 01747 445059. openhouse


vonfield Gardens


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Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’

Winter f lowering daphnes Sometime sensitive, sometimes short-lived Gill Heavens says that daphnes with their wonderful scent, foliage and fabulous flowers are worth persevering with From Europe to Asia and into northern Africa are found between 50-95 species of daphne, members of the family Thymelaceaceae. Many have fine foliage and fabulous flowers, but this is not the reason many choose to grow them in their gardens. For most, the primary purpose for desiring a daphne is to appreciate their incredible, headswaying scent. Amongst the genus there are those that flower in spring and summer, but the few that I will concentrate on here are winter bloomers. These bless us at a time when they are most appreciated by humans and hungry pollinators alike. This evergreen or deciduous shrub is named after a character from Greek mythology, one that has often been featured in art, literature and opera. Daphne was a naiad, a beautiful nymph, who like many others caught the attention of the irreproachable Apollo. He made chase. Just before he caught her she appealed for help from her father, the river god Ladon, who duly turned her into a laurel tree. I’m not sure how much of a help this was in the end, 8

Country Gardener

but I am sure he did his best. The daphne is sometimes known as Laurel Spurge. One of the most well-known of these winter wonders is Daphne bholua, which is widespread throughout the Eastern Himalyas. It is also known as the Nepalese Paper Plant as the bark is indeed used to make paper. Growing to more than 2m in height, it enjoys a lime free soil. Flowering over a long period, from midwinter into spring, it will grace your garden for several months A fine deciduous cultivar is D. bholua var. glacialis ‘Gerkha’ which was collected in Nepal in 1962. It is red in bud but opens to sparkling white flowers with a heady perfume. It is also very hardy. A seedling from Gerkha has given us the high goddess of daphnes, the wondrous Daphne bholua ‘Jacqueline Postill’. Her large flowers are pinkish purple on the reverse, paler on the front and divinely fragrant. These are followed by black berries. ‘Darjeeling’ has smaller flowers but starts to bloom slightly earlier, from late autumn to late winter. Daphne laureola is native to much of Southern and Western Europe, including the UK, and North Africa. It has yellow-green flowers in late winter which of course are fragrant. These are followed by black fruit which are poisonous to all but the birds. It has a tendency to be rather leggy, reaching a lax 1m tall. The matt evergreen leaves are an attractive bonus and it is happy anywhere from sun to full shade.

Be careful when handling, as this plant has been known to cause an allergic skin reaction. For a more compact version try the Pyrenean Daphne laureola subsp. philipii. This subspecies is dwarf in stature, only reaching 20cm, and more compact in form. The fragrance is strongest at dusk, irresistibly attracting moths. Next we have the most fragrant one of all, Daphne odora. This sprawling plant, which comes from China and Japan, was first introduced into this country in 1771. The flowers are pale lilac-pink, darker on the back and appear from late winter into spring followed by reddish purple berries. Due to its relaxed habit it can be trained up a wall or over a bank spreading to 2m. Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’ is a great beauty, with narrow golden margins to its leaves. It is also much hardier than its green parent, who is a little more delicate than some daphnes, but will forgive a little frost.

Daphne bholua

Finally let me introduce the bizarrely beautiful Daphne mezereum. One of its common names is February Daphne and this is indeed when it begins to flower. Pairs of dark pink or pinkish red blooms are produced tight to the upright leafless branches which are followed by scarlet berries. The effect of this is quite stunning. It enjoys cool conditions, being native to most of Europe including Scandinavia, western Asia and Siberia, and likes a heavy limy soil. There is a white flowered variety called Daphne mezereum f. alba which has amber fruit. ‘Bowles Variety’ has white flowers and white fruit and Daphne mezereum ‘Rosea’ has large rose pink flowers. Some daphnes can be rather sensitive. They dislike root disturbance, so shouldn’t be moved once established, and would prefer minimal pruning. They don’t like to be too wet in winter or too dry in summer. What they do like is good drainage and constant moisture levels.

Daphne mezereum

In fact what they desire is the Utopia of soil conditions, “moist but well-drained”! Give them protection from cold winds and, although they will tolerate some shade, they will flower better with a little sun. In spite of their wonderful scent do not be fooled into thinking all is palatable, the whole plant is extremely toxic. Daphnes can be short-lived, dying seemingly on a whim, some however may last for decades. However once you have experienced the swooning scent I am sure you will agree it is worth the lottery. When planting remember they are at their best in the depths of winter. At this time of year you might be less inclined to venture too far from the warmth. Site them close to the house, where their incredible scent will bring a smile to your face on the bleakest of days.

Daphne laureola 9


Country Gardener


Practical advice every issue on a range of gardening issues, problems and solutions

When to call it a day on your lawn

Growing nut trees in your garden

There will be occasions when you’ve tried all the usual ways to improve your lawn and you are still left with measures that haven’t worked. So when should you just give up trying top improve and decide that the lawn needs to be replaced and not renovated. It’s worth applying a number of tests. Is the surface of your lawn made up of more than a quarter to a third of either moss or weeds? Are there large numbers of bare patches which you are struggling to deal with?

There are five edible nuts that grow in the UK but only three are worth the bother: hazelnuts, sweet chestnuts and walnuts. Raising trees from nuts can be interesting and good fun.

Sometimes a lawn is just too far gone

Are there perennial weeds that weed killers cannot eradicate? You will probably have a good idea when a lawn is beyond help but it’s a tough decision as the work required to improve poor lawns is as much as if not more than replacement. Repairs can take several years and still not give satisfying results. The determining factor is the size of the lawn. If you do decide to replace the lawn then try and solve the underlying problems to prevent the new lawn from becoming scraggy. Improve poor soils, install drainage to prevent waterlogging and use tough or shade tolerant grass seed mixes in difficult growing areas. 10

There are a number of nut-bearing trees well suited to the British climate and yet they are too often overlooked as a source of food. This is a shame as many products produce delicious crops, look decorative and attract wildlife, helping to increase the number of pest predators in your garden. Hazel which include cobnuts and the closely related filberts are the most popular of these trees. They do not get too large and offer a stunning display of catkins. Other types might be more challenging but if you have the space and patience they are worth growing. These include the almond, a relative of the peach which can be trained against a south facing wall to produce a crop of sweet nuts. Choose a late flowering variety to avoid frost damage to the delicate flowers.

Diagnosing honey fungus Honey fungus is the common name given to several different species of fungi (Armillaria) that attack and kill the roots of many woody and perennial plants. The most

Country Gardener

Acer griseum

Here’s our choice of top five smaller trees:

characteristic symptom of honey fungus is white fungal growth between the bark and wood usually at ground level. Clumps of honey coloured toadstools sometimes appear briefly on infected stumps in autumn. Honey fungus can attack many woody and herbaceous perennials. No plants are completely immune, but some have very good resistance, such as black walnut and box elder. The fungus spreads underground by direct contact between the roots of infected and healthy plants and also by means of black, root-like structures called rhizomorphs (often known as ‘bootlaces’), which can spread from infected roots through soil, usually in the top six inches but as deep as one metre. It is this ability to spread long distances through soil that makes honey fungus such a destructive pathogen, often attacking plants up to 30 metres away from the source of infection. There are no chemicals available for control of honey fungus. If honey fungus is confirmed, the only effective remedy is to excavate and destroy, by burning or landfill, all of the infected root and stump material. This will destroy the food base on which the rhizomorphs feed and they are unable to grow in the soil when detached from infected material.

Think new trees but think small There are many trees widely available for smaller gardens, in all shapes and sizes, evergreen and deciduous. Given that many of us have limited space in which to garden, it becomes important that any trees chosen are right for their surroundings, in terms of proportion as well as for their decorative value. There are many factors to take into consideration when choosing a tree for a smaller garden. • Height and spread: This is probably the most important factor. Even small ornamental trees may, over time, reach a height of six to eight metres. If this is too much, consider a weeping form, as these rarely increase much in height, or choose a large shrub. • Season of interest: Consider when you want your tree to look good, thinking about flowering time, foliage, fruit and bark.

Acer griseum - also known as the “Paperback marple’ a beautiful tree with flaking bark. Rich autumn foliage. Amelancjier x grandiflora “Ballerina’ - profuse which flowers and then produces good autumn leaf tints. Sorbus ’Joseph Rock’ - pale yellow fruits mature to amber-yellow and then a wonderful display of autumn red, orange and purple. Prunus ‘Amanogawa’ - a small columnas tree with greenish bronze young leaves and a dense cluster of shell pink flowers in spring. Crataegus persimilia ‘Prunifolia’ - has white flowers in June and then masses of bright red and orange fruits.

The biggest killer of houseplants – overwatering It’s the time of year when more attention turns to indoor plants. A new survey has just revealed what most gardeners already know – that the biggest killer of a wide variety of houseplants is over watering. In winter house plants generally require less water and it does become easy to overwater them. Initially leaves begin to yellow, then develop pale patches which curl and wilt. Water soaked spots may form on the underneath of many plant leaves – especially pelargonium, orchids and succulents. It may be possible to rescue an over watered plant by reducing watering and improving the drainage. Test by inserting your finger one centimetre into the compost and only water when it is entirely dry. Water in the morning and use tepid water to avoid shocking the roots. Central heating dries the air. Some plants, those without hairy leaves, benefit from spraying to both raise humidity and discourage red spider mite. Stand any plants which need high humidity such as citrus and orchids on a tray of damp gravel.



