Trugg and Barrows Garden Diary December 2011

It’s better to wear away than rust away!?

In the garden over the last month we have been continuing to cut back herbaceous plants and pick up leaves on an industrial scale. For many gardeners this time of year is the most physical with back aches and muscle strains aplenty. Many people wonder what gardeners ‘get up to in the winter’. The short answer to that is, plenty! Other than the end of year tidy up, there is all the mulching of borders and ‘project’ work to do. It is a time of year when the foundations for the growing season to come are laid. More on that another time.

Looking after Christmas plants.

Apparently, ‘tis the season to be jolly,’ so I thought I would have a go at talking about Christmas plants, such as azaleas, Christmas cacti, poinsettias and cyclamen. The first step in getting the most out of these plants is to buy good quality. Grown in conditions similar to those outlined below, not picked up off a trolley outside a green grocers or from next to a draughty supermarket or garden centre door. Avoid taking them outside on a cold day; if you have to, make sure that they are well wrapped up. A chilly blast given to these plants at this stage can hasten their demise, no matter how well you look after them once you get them home.

The best way to keep azaleas, Christmas cacti, and cyclamen flowering is by giving them cool conditions. Temperatures of 50 to 60°F (10 to 15°C) are ideal; poinsettias like it a bit warmer. Avoid letting them get too cold at night, which can happen if they sit on a chilly window sill. Another problem is putting them too close to a heat source, which can cause them to dry out quickly. What they need is a stable temperature, not one that fluctuates wildly, as it would in a draught.

Festive Poinsettia.

The display that Poinsettias provide can be very long-lasting; several months if looked after well. Poinsettias do best in bright conditions, but don’t like direct sunlight. Water them thoroughly when the top of the potting compost starts to dry out. They like it relatively warm, 60 to 70°F (15 to 21°C), and need to be kept out of draughts. Mist them regularly to prolong the life of their showy bracts.

There isn’t much point to keeping poinsettias through the growing season, in an attempt to get them to re-bloom, as they need exacting conditions of light and temperature, so it’s easiest just to discard them when you’ve had enough