Events in Somerset

Here’s a selection of gardening events in Somerset for your diary. We take great care to ensure that details are correct at the time of going to press but we do advise readers to check wherever possible before starting out on a journey because sometimes circumstances can force last minute changes. 1st December Hedgerow CHristmas basket and willow wreatH worksHops witH Jo sadler barrington Court, ilminster ta19 0nQ

Somerset based willow artist whose distinctive sculptures will be in the garden during December, running several workshops covering hedgerow baskets, Christmas wreaths and more, with materials provided. Workshops run various dates, 10.30am or 1.15pm. £25. Booking essential, contact Jo Sadler directly on 07531417209. 2nd & 3rd December a very viCtorian CHristmas somerset rural life museum, Chilkwell street, glastonbury ba6 8db 01458 831197

Discover Christmas in Victorian times, with festive fun, Christmas traditions and a chance to meet Father Christmas! Free entry 10am-5pm all weekend but booking essential to see Father Christmas and a charge applies (includes small gift). 12

throughout Winter 6th & 7th December CHristmas wreatH making worksHops the american museum, Claverton manor, bath ba2 7bd 01225 460503

Soak up the Gatsbyesque glamour of a 1920s Christmas before joining a wreath workshop, where guided by Sarah Pepper, use foliage from the Museum estate to craft your own unique wreath. Workshops at 10.30am and 2pm. £35, coffee and cookie included. 7th-21st December Forde abbey’s wHite CHristmas Forde abbey, Chard, somerset ta20 4lU 01460 220231

For the first time, the long borders, champion trees and house will be lit up after dark outside and within, the Great Hall, chapel, and rooms decorated. Father Christmas popping in on Saturday 16th and Sunday 17th December. 3.30pm – 8pm daily except Mondays and Tuesdays. Normal admission applies. 9th December CHristmas event west somerset garden Centre, mart road, minehead, somerset ta24 5bJ 01643 703612 Festive food and drink tasting, Father Christmas, magic, music & more. 8am-5pm. www.westsomersetgarden Country Gardener

9th & 10th December CHristmas wreatH making worksHop prior park landscape garden, ralph allen drive, bath ba2 5aH 0344 249 1895 Let the city views and winter foliage inspire you as Young Blooms florists help create a stunning Christmas wreath using festive materials including dried fruit, cinnamon and seed heads. £50 including refreshments. 10.30am12.30pm each day. 12th December going wild in tHe garden somerset wildlife trust

Botanist, plant ecologist and environmental educator Dr Anne Bebbington gives an illustrated talk on wildlife in a small edge of town garden and its biodiversity threats. St George’s Catholic School, The Mount, Taunton TA1 3NR. Contact Simon Briggs, Tel: 01823 270529, or email: simon. 7.30pm. 17th & 18th December Folksy tHeatre presents ‘tHe snow QUeen’ Hestercombe gardens, Cheddon Fitzpaine, taunton ta2 8lg Filled with live music and puppetry, a

great Christmas family treat as Gerda tries to reach the Snow Kingdom to rescue Kai from the Snow Queen. 3pm on Sunday 17th & 5pm on Monday 18th. Book tickets on 01823 413923 or go to and follow the links.

ov e s N u th

o 25 H n ay

pe turd O i Sa

ak h & w Ni 4t

See the entire range of Secateurs, Pruning Shears, Woodworking Tools, Japanese Kitchen Knives and the amazing 3 Legged Tripod Ladders.

y2 a d Fri

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Friday 24th Nov, 10-6 Saturday 25th Nov, 10-2

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GARY McALLISTER 01934 862752 / 07966265023

Camerton Court Gardens Ca merton, Bath BA2 OPU Guided group walks throughout the year - Winter, Spring, Summer & Autumn

• Landscaping • Garden Maintenance • Fencing Services • Conservation Work • Pond Design and Construction • Traditional Hedgelaying • Wooden Garden Structures

Willowbrook Nursery and Garden Centre your local family-run garden centre A wide choice of award-winning shrubs, bedding, trees, herbs, climbers, perennials, alpines, roses, soft and top fruit and much more. We also have a well-stocked shop, Pet & Bird Centre, Aquatic Centre, Shed, Cafe & Tea Room serving home cooked food.

On the main A38 between Taunton & Wellington

TELEPHONE 01823 461324

Starting in February with a ‘Snow Drop Walk’

For further information and dates available contact Julieann Tel: 01761 479319 or email:



Jobs in the

Winter garden

Whether it's a bleak December or the more mild weather we are becoming used to, you can still stay busy in the garden. Continue to transplant shrubs that have overgrown their current location. After deciding on an alternative position, dig in plenty of organic matter and move the shrub making sure it retains a large root ball. As always water well and, if we are suffering a dry period, continue to do so until the shrub is established. Carry on pruning overgrown hardy shrubs such as forsythia, exochorda and hazel, as this will keep them in good shape and also encourage new growth next year. Don't forget to apply a good mulch if you plan to do any planting. Firm in shallow rooted trees and shrubs to avoid wind rock that loosens and lifts roots, especially if they have been recently planted. Hardy climbers can still be pruned before they are caught by heavy winds. Spring bulbs should be in now and the tender perennials that augment the hardy plants safely tucked away in the garage. With a bit of luck there will be signs of growth with buds already at the base of the hellebores and, in an act of defiance, the winter-flowering cherries are reminding us that all is not lost. There is promise still despite what your bones might be telling you.

Take root If you want to propagate perennials, those with fleshy roots such as anchusa, phlox, verbascum, oriental poppy and acanthus lend themselves to root cuttings. Now is an ideal time. Dig up the parent plant with a fork and pick roots that are pencil thick. Cut them into finger-sized lengths and lay in trays of compost with the addition of 50 per cent grit. Cover the roots with a few inches of compost and put them in a frame, under the glasshouse staging or, better still, on a heated propagating bench. Keep just damp and new plants will push through in spring. 14

Perfect your espaliers

December is a good time to train fruit trees that are growing against a wall and to perfect your espaliers. Remember that cherry and plums should be trained to look more fan like while apples and pears can be trained so that their branches grow horizontally and therefore parallel with the ground. And of course, until the ground is frozen, you can continue to plant fruit trees. Once the leaves have all fallen, any frost free day between now and February is an ideal time to prune the fruit trees with pips not stones, apples, pears, figs but not cherries and plums.

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PERFECT TIME TO TEND THE SOIL If your garden has heavy soil, this is the perfect time to dig, so that winter frosts can help break down newly turned clods. Digging heavy ground is hard work, and is best staggered over a few sessions to save your back. In the vegetable garden, this is the ideal opportunity to work in goodness in the form of organic matter. The contents of the compost heap, well-rotted manure or even composted bark can be worked into the bottom of the trench, where the worms will redistribute it to improve soil consistency. Be systematic: remove a trench a spit deep and take it to the far end of the plot to turn into the last trench when you finally reach it. Fork over the bottom of the trench if your soil is very heavy and add the organic matter in a generous layer before turning in the next spit. Where you are preparing beds, you can go through the same process. If it is lawn that you are taking up, turn the sod into the base of the trench where it will rot down, but on weed-infested ground you need to fork out live roots as you go. Super-heavy soils can have a generous layer of sharp grit spread over the surface after digging, but light soils are best dug at the end of the winter and the organic matter spread over the surface now. The mulch will protect the soil from winter rains and can be forked in rather than trenched in late February and March.

Plan for holly berries at Christmas

Roses still need attention Up until the heavy frosts arrive, it is still not too late to plant bare root roses. Check that any climbing roses are still tied in to their support structures. Prune bush roses to reduce their height so that they cannot be blown around by the wind to cause wind rock. Not only does this make the roots unstable but you can end up with compacted soil around the main stem of the rose where water then collects and causes the stem to rot.

With Christmas within sight you might want to protect some of the berries on your holly bushes from birds so that you can decorate your home with your very own holly sprigs. Use a net or some fleece to keep the hungry birds away, and salve your conscience by planting some bird friendly trees or just filling up the bird feeder more often! While on Christmas decorating, Cornus sibirica stems are a wonderful Christmas red and work well intertwined into Christmas wreaths or arranged with sprayed pine cones. You can take up to a third of the stems now for artistic use and it will save some of the hard pruning you will finish in March.

ACTION IN THE VEGETABLE PLOT Start planning next year’s vegetable crop to allow for a good rotation of crops. Growing the same type of crops on the same ground each year can cause a build up of pests and diseases affecting that type of crop. Crops can be grouped as follows: roots, brassicas, legumes (peas, beans) and everything else (potatoes, onions, tomatoes). Move your crops around each year so that the same group of crops isn’t in the same area for more than one season. Sow a box or gutter pipe of peas inside, ready for salads, soups or risottos at Christmas. Scatter the seed across the length and width of the compost and put them anywhere cool, but in good light. Sown now, you can pick straight from the gutter pipe – no garden required. Continue to plant garlic, as it likes a period of dormancy and cold prior to growing away in the spring.


• Apply dry mulch such as chipped bark around borderline-hardy plants such as agapanthus, phygelius, hedychium and melianthus to protect the crown. • During winter pruning do not forget to remove mummified fruit that remained on branches, ideally together with a short piece of the spur to which they are attached. • Check stored potatoes for signs of rotting. • Extreme cold will entice the mice into seed and fruit stores. Put seeds in tins with tight fitting lids and ensure that your fruit and veg are protected. • You will still need to water citrus trees as and when they need it. Wait until the soil feels dry and then water with a proprietary citrus winter feed which contains the key nutrients they need.

Garlic will overwrite well to give an early spring crop


SpecialiSt treeS

Time to think seriously about tree planting

Mark Hinsley urges you to spend some time and make sure if you are planning to plant a tree this autumn then it is the right tree in the right place Autumn is well and truly upon us and winter is coming. Now is the time to think about tree planting, and I mean THINK about tree planting. Most of my working life as a Tree Surgeon, a Tree Officer and as a consultant I have been dealing with the results of somebody planting a tree in the wrong place. Now I am not an extremist on this; I don’t have a problem with potentially large trees being planted in gardens that at some time in the future will need a bit of pruning to make them fit. It is the ones that end up causing predictable structural damage or unreasonable encroachment onto somebody else’s property that I find exasperating. Trees which are too close to boundaries or structures, particularly if they become the subjects of a Tree Preservation Order, can end up causing a great deal of conflict, distress and expense for both their owner and the local planning authority. Is there guidance? Occasionally I see diagrams published showing tree heights and how far away they should be planted from houses to prevent damage from root growth, but they tend to take the absolute worst case scenario and present it as the norm, thereby unnecessarily restricting your choice of trees in most garden situations. Also, they concentrate on your house, whilst in my experience the bulk of these root and tree base growth problems occur to paths, driveways, garages, patios, boundary walls and fences. To avoid being sued for bad advice much of the guidance regarding planting distances to prevent damage from roots assumes a heavy shrinkable clay subsoil: • because that is the worst possible soil to be on with tree roots and buildings;


• because that is what they have in London and nobody lives outside the M25 ring, do they? So, let us set clay soils to one side and see what there is for the rest of us. Actually, there is some very good guidance for planting distances to avoid significant structural damage, but you would not be aware of it, because it is contained in Annex A, Table A1 of BS5837:2012 Trees in relation to design, demolition and construction – Recommendations, which is not very high on most gardener’s reading list! Table A1 assumes a non-clay soil and gives you recommended planting distances to avoid root damage between trees of various potential mature size and different kinds of structures. Table A1 divides trees into three different mature size categories: mature stem diameter at 1.5m above ground of (1) less than 300mm, (2) 300mm – 600mm and (3) greater than 600mm. It then gives recommended minimum separation for new planting from structures for each category such as: Masonry boundary walls – (1) 0m, (2) 1.0m and (3) 2.0m In-situ concrete paths and drives – (1) 0.5m, (2) 1.0m and (3) 2.5m Paths and drives with flexible surfaces or paving slabs – (1) 0.7m, (2) 1.5m and (3) 3.0m. The table is not exhaustive and above is not the whole table. There are a few things I would add. If your boundary wall has even a small amount of retaining wall function, you should add 1m to all those figures. I would also add 1m to the flexible surface distances for all conifers. I would not plant a Sequioadendron giganteum within 4 metres of anything! So, there you have it; when planting trees around garden structures on most garden soils you don’t have to plant it somewhere over the horizon, but you do need to think about accommodating its mature size below ground as well as above. Happy planting! Mark Hinsley is from Arboriculture Consultants Ltd

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u r s e r y

Quality Trees and Shrubs Amenity trees from whip to standard, fruit (including heritage apples) and hedging. Conifers and broadleaves. Range of choice shrubs. Advisory/design service.

Thornhayes Nursery, Dulford, Open 8am-4pm Mon to Fri also 9am-1pm Sat Cullompton, Devon EX15 2DF Tel: 01884 266746

SOUTH WEST ORCHID SOCIETY SHOW Saturday 24th February 2018 10.30am - 4.00pm West Monkton Village Hall Nr Taunton TA2 8NE • Orchid displays & Orchids for sale

Where Quality is higher than the price

Polyanthus & Primroses Winter Heathers Seasonal Planters Holly Wreaths & Christmas Trees New Roses in Stock Sundries now Available

• Refreshments

Open every day

Admission £3

Godney Road, Glastonbury Somerset BA6 9AF

Info: 01278 455170

01458 834602

Available in a range of sizes suited for the courtyard/patio or larger garden.

For further details call Nick on 01392 681690

Makers of good quality Willow hurdles and garden items. Traditional hand made products using English willow locally grown from a renewable source. Exmoor Baskets and Hurdles are located on the DevonSomerset border in the heart of the West Country. 01398 323391 / 07980 759099


Made from sustainably harvested locally grown timber, these log stores are sturdily and attractively designed, yet light enough to be easily moved. Also wheelie bin/recycling storage and cycle stores.



Summer Houses, Log Cabins, Decking, Home Offices, Workshops, Play Houses, Chicken Houses Compound A, Dunball Wharf, Bristol Road, Bridgwater TA6 4BJ Telephone 01278 686267 Fir Tree, Galhampton, Nr Sparkford, Yeovil BA22 7BH Telephone 01963 440464 Fax 01963 441244

Open 7 days a week

Hardy Exotic Plant Centre

For home-grown plants


Dec 2nd, 9th, 16th (1.30pm– 4.30pm), 3rd, 10th, 17th (1pm – 4pm)

Orchard Park, Shaftesbury Road, Gillingham, Dorset SP8 5JG T: 01747 835544 E: MONDAY - SATURDAY 9 - 5.30 SUNDAY 10 - 4.30 Discover more at

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Always something new and unusual Herbaceous perennials, shrubs and climbers Pansies, violas and polyanthus Tools, seeds and compost Glazed and frostproof terracotta pots National Garden Gift Vouchers On the A38 Wellington by-pass

Tel: 01823 662007

Visit our new cacti and succulent house.

We also have a new range of restio and protea as well as great ranges of bamboos, tree ferns, ferns, cannas, gingers, bannas and shrubs, perennials, trees.

Open every day 10am-5pm Lower Henlade, Taunton, TA3 5NB (5 mins from J25, follow A358 to Yeovil, then signs to the Mt Somerset Hotel)

Tel: 01823 443701 17



Our Country Gardener experts can solve your gardening problems Andrew Midgley our popular garden writer tackles our postbag of readers’ questions this month. Andrew worked for the National Trust for 17 years and was recently garden manager for the National Trust gardens at Coleton Fishacre, Greenway and Compton Castle. He now runs a gardening business near Newton Abbot in Devon

Q. When is the best time to cut back a camellia? I have several and always seem to get it wrong. A. Essentially, the best time to prune camellias is in the spring just after flowering. If you prune later on in the season you will risk cutting the stems that are developing new flowering buds for the forthcoming spring. You can do rejuvenation pruning on large and unruly camellias if you need to. Again, ideally do this in the spring after flowering or if you are doing it in the autumn and winter months, then it should develop flowers a couple of seasons later.

As always, when carrying out hard pruning, lightly fork in some fish, blood and bone, water it in and then apply a thick mulch (garden compost or wood chips) around the base of the plant to suppress weeds and retain moisture. It is always good practice to give an ericaceous liquid feed to boost it throughout the season and more so for those growing in containers. Q. How hard can I prune my huge old rambling rose? A. I take it that the rose in question is out of hand? If that’s the case then the time to do a serious pruning session is in the winter once the leaves have dropped as it will be a lot easier to see what you need to cut out. The first thing is to step back and visualise how you want the rose to grow. Once you have a visual plan in your head, cut out 18

dead, diseased and thin wispy branches and stems. Also take out criss crossing stems as these will rub against each other. By now you should be feeling a bit more confident in familiarising yourself with the rose. You should now aim

to have the stems/ branches flat against the wall or obelisk or whatever you are training it against. Take out any stems coming out towards you by cutting it hard to two buds. To encourage new stems to grow, cut out an old gnarly stem to aid rejuvenation. Always aim to tie in the stems on top of the wires using soft string. You might be looking at pruning out ¾ of the stems and branches and it will look drastic, but have faith as the rose will respond well in the spring. Lastly, apply some garden compost around the base. In the spring, apply some well rotted horse manure at the base and give it a liquid feed of rose tonic, such as Uncle Tom’s Rose Tonic. Q. How can I overwinter my Echium candicans? A. The common name for E. candicans is Pride of Maderia which is a good clue to how these plants live in their natural habitat. They like free draining soil which is important if they are to survive the winter in the UK. Most tender plants tend to rot out at the roots. At Coleton Fishacre we used to protect tender plants such as these with wooden cloches with plastic covers to reduce rotting out as well as wrapping the plant in horticultural fleece.

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Q. I don’t have a greenhouse or room indoors. Are there any seeds I can grow outdoors? It should be noted that these plants are biennials so you could always collect the seeds to propagate from them as insurance. Q. Why does my holly tree never bear any berries? Is there anything I can do about it? A. There are several possibilities but the most likely explanation is that your tree is either a male or female holly as these plants are dioecious which means they need

A. The short answer is yes there are plenty of seeds you can grow in situ outside. The best time is sow the seeds is in the spring when the soil warms up to aid germination. Of course, you will need to prepare the soil by forking it over in the winter to allow the frost to make the soil more pliable. Rake the soil over in different directions to create a fine tilth. Follow the instructions on the seed packet. As a rule of thumb, most vegetable seeds are sown in rows for ease of cultivation while annuals and perennials are sown broadly but are thinned out as the seeds germinates. For vegetables, try sowing radishes, onions, peas, beans and carrots. You can grow flowers from seeds too such as nasturtium, sunflowers, marigold sweet pea, larkspurs poppies (annuals) cosmos and zinnia. Q. I’ve had a disappointing year with my courgettesplenty of flowers but no fruit. A. Courgette plants produce separate male and female flowers, the males on noticeably longer stems and the

both male and female plant to produce seeds which in turn produces berries on the female holly. If this is the case, I would be tempted to buy two more holly shrubs but ensure they are one of each to increase the chances of forming berries. Another possibility is that you may have either over pruned or pruned the holly at the wrong time of year. Too early, you may have cut off the shoots producing the berries. The best time is to prune in the winter or in the spring. If the holly is in the shade then it will reduce its chances of producing berries or if the soil is too dry then again it would be difficult to form berries too.

females form with small fruits behind them. It seems many of your plants this summer and autumn have been male ones and hence no fruit. Leave them on the flower because bees transfer pollen from them to pollinate the female flowers so the courgettes can develop. In time female flowers will appear.


The quiet garden revolution Less reliance on chemical fertilisers and more understanding of how agriculture is changing is having beneficial effects in the garden with mycorrhizal fungi playing a key role in that change There is a quiet revolution going on in gardens and nurseries up and down the country. It’s revolution in tune with the natural cycles of planting, growing and harvesting, gently reminding us how for generations we have worked the soil, understanding and appreciating its myriad life forms, seasons, quirks and quandaries. To understand why we need the revolution we need to know what we are revolting against. The players in this evolving act are two German scientists, Fritz Haber and Carl Bosch and a Norwegian scientist, Erling Johnson, all born over 100 years ago. These industrial chemists created nitrogen, phopshorous and potassium (NPK) chemical fertilisers. These fertilisers save lives by increasing yields and enhancing crop growth and still do so, but at Improvements show in root development what cost? It is widely known that the production of these fertilisers uses fossil fuels, limited mined natural resources and incredible amounts of energy. Gradually but with a degree of conviction UK gardeners started looking for a different approach. Agriculture, for example is now gradually changing for the better with more understanding of nutrient inputs, biological agronomy, crop rotation, increasing organic matter in soil preparation and the use of Integrated crop management. Alongside this the average garden centre is now offering gardeners a more modern approach to gardening with substantially less reliance on unsuitable chemical fertilisers. This quiet revolution will take time as there are two chances a year to plant, grow and harvest. Gardeners have a choice in how they manage their plots and a greater understanding and more informed decision-making of the products we use has to be a good thing for gardens, homes and the environment. 20

Products such as mycorrhizal fungi, some 'organic' fertilisers, nematodes, fatty acid insecticides, and seaweed biostimulants are all valuable weapons now available to gardeners . They maybe organic but don't necessarily have to be, and there is perhaps not enough regulation in the use of the term organic in the garden centre sector. The emphasis on gardeners is to research any product you use. It's now so easy to check. You need to be careful and for example some 'organic' chicken manure fertiliser doesn't come from organic hens, it doesn't even come from free range hens, it comes from the battery farming sector. So what is mycorrhizal fungi and how is it changing gardeners perception of what is right to use in the garden? For the last 500 million years plants have depended upon a relationship with symbiotic fungi which is known as mycorrhizal fungi. These fungi live on the roots of plants and grow out into the soil making a vast secondary fungal root system that in exchange for sugars will transport water and nutrients to the plant for its entire lifetime. Whenever a plant is planted into soil it will gradually pick these fungi up in a couple of years; however treating plants with rootgrow mycorrhizal fungi will speed this natural process up to a matter of weeks. Trees and hedging plants are known to benefit greatly from this relationship as they have woody roots which grow much more slowly than the mycorrhizal fungi, thus giving the plant access to water and nutrients far earlier than its own woody root can.

HOW IT WORKS Mycorrhizas are beneficial fungi growing in association with plant roots, and develop by taking sugars from plants ‘in exchange’ for moisture and nutrients gathered from the soil by the fungal strands. The mycorrhizas increase the absorptive area of a plant, acting as extensions to the root system. Phosphorus is often in very short supply in natural soils. When phosphorus is present in insoluble forms it would require a vast root system for a plant to meet its phosphorus requirements unaided. Mycorrhizas are crucial in gathering this element in uncultivated soils. Phosphorusrich fertilisers are widely used in cultivated ground and not only reduce the need for this activity but are thought to actually suppress the mycorrhizas. Mycorrhizas also seem to confer protection against root diseases.


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the lost gardeners of World War I In this Remembrance season, we remember the professional gardeners who went to serve in World War I and never came back home – and the effect of the war on horticulture in Britain A century ago the ‘War to end all wars’ was still raging. The battle of Passchendaele, also known as the third battle of Ypres, had dragged to its close on 10th November 1917 after three solid months of fighting. As we look towards next year’s anniversary of the ending of the war in 1918, in this Remembrance season it’s timely to think of the toll the war took on horticulture, the great gardens of the time and especially the huge numbers of professional gardeners who were lost. Before war broke out in 1914, the big gardens and estates throughout Britain had teams of gardeners keeping extremely high standards of gardening, including growing exotic plants from seed, fruit and vegetable growing, the cultivation and breeding of roses, and tree pruning. Huge amounts of money and labour was spent on the big estates, with vast heated glasshouses growing fruit and vegetables for the dining table, producing cherries for Christmas dinner, melons from hot houses, and cut flowers for grand displays throughout the ‘big house’. But when the war began, many of the young gardeners were keen to enlist, and as it dragged on, conscription brought in many more, including older men. Many were knowledgeable, experienced, well trained professional gardeners, and many did not return. Knowledge and experience was lost. The senior gardeners who were too old to fight were left

Great houses in the West Country relied on large gardening staff. After World War 1 gardens suffered as many never returned

to manage on their own or with young boys who had to take on extra work – and in some cases women were taken on; the older men had trained the teams of labour that were gone. Since the gardens at Heligan in Cornwall have been restored, the story of the gardeners who went to fight in World War I is now well known; 16 enlisted and only eight returned. Visitors can find the names scrawled on a wall in the Thunderbox Room – the gardeners’ lavatory in the vegetable garden. Their story was replicated throughout the country. At the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, the death toll was 37, while 20 were lost from the Royal Horticulture Society’s garden at Wisley. The horticultural trade was hit badly as well: seedsman Arthur Sutton of the famous seed firm lost 23 men, including four of his five sons. The officer class was severely hit. Heirs to the big estates were killed, one of them the eldest son of Julius Drewe, owner of Castle Drogo in Devon (designed by the architect Edwin Lutyens). Adrian Hendicott Drewe who had been educated at Eton and Cambridge died on the front line at Ypres in 1917, alongside the men from his platoon – between 80 and 100 men. His father never recovered from the loss. By the start of World War One, the Veitch The Women’s Land Army was formed 1917, and while most of the 23,000 recruits family of Exeter had changed the British worked in agriculture, ten per cent worked in market and private gardens landscape. They had introduced new plant


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Visitors to Heligan can find the names of gardeners who went to serve in World War 1 scrawled on a wall in the Thunderbox Room – the gardeners’ lavatory in the vegetable garden

species into gardens all over the country and started the Chelsea Flower Show. But the war brought dramatic changes to the family and its work. In 1914, the firm’s Chelsea nurseries closed, so the Exeter branch of the company was the only Veitch firm in operation. It had landscaped the University of Exeter and the city’s Higher Cemetery. The Veitch nurseries were specialising in trees and shrubs and were based in New North Road, Exeter. Peter Veitch, a former plant collector, was running the family business. His son, John Leonard, had been trained at Kew and studied horticulture in France and Germany before the war. He was the intended heir to the business. It’s not known how many of the Veitch nursery men went to war, but John Leonard was one of them. He was part of the 7th (Cyclist) Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment and then the Army Cyclist Corps. In 1917, Peter Veitch received the Royal Horticultural Society’s Victoria Medal of Honour in recognition of his work. In May 1918, he lost his son and heir. John Leonard Veitch is buried at Thiennes in France. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) – one of the world’s largest horticultural organisations – created the cemetery where he lies. At the great estate of Stourhead the only son and heir, Harry Hoare was killed in 1917 leading a charge on Mughar Ridge in Egypt. A captain in the Queen’s Own Dorset Yeomanry, he had been sent home to recover several times from injury and ill-health, but despite advice from military doctors, every time he had returned to the battlefield. His devastated parents had to decide on their future and the estate. In 1946 the estate was gifted to the National Trust. Back home, not only old men and young boys tried to keep

the big gardens going as numbers of women were employed. The Women’s Land Army was established in 1917, and although most of the 23,000 recruits worked in agriculture and forestry, between eight and ten per cent worked in market and private gardens. Not all were welcome and after the war most returned to domestic duties. From the beginning of the war in 1914 German prisoners of war arrived in Britain and were set to work. Some were sent to Dorchester, to the empty artillery barracks at Poundbury. They were allowed out under guard and relations with the townsfolk were cordial; they swept streets, and tended the public gardens; one even was employed by the writer Thomas Hardy in the garden of his home, Max Gate. Allotment gardening spread all over the country with food shortages hitting households (80 per cent of our food came from overseas before 1914) and people were urged to ‘grow your own’, the phrase coined before the war ended. As would happen in World War II, public land was ploughed up to grow vegetables. The war changed society in Britain forever. The big gardens lost much of their skilled labour and were hit by escalating costs. Lavish structures such as the Great Stove, the enormous glasshouse at Chatsworth were demolished. It would take another world war to end the golden era of these gardens but with the loss of so many skilled gardeners, horticulture took generations to recover. Instead of designing big houses and gardens, Sir Edwin Lutyens went on to design war memorials including the Cenotaph in Whitehall, London, where every year the war dead are remembered on Remembrance Sunday. The idea for the Cenotaph was prompted by the flower shrines that sprang up during the war.

“Some corner of a foreign field that is forever England” In 1915 a mobile Red Cross unit started recording the names of the dead at the front line and planting flowers round their makeshift graves. This led in 1917 to the establishment of the imperial war Graves Commission. The new cemeteries were conceived as gardens. A design by Sir Edward Lutyens at Forceville on the Somme became a template; a walled garden with plain headstones with planting suggested by Getrude Jekyll. A simplified form of this endures -low growing alpines in front of headstones, roses and perennials in between, bringing to these ’foreign fields’ scents and textures of a traditional cottage garden. Finding more than one million permanent-resting places took until 1938. One year late the commission’s work started again.


Looking forward to snowdrops The build up to Christmas and the New Year shouldn’t deter from looking forward to walks in many of the gardens open in winter and to one of the highlights of the lengthening days of February - the arrival of the much-loved snowdrop There’s no greater assurance that the brighter days of spring are on their way, than the prospect of snowdrops. Rightly called a harbinger of spring, snowdrops can start flowering in the depths of winter and are a sign the days are getting brighter and spring is indeed round the corner. A cheerful sight on a woodland walk, riverside ramble or garden stroll, snowdrops can raise the spirit and fire the gardener’s enthusiasm and impatience for the new season. The Latin name for the snowdrop, Galanthus, means milk flower, as a snowdrop plant may be said to look like three drops of milk hanging from a stem. In centuries gone by they had a variety of common names including Candlemas bells (for the feast of Candlemas which falls on 2nd February when the presentation of Jesus by Mary and Joseph at the temple is commemorated), Mary’s taper, snow piercer, February fairmaids and Dingle-dangle. Getting out to find these delicate but sturdy little flowers that look so spectacular en masse is worth the effort after the long weeks of winter.

From National Trust properties with acres of space to explore, to private gardens that only open at this time of year for their snowdrop display, to special snowdrop festivals and to gardens which rightly are proud of their investment into the power and appeal of snowdrops, there’s a huge variety of places to choose from. So here is a selection of picturesque places to walk in and admire carpets of snowdrops in their annual display and some encouragement to get out walking this winter.

Winter walking delights at Castle Drogo There’s a delight in store if you wrap up warm and take a winter walk at Castle Drogo. There are miles of footpaths through the Teign Gorge as well as the garden and grounds to explore. Whether you are after a gentle stroll to take in the views or a peaceful walk to explore the ancient woodlands of Fingle woods you'll find there's a walk to suit everyone. You then have the perfect excuse to refuel with a hearty lunch or a slice of cake in the Drogo café. The café, shop, garden and estate are open daily 11am-4pm (closed 24-26 December). Visit or call 01647 433306.

Cerney House Gardens A Romantic English Garden in the UK Cotswolds

Celebrate Christmas at Batsford... with magical winter walks, festive food, unique gifts, decorations, hand-made wreaths and our huge range of Norway and Nordmann Spruce Christmas trees. Open every day except Christmas Day.

46 acres of Cotswold parkland Romantic secret garden * Wildlife and woodland walks * Plants for sale * A large variety of snowdrops and hellebores * Refreshments available at the old Bothy Open from Saturday 27th January 10-5pm Admission: £5 adults, £1 children

Telephone 01285 831300 Cerney House Gardens, North Cerney, Cirencester, Gloucestershire GL7 7BX

Visit for details on our Christmas events BATSFORD ARBORETUM AND GARDEN CENTRE Batsford, Moreton-in-Marsh, Gloucestershire GL56 9AD. Tel: 01386 701441 E:

Blow away Add some colour to your weekend this the cobwebs autumn at Gibside this winter at Castle Drogo

Go crunching through fallen leaves and discover a forest teeming with wildlife and autumn colours, with walking routes for all ages and abilities. Call 01647 433306 for details When you visit, donate, volunteer or join the National Trust, your




©support National Trust The places National helps us to look2017. after special <in the region> <like property Y and Proeprty Z> in for ever, for everyone. Trust is X, anproperty independent registered charity, number 205846. © National Trust 2016. The National Trust is an independent © National Trust registered charity, number Photography Photography ©205846. National Trust #nationaltrust Images. #nationaltrust Images.

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Evenley Wood – ready to burst into snowdrop heaven Evenley Wood Garden literally bursts into life between the 3rd and 28th February for Snowdrop Days, when over 80 varieties come alive throughout this outstanding 60-acre woodland haven. Among these is Galanthus ‘Evenley Double’, a special snowdrop which was developed and propagated on site, as well as Hill Poe and Lady Beatrix Stanley. The garden’s gates will be open seven days a week between 11am-4pm, and Open Air Foods will be in the pavilion serving a seasonal array of food and drinks. Entry: £5 Adult / £1 Children. Group tours are available by appointment. Visit or call 07776 307849.

Colesbourne - England’s ‘greatest snowdop garden’ Started by famous botanist Henry John Elwes FRS with Galanthus ‘elwesii’, the snowdrop collection at Colesbourne Park is the acknowledged home of snowdrops in England. The gardens, restored and extended by Sir Henry Elwes and his wife Carolyn, have around 350 varieties mixed with winter and spring bulbs: aconites, cyclamen, iris, miniature daffodils, snowflakes, hellebores and winter-flowering shrubs. The gardens are open to the public from 1pm on Saturdays and Sundays from 3rd February to 4th March next year. Teas and plant sales are available. Colesbourne Park is halfway between Cheltenham and Cirencester on the A435.

Batsford Arboretum

For more information email or visit

Cerney House Gardens winter snowdrop and hellebore trail A Cerney House garden is a romantic English garden for all seasons. There is a beautiful secluded Victorian walled garden forming a large part of the garden, which is filled with herbaceous borders and overflowing with plants and wildlife. The gardens open again at the end of January for the fabulous winter display of snowdrops and hellebores. A snowdrop trail guides you around woodland packed with drifts of snowdrops. It is worth a visit to Cerney House’s charm with the apparent informality and tranquility, heightened at the beginning of a busy gardening year. Open from Saturday, 27th January 2018 10am-5pm. Cerney House Gardens, North Cerney, Cirencester, GL7 7BX. Tel: 01285 831300

Shaftesbury Snowdrops Study, Sale and Social Day

Saturday 10th February 2018 10am- 3.30pm Details of speakers & tickets available from Tickets for the sale of rare Snowdrops at 1pm are also available. or 01747 300174

Artwork by Jane Shepherd


this Winter

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Wander through drifts of snowdrops at Batsford Arboretum Winter can be such a special time at Batsford Arboretum. Wrap up warm and meander along paths beside frozen streams and ponds and take in the views across the stunning Cotswold countryside. During February, the arboretum is alive with drifts of beautiful snowdrops, plus aconites, crocuses and hellebores. There’s also the opportunity to enjoy warming food in the Garden Terrace Café, plants and garden sundries in the garden centre and browse the range of unique gifts. Open Monday to Saturday from 9am to 5pm, 10am to 5pm on Sundays. Batsford Arboretum & Garden Centre, Batsford, Moreton-inMarsh, Glos, GL56 9AD. Tel 01386 701441.

Shaftesbury prepares for another internationally acclaimed snowdrop festival Snowdrops have become synonymous with the Dorset town of Shaftesbury - and rightly so. When Pam Cruickshank suggested planting thousands of snowdrops throughout Shaftesbury in 2012 to mark the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, she had no idea what she had started. Over the intervening years Pam, her co-volunteers and more than 1,000 people, have planted over 220,000 common snowdrops for everyone to enjoy, free of charge and created a unique winter festival. Along the way, the Shaftesbury team have learned about the diverse and beautiful cultivars, which

Shaftesbury Snowdrops

make unusual snowdrops amongst the most sought after plants in the UK. Shaftesbury is now host to an annual snowdrop study, sale and social day where new snowdrop lovers mix with experienced ‘Galanthophiles’ from across Europe. They come to see, learn about, and buy the beautiful, tenacious winter flower that delights us in the darkest days of winter. Snowdrop Season and the Snowdrop Festival runs from Saturday, 10th to Sunday 18th February next year. Find all the details at Email: or call 01747 300174. Shaftesbury Snowdrops, Swans Trust (Shaftesbury) Ltd, Swans Yard, Shaftesbury SP7 8JQ.

Sublime snowdrops at East Lambrook Manor Gardens Cottage garden doyenne Margery Fish was an avid collector of unusual snowdrops which she planted in her famous garden at East Lambrook Manor. She was one of the first ‘galanthophiles’ and amassed a significant collection in the 1950’s and 60’s.

East Lambrook Manor Gardens

Since then chance crosses in the garden have given rise to some new hybrids, such as Galanthus ‘Margery Fish’ named in her honour. Today, a stroll through the garden in February reveals many named varieties with a special raised display bed in the nursery allowing visitors to view some of the collection of over 100 snowdrops at close quarters. In 2018 there will also be around 30 varieties for sale in the nursery. East Lambrook is always one of the first Somerset gardens to open for the National Garden Scheme, with NGS ‘Snowdrop Saturday’ on 17th February next year. Throughout February the garden, nursery and cafe are open Tuesday to Sunday and readers of Country Gardener can take advantage of the February and March Two-for-One entry offer featured on the East Lambrook advertisement opposite. 26

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far AND near

Discover the villas and gardens of the Veneto with £100 off In terms of design, Italian renaissance gardens are the best in Europe and, arguably, the best gardens in the world. Their design was led by wealthy and artistically inclined patrons who were able to draw upon a wide range of brilliant artists and highly skilled garden craftsmen. There can hardly be a better arrangement for making gardens, as proved by the high quality of Italian garden design. The Veneto is home to the historic botanical garden of Padua, Palladian villas along the Brenta canal, and the Giardini Giusti in Verona, one of the first Renaissance gardens in Italy. Expression Holidays are offering the chance to discover the gardens of the Veneto in 2018. There’s a maximum of 14 people on the tour and prices are from £2,540 per person. Departures are on 4th June and 12th September. Expressions Holidays is offering Country Gardener readers a reduction of £100 per person for booking the tour of the Veneto before 31st January 2018. Contact Expressions Holidays on 01392 441275 for full details. Fully protected by our ATOL 3076

Great Cornish gardens to visit using this house as a base The beauty of South Cornwall can be discovered in style at Mellingey House, located in the town of Lostwithiel on the banks of the River Fowey. Perfectly placed for all seasons, lazy beach days, coastal walks or exploring the many beautiful Cornish gardens, this wonderful home sets the scene for a luxurious stay in Cornwall. You will find it easy to explore some of the famous Cornish gardens including Eden Project, Lanhydrock, the magnificent late Victorian country house with gardens and wooded estate, The Lost Gardens of Heligan, Trewithen Gardens, Caerhays, Cotehele House, Trebah and Glendurgan. Not forgetting, picturesque harbour towns of Fowey, Looe, secluded Lerryn and the many beautiful beaches. This wonderful family home with its sensitive conversion and impressive style, evokes a relaxing ambiance with coastal nuances of the nearby river and its nautical setting. The garden brims with colour throughout the year from the apple tree Luxury holiday house in blossom to the copper beech. Lostwithiel, Cornwall. There is private parking and Lovely garden. Sleeps 8. dogs are welcome. Perfect for visiting famous Cornish gardens. or you can book through Cornish Gems on 01872 241241. Tel: 01872 241241


Think of a tree by Elizabeth McCorquodale

National Tree Week is the perfect time to give some thought to adding more trees to your garden, they are rewarding, improve air quality, are a boost to wildlife and moderate the effects of sun and rain - so why not?

If you imagine a piece of ground the size of this page and think of all the wildlife, large or small, that it could support; it wouldn’t be very much. Now take that same small patch and replace the grass with a tree - any tree – and the number of invertebrates, birds and mammals that it could sustain has just increased unimaginably. Trees are vital, not only for the amount of wildlife they can support but also for the effect they have on the local and the wider environment. Trees in the garden improve drainage and soil structure, they anchor the soil on slopes and contribute to the nutrition of the soil layer by generously depositing a payload of leaves each autumn. At the same time they absorb thousands of litres of storm water, not to mention acting as a filter and trap for particle pollutants, dust and dirt and of course, they store carbon, thereby reducing levels of CO2 in the atmosphere. They provide windbreaks, noise barriers and shade canopies and they support wildlife communities like no other element in the garden. Trees create whole microclimates within their canopies which in turn create microhabitats for all sorts of creatures ranging from summer roosting bats and birds and nesting mammals to hundreds of species of feeding and breeding invertebrates. Then there are all the creatures that live and hunt and nest around the roots and in the cracks and folds of the bark and around the communities of lichen and fungi that colonise the branches of all trees. Even the sap runs of living trees – those little dribbles of hardening sap that escape from wounds on trunks and branches - are an essential nursery habitat for several species of hoverfly. Trees provide for wildlife in a way no simple patch of grass ever could. Like all ecosystems, it all starts with the smallest creatures, the tiny herbivorous invertebrates that feed on the tree itself. These creatures, sap-sucking bugs such as aphids and leaf-hoppers and leaf-eaters such as chaffer beetles, caterpillars and numerous grubs, all form part of the diet of larger creatures, starting with ladybirds, lacewings and other 28

beneficial insects and moving up the food chain to birds and bats and small mammals. Flowering trees, sporting either blossoms or catkins, attract pollen feeders such as bees, hoverflies butterflies and moths and these attract the creatures that feed on them. Fruiting trees attract their own host of creatures including squirrels, dormice, jays, and an array of birds that feed on larger seeds, nuts and fruit. And that is just above ground. Below our feet there is a constant and incredibly complex interaction between all the elements that make up the living garden. With their immense root systems, trees play a vital role helping to nourish the surrounding garden in a convoluted exchange of information, nutrients and chemicals that are swapped and traded via the roots of all plants in partnership with the connective fungal threads that snake their way around the subterranean landscape. Some of our native trees such as hazels, rowan, mountain ash and birch consistently come out tops in wildlife surveys as the trees that attract and support the greatest variety and greatest numbers of invertebrates, with the inevitable consequence that they then support the greatest number of larger –and for many– more appealing members of the wildlife community. Any tree will do the job, though admittedly some are more efficient wildlife magnets than others. I have a large and untidy sycamore behind my house and if I didn’t know any better I would have to concur with the widespread belief that sycamores are a poor choice for any wildlife garden. However my sycamore supports a summer roost of pipistrelles, regular nightly visits by tawny owls, a constant noisy horde of rooks and crows and raiding jays, regular visitations from nuthatches and of course a host of furry, yellow caterpillars, the larva of the sycamore moth. Most of these are there because of the inexhaustible supply of aphids and other sapsucking insects that live on its leaves. It may not boast the variety of an oak but I am quite happy with

Country Gardener

Dwarf pears

A place to hang feeders

Quince fruit and flowers on a small tree

A small quick growing ruby horse chestnut

Weeping birch

the tawnys, nuthatches and the rest. Of the dozens of trees to choose from, crabapples are one of the most rewarding to grow in any garden. The crabapple year starts with attractive buds that burst into bloom in mid spring and last far longer than the flowers of the similar sized ornamental cherry. The fruit – all of which can be used for cooking up into chutneys, jellies or winter cordials – can be as small as cherries or as large as walnuts and range from acid yellow through orange and reds to deep, dark purple. Some cultivars retain their fruit right through the winter, while others are rapidly stripped by hungry birds. The leaves of these trees come in all shades of green, from bright sap green through to darker greens and on into bronze, red and purple which colour up nicely into autumn. If crabapples aren’t your thing, try a native hazel grown as a tree, or if you want something a little more interesting, go for one of the hazel cultivars that provide purple catkins alongside purple leaves and contorted branches. Butterfly and moth caterpillars including nut-tree tussocks, large emeralds and barred umbers feed on the leaves, and the nuts attract woodpeckers, nuthatches, tits and jays and a number of small mammals. If you want a share of the bounty you can net the tree first and when you have taken your share, leave the rest for your garden visitors.

Bird cherry is a great choice to provide an early feast for nectaring insects and birds, including bullfinches which will take the buds whole. All the flowers that are left will ripen to a delightful red and go on to provide a summer buffet for fruit loving birds as the robins, thrushes and blackbirds. Cotoneaster ‘Cornubia’ is a small tree with a huge value for foraging bees, wasps and hoverflies in spring and for foraging birds in the depths of winter, laden as it is with masses of bright red persistent berries. A single birch isn’t usually a stunning sight, but planted in a grove or in a small cluster of three spaced 30 cm apart, they make a very pleasing group. Birch is quick growing with early catkins that provide pollen for foraging bees in the spring and then mature to produce delicate seeds that are relished by seed eating birds such as siskins and greenfinches. This tree is also a fine source of sap to tap and make into wine or boiled down into a sweet syrup. These native species grow easily from wild seed or self-sown saplings: sycamore, hazel, ash, rowan, horse chestnut, chestnut, elder, birch, aspen, alder. National Tree Week 2017 runs from November 25th - December 3rd. Look online for events near you. National-Tree-Week


CHRISTMAS IS COMING Are you looking for a quality Christmas gift for a greenfingered friend or family member? If so there is something for everyone who likes to be busy in the garden. This Christmas perhaps it is time to be a bit more creative when it comes to gardening theme presents. Increasingly popular are garden centre gift token (in units of £10 so they can be spent bit by bit) that you can buy over the counter or online at Gift tokens from specialist plant suppliers are another option with many well-known nurseries offering their own exclusive vouchers. And then there are subscriptions to garden-related organisations and publications: a year's membership of the Cottage Garden Society or the Royal Horticultural Society, both of which include a regular magazine, make great gifts. We’ve a small selection of our own creative presents featuring welcome gifts.

Making the most of your fruit all year round A Vigo Press is not just for the apple season! The Honiton based business whose presses come into their own in the harvest have a wider range of gifts for this Christmas. If you can’t think what to buy, why not purchase a gift voucher for that allimportant equipment or sundry purchase. The range includes

steam juice extractors, fruit and vegetable driers. These and more can be found in the Gift Ideas section of the company’s website where you can find everything from grow your own ladybird kits to a range of books to brush up your knowledge of orchard management. There is something for everyone and remember to make the most of your fruit. See more at

Lightweight waterproof - and by the backdoor! The Backdoor shoes range of high-quality, 100 per cent waterproof gardening shoes, in a range of styles which takes its inspiration from nature are a sought after and practical Christmas present. The popular shoes are now celebrating 10 years in business. There’s an addition to the range - ‘Washed Canvas’, backdoorshoes that look like a shoe! If you haven’t already got a pair they are perfect for slipping on and nipping outside to the garden, down to the allotment or out to feed the chickens. They are lightweight, waterproof, durable and easy to clean. There’s now over 25 different flora and fauna designs to choose from suitable for men or ladies. So no more ruined slippers or soggy socks, they are the most practical thing to keep by the door. Prices from £25 including delivery, a fantastic gift for everyone on your list. or Tel: 01202 232357


Backdoorshoes® are lightweight, waterproof, durable and with unique prints there will be something suitable for everyone on your list this year, including you! Sizes UK 3-14, prices from £25 inc free postage, more designs available online. Tel: 01202 232357 or visit


Presses Pasteurisers Barrels & Bottles Orchard Care And much more Tel: 01404 890093 30

Looking for the Essential Christmas Gift this year? Try a pair…

Country Gardener

Frost proof flowerpots to inspire you If you are anywhere near the Cotswolds there’s a real bonus to be had by visiting Whichford Pottery, a family firm which sells a wonderful collection of handmade British frost proof flowerpots. The firm, which celebrated its 40th anniversary last year, sends its pots to gardens across the country, including National Trust properties. Established in 1976 by Jim and Dominique Keeling, the pots have a world-renowned reputation. They are designed, hand thrown and decorated at the Pottery by over 25 highly-skilled craftsmen and women. The flowerpots are practical as well as beautiful, from longtoms to seedpans, from huge jars to hand-pressed urns – all made from Whichford’s own clay blend, giving their pots a 10-year frostproof guarantee. A visit is a real treat! Choose from their full range, meet the team, be inspired by the courtyard garden, shop British in The Octagon and enjoy home-cooked food at The Straw Kitchen. Whichford Pottery, Whichford, Shipston-on-Stour, CV36 5PG.

Membership to the Alpine Garden Society a thoughtful gift The Alpine Garden Society is devoted to the cultivation, conservation and exploration of alpine and rock plants, though it caters for much wider interests such as woodland plants, bulbs and hardy orchids. All members receive a high-quality 132 page journal four times a year. The society organises 22 national shows and plant fairs each year and has many local groups. It has the largest seed exchange in the world, with around 5,500 different types of seed available. It also runs botanical tours across the globe. The society is based at Pershore, Worcestershire. Visit or call 01386 554790.

• • • •

FOUR copies of our full colour 128-page Journal each year Free entry to our Plant Sales and Shows Big discounts on gardening and plant books Access to our seed exchange - the largest in the world!

You will be supporting our charitable research and conservation work. Call 01386 554790 or visit quoting R234 for this limited membership offer.

Whichford Pottery

R234 Country Gardener December 82x62-5.indd 1


Handmade British Flowerpots with a 10 Year Frostproof Guarantee

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To order call 01608 684416, visit or pop in to see us!


Hops for home


Now is the perfect time to buy hop rhizomes and plant them ready for their lift off in a few months time – and the start of a new beer making experience Beer styles and varieties are intrinsically British -deserving not just of admiration but of preservation. Hops are part of our brewing culture, history and heritage. So what better plant to grow in the garden? Once the growing season begins, hops need plenty of sunlight and water. If that sounds like a challenge, don’t lose heart. Growers all over the country manage it, even in the face of the British climate. The mixture of warm, wet summers and cool winters makes British hops the way they are: earthy and good for flavouring traditional beers like bitters, stouts and porters. Before planting hops you will need to spend some time planning the layout for your hops. Keep in mind that hop plants will grow 15 to 20 feet high. Make sure you choose an area with sufficient vertical space. Buy hop plants or rhizomes from a reputable disease-free source. Imported diseases pose a serious risk to British hops. If you have room, choose a commercial variety like ‘Fuggles’, for its large showy flowers; or ‘Goldings’, to make bitter; or try a dwarf variety such as ‘Prima Donna’. Don’t try grow from seed. It takes much longer and quite honestly isn’t worth it. Hops prefer deep, well-drained loams. Use well-mulched soil or high-quality compost and rotted manure to bed them in. Ideally plant over winter or buy plants in pots instead of rhizomes. Plant in the sunniest spot with room for strings or a pole for them to climb. Train the earliest shoots to climb. Once two or three bines per string are established remove surplus ones. Expect to do this in May. Hops’ main enemies are aphids, red spider mites and powdery mildew. Removing a few leaves may control mildew but bugs will need spraying. Harvest early to mid-September. Flowers should look plump and cone-like. Crush one and look for the release of its yellow oil. 32

Hops prefer deep, well drained soil

In late autumn or early winter, remove all growth above ground to control pests or diseases next season. The plants should reach their full height by summer, when they will sprout feathery buds that look a little like mini horse chestnut cases. After a few weeks, these will grow into flowers. You’ll be harvesting the ‘cones’, as they are called, around six months later, usually around September. This is the trickiest part. Kit yourself out with good gardening gloves and a long sleeved top made from thick fabric, because the leaves of the hops can lacerate you in an instant if you are not properly protected. Because hops are perennial, once you’ve planted a rhizome and bedded it in with compost, your hops will return year on year. They can be harvested from year one, but usually reach full maturity in the third year. The only encouragement they need is a dramatic pruning after the harvest, followed by a good, cold winter that will chill the soil and provide conditions for them to thrive. Use ‘green’ hops within 12 hours of picking or dry them immediately in an airing cupboard for later use. Brew yourself or ask a local brewery if it can “dry hop” a cask with your crop. The vines keep growing until midJuly, when most hops are either in full bloom or past bloom, depending on the variety and location. Healthy vines can produce up to two pounds of dried flowers per plant. One of the great joys of hops is the huge range of flavours provided by different species. Brewers choose specific varieties to create particular flavours and aromas in their beers, evoking everything from orange marmalade through to earthy honey, spicy cedar, blackcurrant and even chocolate, with dozens of others in between. Beer can be brewed without hops, flavoured instead with plants such as heather and bog myrtle. But hops give beer a refreshing quality that other plants simply can’t provide.

Country Gardener

HOW TO grow potatoes in bags It’s become a trend to grow potatoes in bags or sacks. The benefits are less disease, better use of space in the garden for more ‘valuable vegetables’ and often larger crops. Guess which was one of the top three trends in vegetable growing over the last two years? It may be surprising but it’s growing potatoes in bags which has caught the imagination and appeal of gardeners. If you’re lucky enough to have space on your vegetable plot you can grow your potatoes in the ground. If you only have limited space then this is where the trend really flourishes. Nothing beats that earthy taste of your home grown potatoes. Growing them isn’t as complicated as you might think, particularly if you grow them in potato bags. Potatoes growing in containers are also at much less risk of pests and diseases. You can buy seed potatoes for cropping throughout most of the year, including seed potatoes for Christmas which are becoming increasingly popular. To grow potatoes in bags in your small garden... Plant two tubers in an inside-out compost bag or extra thick bin liners in the greenhouse in February or March. Inside out, the bags are black and absorb any heat going ‘International Kidney’ and ‘Belle de Fontenay’ for forcing, or ‘Charlotte’ are good bag growing varieties. Roll down the sides of the compost bags to about half their height, make a few holes in the bottom of the plastic for drainage and fill the bag to about the depth of 30cms. Earth from molehills will give you lovely crumbly loam where the moles have done lots of the hard work for you. They create the most delicious, friable grass-free soil from a depth usually below the worst of the weed seed. Put in two tubers per bag and bury them in the soil/compost mix and back fill another 15cms or so on top. Water them in well. Put your sacks somewhere bright, frost free and a little warm. Within three weeks or so, they will have begun to shoot. Keep the compost damp, but not sopping wet. Once the shoots are about 15cm, roll up the edges of the bag a few turns and fill up to that level with more soil/compost mix. Carry on earthing them up, bit by bit every couple of weeks, until they reach nearly the top of the bag. Then allow the shoots to come up to flower, which should be in May, and you can start to harvest. You can turn out a whole bag at a time. It’s easiest to do this into an empty wheelbarrow, but with some varieties the flavour is better when harvested and eaten straight away, not stored. Some of the sugars in the tubers convert to starch when stored so the flavour gradually disappears.

For this reason, it’s worth perfecting your potato milking technique: cut off a corner of the bag and put your hand in from the bottom. Harvest and eat only what you need for each meal.

How long does it take to grow a potato? It is tempting to harvest potatoes as soon as possible to enjoy them in meals but different varieties can take anything from 70 to 120 days to grow. So, while the early-season potatoes will be ready to consume by the end of May or early June, others will need a bit more patience. Potatoes also come in early, late and mid-season varieties that vary in length of time to harvest. On average, you can expect about five to ten potatoes per plant.

How to grow perfect potatoes in bags 1. Chit tubers to produce sturdy shoots in a cool light place. 2. Start your grow sacks in a greenhouse or conservatory from as early as February and move outside once the frosts are over. 3. Grow them in a light, warm, sunny spot. 4. Use a good proprietary compost or an equal mix of compost and soil and place a layer four to six inches deep in the bottom. Place the potatoes on the compost and cover with a further six inches of compost. 5. Potatoes grow from the stem beneath the surface - so keep covering the foliage with more compost. 6. Feeding and irrigation is the big secret. Mix a potato fertilizer or a good general purpose fertiliser such as Growmore during planting earthing up. 7. Potato blight can be a big problem with later yielding crops.

Potatoes take between 70 to 120 days to grow 33



Here’s a selection of gardening events to look out for during the next few weeks throughout Somerset. Thank you to all those gardening clubs who have sent us their details of events for us to publicise. Send us details of your event at least ten weeks before publication and we will publicise it free of charge. Make sure you let us know where the event is being held, the date and include a contact telephone number. We are keen to support garden club events in 2018 and we will be glad to publicise talks and shows held during the year where clubs want to attract a wider audience, but we do not have space for club outings or parties. We suggest that garden clubs send us their diary for the year for events to be included in the relevant issue of the magazine. Please send to Country Gardener Magazines, Mount House, Halse, Taunton TA4 3AD or by email to We take great care to ensure that details are correct at the time of going to press but we advise readers to check wherever possible before starting out on a journey as circumstances can force last minute changes.





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From seed to your front room

– the Christmas tree story Every Christmas tree has a story that starts many years before it reaches your living room The traditional Norway spruce used to be the market leader, but the ‘non drop’ Nordmann and Noble fir have now more than three quarters of the market share. In order to make sure that the Christmas tree you buy is as pleasing as possible the seed from which the tree is grown is specially selected from trees that exhibit all the right characteristics for a Christmas tree. The ‘mother’ trees need to have a nice conical shape, with evenly spaced branches and full foliage. The seed is always collected from the trees by hand with pickers often scaling trees to pick the cones, which are then left in a cool dry place to dry and shed their seeds. Tree seed can be quite difficult to sprout as it is naturally designed to lay dormant on the forest floor for many years before bursting into life. But nursery growers have developed a process that makes the seed think that it is time to grow by soaking the seed in water then chilling it to make it believe it has been through a winter period. Then the seed is planted in warm soil. It is left to grow in the nursery bed for up to two years years, where it develops into a sturdy seedling with a good root structure. A good healthy root structure is the key to it growing on vigorously. The baby tree is now big enough to face the world, and can be dug up, placed into special bags and transported to the fields where it will grow on into your Christmas tree. Remember the tree has already reached four years old when it reaches its final growing place. The tree farmer can now start the seasonal work of turning this baby tree into a full sized Christmas tree. To give it every chance of surviving, the grower needs to protect the tree against pests and disease as well as a host of animals that like to graze on its foliage, like rabbits and deer. After the tree has been growing for about three years the grower starts its pruning which ensures that it is uniform and grows into as nice a shaped tree as possible. This is performed every year until the tree is cut. Fertilizer is applied if the tree lacks nutrients, and the bottom branches are removed 36

to form a handle, which means the tree can be fitted into a stand once it is cut. Now we move on six or seven years after the tree was originally planted in the field and it is time to start harvesting for Christmas. However, not all the trees are cut at the same time. Firstly the trees are thinned to leave enough space for the remaining trees to grow on into bigger trees. So only the best of the small trees are removed from the field leaving at least half to grow on. Often a field is harvested over three to four years before it is cleared. In that way all the different sizes of trees are harvested, from 1 metre to 2.5 metres. Once your tree is cut it needs to be left lying in the field for up to three days before it is put into a net to be transported to the retailer. This allows the tree to stop transpiring or ‘breathing’. If the grower doesn’t do this the tree still thinks it is growing and can heat up in the netting. All trees are as fresh as possible because they are delivered speedily directly after cutting and do not spend any additional time wrapped or stored before being delivered. Now it is your turn! Remember your trees are probably 12 years old! Therefore it would be a shame if you did not do everything you can to keep it as fresh as possible until it has helped you celebrate your Christmas right through until the New Year. So when you get your tree home, it is best to leave it outside for as long as possible, until you want to decorate it. When you bring it into your home, try to make sure it is away from direct heat which will cause it to dry out quickly. Place your tree into a water holding stand and keep the water bowl filled up with water. A healthy tree can easily drink over one pint of water per day. That’s the end of the story! Often 12 years from seed to your living room, it has been sometime in the growing and has had quite a journey to reach your home.

How to keep your Christmas tree looking great Your Christmas tree will look great for the festive season if you follow these simple steps. Buy a tree that doesn’t drop an excessive amount of needles when banged on the ground - the tree has been hanging around. Cut off an inch from the base of the trunk to assist water uptake, plunge it into a bucket of water and leave somewhere cool until needed, leaving any netting on. Use a stand that holds plenty of water. Never place your tree near a source of heat - it will dry out, causing needle drop. Once the tree is erected remove netting, fill the water reservoir and get decorating!. Check the water level daily, topping up if necessary.

Country Gardener

What will you be paying this Christmas? Country Gardener’s 2017 price survey from over 20 stockists and suppliers in our area has revealed there should be better value when buying your Christmas tree this year. The weak pound and a very strong supply means that trees should be cheaper. One supplier told us: “It’s difficult to know what the retailer will pass on to the customer but cut tree prices could be down by ten per cent“. Other trends for 2017 are: • Huge growth in pot-grown trees as an extra tree for the bedroom or porch. • Three to four foot trees are the most popular size. • Six million trees bought in the UK every year. • Business as usual after 2016 ’Brexit traumas’. • Earlier supply in 2017 after retailers reported running out of stocks last year. There’s a great deal of local variations on price but average prices for Nordman spruces are: • £16 to £20 for a 3ft cut tree. • £50 to £65 for a 6ft cut tree. • £70 plus for 8ft trees. • Artificial varieties start from £49.99 for a 6ft Christmas to £149.99 for a premium 7ft version.

Do’s and don'ts on buying your tree • Avoid roadside sellers and ‘pop-up’ pub car park sellersit might seem a bargain but it’s unlikely you’ll get a refund if it dies early. • Make sure you see your tree being netted. Nets can be used to hide wonky or bare branches. Chose a tree which is loose and then get it netted to transport home. • Think sensibly about how long you want your tree to last. Certain types of tree last longer than others. For a longer lasting tree buy a Nordman fir over a Norway spruce.


Winter wildlife watch By Elizabeth McCorquodale

Winter is a tough time for wildlife in the garden, both for species that we gardeners rely on to tackle pests and pollinate our crops, and for those garden inhabitants who simply give us pleasure Gardens can be real life-savers for wildlife in winter, providing food, water and shelter for all sorts of animals, whether they hibernate through most of the colder months like hedgehogs, bats and bumblebees or for the more active creatures that have to battle their way through all kinds of harsh conditions. We can make a real difference simply by providing vital habitats and a few well chosen meals when conditions are harsh.


The high-rise haven that is the log pile provides cover, food and nesting sites for invertebrates, amphibians and small mammals. They hole up in the cracks and crevices in and around the logs, in the rotting core of the logs themselves and in the protected ground beneath the pile. Place your log pile on the sunny south side of a sheltering wall or fence or drape a heavy tarp or old carpet over the top and down one side to prevent winter winds whistling through the gaps. A no-cut corner, where stems and stalks are allowed to stay standing through the winter, is a great addition to any winter garden, ensuring a safe haven for the insects and small mammals that naturally occupy grassy habitats and who search out hollow stems and seedheads in which to spend the winter. With a little forethought these wild areas will add a bit of architectural interest to the winter garden, coming to glistening life whenever a frost settles. When the garden begins to warm up in late spring cut 38

the stems back and lay them out for a week or two to allow overwintering insects to make their getaway. A few well placed terracotta tiles or flat stones in your garden pond will provide extra shelter for pond dwellers to hole up in when the temperatures dip and a couple of old terracotta pots placed on the margins and well covered with insulating leaves, will give amphibians and invertebrates a lovely, cosy waterside retreat to see out the winter. Keep pond life happy and healthy by ensuring your pond stays oxygenated in winter; a pan of very hot water set upon the ice will melt a hole in thick ice without causing distress to submerged pond life. Plant a thick evergreen or mixed hedge that will provide shelter for birds and small mammals, as well as safe nesting sites, berries, nectar-rich flowers and fruit. A light early autumn trim, with a late spring cut will keep your hedges looking neat and tidy without disturbing nesting birds in spring and will avoid severe frost damage on flushes of new growth. Enrich the foraging habitat around your garden by spreading a thick mulch of fallen leaves all over your flower beds, beneath trees and around ponds. This will provide shelter for small creatures and is a great foraging area for birds and larger mammals to hunt out invertebrates.


Bats, hedgehogs and dormice go into true hibernation as do several species of bumblebees, butterflies, lacewings and ladybirds while frogs, toads, lizards and small mammals such as shrews enter states of torpor, a sort of halfway point between sleeping and hibernation where body temperatures drop and heart rates slow in order to preserve fat reserves while food is scarce. All these animals will occasionally wake during warm periods to top up their fat stores with a meal or two before settling down again. They all need a safe and cosy place in which to spend the winter.

Country Gardener

Home made bird cakes

You can make inexpensive, tasty and nutritious winter treats for your garden birds that are far superior to most shop bought fat or suet balls. All you need is suet (available from supermarkets, or fresh and cheap from your butcher), good quality bird seed, thick string and a plastic cup, or other mold. Method 1. Gently melt a cup of suet over a low heat. 2. As soon as itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s melted, stir in a cup of mixed bird seed and allow it to cool for 15 -20 minutes. 3. Tie a thick knot in one end of the string and rest the knot in the bottom of the cup. Slowly spoon or pour the seed/ suet mix into the cup keeping the string central. Allow it to harden and set. 4. Once it is set, remove the bird cake from the cup by squeezing gently then hang it from a branch in the garden. Insect lodges come in all shapes and sizes, from a few lengths of bamboo trimmed to size, stuffed into an old tin and placed deep in a sheltering hedge, to blocks of wood and old logs peppered with neatly drilled holes suitable for bumblebees, lacewings and ladybirds, among others. To make the most of these hibernaculums set them in place in early autumn when the these animals begin looking for safe, warm places to see out the winter. The give and take of providing homes for beneficial insects such as ladybirds and lacewings is simple: provide the homes wherever the services of these beneficial insects are needed and in turn they will be ready to leap into deadly action as soon as their prey begin egg-laying in spring.

Hedgehog housing is easy enough to make. In a sheltered, quiet corner of your garden place a layer of dry bedding such as leaves or straw, and cover it with a small box or upturned basket propped up at a corner to allow access. The space inside should be around 25 to 35cm tall and broad. Cover the shelter with a thick waterproofing and insulating layer of leaves and branches. Hedgehogs commonly go walkabout in mild spells and may swap houses if another one is available, so if space allows, an extra hedgehog hut or two is a welcome addition.

Emergency rations and winter treats A dry summer followed by a dry autumn can spell starvation for insectivorous animals like hedgehogs and badgers. Badgers donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t hibernate, though they do tend to sleep longer and deeper than in the warmer months in order to minimise their food needs when food is scarce. Help badgers and hedgehog to bulk up before they set in for the winter by providing wet or dry cat or dog food from early autumn onwards. Several overwintering insects seek out flowers on the occasional mild days of winter, then tuck themselves back up again when the temperatures drop. Without a supply of nectar they simply would not make it through to spring. This essential top up can be provided by planting hellebores, aconites, hardy primroses, winter flowering viburnums, winter honeysuckle, winter flowering heathers, pulmonaria and willows. Cotoneasters, ivy, buddleia, holly, crabapples, pyracantha, hawthorn, rowans and roses all provide a feast of berries and fruit through the winter to feed small mammals and fruit eating birds while alliums, honesty, sunflowers, autumn and winter clematis, teasels, buddleia and all the thistles provide seed heads for seed eating birds through winter. Water is an often-overlooked essential in the winter garden so provide troughs and shallow bowls around the garden and try to locate them out in the open to prevent cats pouncing when birds are drinking or bathing. In freezing conditions pop out every now and then to ensure your drinking stations remain ice-free.


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The catkin covered TASSEL TREE The long, hanging silvery catkins of Garrya elliptica (the silk tassel bush) are a striking sight in winter. With its evergreen leaves and graceful catkins, Garrya is a wonderful seasonal shrub Catkins are one of winter’s supreme decorations, and few shrubs or small trees can rival the garrya’s stunning January and February display. Garrya is a small genus distributed along North America’s western coastlands, from Mexico to Oregon. It carries with it quite a story. Garrya elliptica, the hardiest species and the one best-suited to the British climate, was introduced to horticulture by Scottish plant hunter David Douglas in 1828. He named the plants after the Hudson Bay Company’s Nicholas Garry, who helped Douglas with his forays in western USA. Douglas was in the employ of The Horticultural Society of London (now the RHS) and in between 1825 and his untimely death in 1834 he covered thousands of miles by pony, horse and canoe. He was fortunate to travel through landscapes rich in botanical wealth. It was when he was in the mountains of central Oregon when he made the discovery of a fine evergreen shrub. Although new to Douglas, he was not to know that the shrub was new to science and represented both a new genus and a new family. We know this shrub as Garrya elliptica so well known for its long catkin-like spikes of greenish grey bracts. Numerous garryas thrive in Britain, the showiest found in

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milder counties in the south west and maritime locations. The stiff, dark glossy leaves have wavy margins, and their woolly, silvery undersides David Douglas- the Scottish immediately distinguish explorer and plant collector the garrya from other who when he found Garrya elliptica discovered a new evergreens. genus and family It needs well-drained conditions, is happy on poor soils and tolerant of salt spray and urban pollution. Its prize is its catkins, which are six to eight inches long, slender tassels with a grey, silky sheen, hanging in clusters from the branches of male plants throughout January and February. The female’s four inch long-long catkins are only slightly less ornamental but they are followed in late summer by clusters of purpled-brown fruits. The variety ‘James Roof’ (named after the Garden Director at the Regional Parks Botanic Garden near Berkeley, California and found growing there in a batch of seedlings about 50 years ago) has the longest of all garrya catkins, reaching up to 14in. Plants can be pruned to maintain their shape or to remove any dead branches. This should be done immediately after flowering in early spring so new catkin-bearing growth can develop in time for the following winter. Garryas dislike root disturbance, and will most likely die if moved too often. Try to site them correctly, bearing in mind that the protection of a north- or east-facing wall often proves ideal in this country. Given a south-facing aspect, however, sheltered by other trees from the worst of winter’s frost and high winds which are likely to burn and discolour the foliage, it is capable of immense and unblemished beauty. Out in open situations, it can reach up to 15ft. Infant plants in cold districts benefit from a wrapping of fleece or bracken during winter. The plant is easily increased by four inch semi-ripe cuttings taken in late summer and placed in a open rooting medium. All in all a superlative winter flowering plant.

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Country Gardener

Caring for roses

in winter

Their show might be over, but if you give your roses some care in November they will get safely through the winter, coming back healthy, vigorous and full of flowers next year. Autumn is also a good time to plant a rose Even though it is a tough thing to do, in many areas we need to let our rose bushes take their winter nap. To make sure they go through the winter well and come back strong the following spring, there are a few things to do and keep in mind. The key jobs are tidying up, getting rid of any spent blooms or diseased foliage, and some judicious pruning Proper care of roses in winter actually starts in summer. It is not necessary to feed roses any further granular fertiliser after September. Stopping fertilising is a kind of winter protection for roses. Also you need to stop deadheading or removing the old blooms by the end of summer. This too helps give a message to the rose bushes that it is time to slow down and put some energy into their winter reserves. Most roses produce new shoots from the base. Train these new shiny stems in now (while they are still pliable) and cut out some of the older ones. You may want to spread the branches wide and peg them to a wall, or you may want to twine them around a support to create a spiral framework, or loop them along a pergola. Gravity-defying training makes the sap flow more slowly, which in turn encourages the production of more flower buds. PRUNING Prune in the second half of winter with sharp secateurs, removing the dead, dying and diseased wood. Hybrid tea roses are cut down low to strong outward-facing buds. Rose blooms tend to get very soggy in the damp days of November, so remove any balled flowers to prevent fungal diseases. Floribundas should be reduced to roughly 18 inches and oldfashioned roses are reduced by one third. The latter are never pruned hard.

A winter protective layer of mulch will make sure the soil is damp and warm

This is the time to prune the canes on all the rose bushes, except the climbing roses, down to about half their height. This helps keep the canes from being broken over badly by heavy winter snows or those nasty whipping winter winds. TIDY UP AND FEED Once cold weather sets in, the leaves soon fall. Tidy them up meticulously, feed your roses with bonemeal and mulch with well-rotted organic matter or good-quality bark, making sure that the soil is damp and warm. This protective layer will prevent black spot spores from being splashed back up onto the rose during winter. Feed with Vitax Q4 in spring: it contains potash to encourage flower. The temperature fluctuating between hot and cold can confuse the rose bushes and cause them to think it is time to grow while still winter. Starting to grow too soon and then getting hit by a hard freeze will spell death for the rose bush that has started to grow early. The climbing rose bushes should be mounded as well; however, since some climbers bloom on the old wood or last year’s growth only, you would not want to prune them back. WATERING IN WINTER Winter is not the time to forget about the rose bushes needing water. Watering roses is an important part of roses’ winter care. Some winters are very dry, thus the available soil moisture is quickly depleted. On the warmer days during the winter, check the soil and water lightly as needed. You do not want to soak them; just give them a little drink and check the soil moisture again to see that it has improved. Winter is a time for our roses to rest a bit, but we cannot totally forget them or there will be much to replace in the spring.

Autumn is a good time to transplan t any rose bushes that are in the wrong position. You can also plan t new ones, as th ey’ll have time to get established before winter arriv es. These are available as contai ner-grown plants , or as bareroot plants from November throug h to March


Four house plants to

SAVOUR THIS W INTER It’s the time of year when understandably house plants come into their own. Not only do they increase the feel-good factory by having some greenery around, they also purify the air we breathe and keep green fingered skills alive. Here’s a quartet of easy to grown and intriguing plants for indoors.


Peperomia clusiifolia (baby rubber plant)

This is one of the most impressive variegated forms of the peperomia group you will find. Peperomias are generally very easy to grow. They are cold sensitive and require well-drained soil with some organic matter. Allow the soil to become quite dry before watering. The leaf blades are wonderfully adorned in various hues of green, ivory or cream and rosy-pink, and are beautifully bordered in red to show off their beauty. These evergreen, sometimes succulent houseplants may be either rosette-forming or erect with trailing stems. Though peperomia produce greenish white, panicle-like flower spikes, they are grown primarily for their foliage. Indoors, they require bright indirect light, but do tolerate low light. Water moderately during summer and sparingly during winter with water that is room temperature. Fertilize monthly with a balanced fertilizer. Though you might hear these plants favour daily misting, it is not necessary. These plants like to be a little pot bound.


Begonia rex

Begonias such as Begonia Rex and Begonia metallica are popular houseplants grown for their attractive foliage or flowers. The leaves may have bold shapes or striking, often silver markings. Rex begonias are tropical plants, prized for their colourfully patterned and intriguingly shaped leaves. Although they are at home in a shady garden, they are also popular as houseplants. Many people collect and display several varieties. Most begonias sold today are named hybrids, although they are not always labeled. Begonia rex hybrids have been developed to have unusual markings, leaf shapes and colours. The leaves grow on short leaf stalks, from the underground rhizome. The leaf edges and undersides are covered with short red hairs. The leaves are asymmetrical, usually between four and nine 46

inches long and variegated in shades of green, red, pink, purple, silver and brown. The flowers are usually pink, however while a few rex begonias have showy flowers, most are barely noticeable and don’t add anything to the appeal of the plant. It’s usually recommended that you cut the flowers and allow the plants energy to go into growing the leaves.


Zamioculcas zamiifolia

These are hip, stylish and incredibly easy to look after houseplants. Zamioculcas zamiifolia is a member of the Araceae (Arum) family. It’s an evergreen plant with feathered leaves which grow to a length of 40 to 60cm. The leaves on the thick stems are smooth, shiny and dark green. The plant can flower, but rarely does indoors and the arum-like flowers grow from the base of the plant. It’s important that the plant is free of pests and diseases, although zamioculas is not particularly prone to these. The plant may sometimes have one yellow leaf, in which case it may have been in storage for too long or got too wet. Black spots on the stems are natural, and do not indicate problems. Also check the pot size in relation to the thickness of the plant and the number of feathers and their length. With some plants the pot is somewhat distorted by the enormous strength of the underground tubers in the pot. This can even cause pots to crack sometimes. In that case urgent repotting is required.


Gynura aurantiaca

Growing purple passion houseplants (gynura aurantiaca) offers an unusual and attractive houseplant for any brightly lit indoor area. The young purple passion plant has velvety leaves; thick, deep purple hairs on a green coloured leaf and a cascading habit, making it perfect for an inside hanging basket. The purple passion plant, also known as velvet plant or gynura, appears to have purple leaves from the thick hairs. As the plant ages, the hairs spread further apart and the colour is not as intense. Most purple passion houseplants remain attractive for two to three years. Plant the purple passion plant in a houseplant soil that offers good drainage, as the plant is susceptible to root rot from too much water.

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Somerset Country Gardener Winter 2017  

The Winter 2017 Issue of Somerset Country Gardener Magazine

Somerset Country Gardener Winter 2017  

The Winter 2017 Issue of Somerset Country Gardener Magazine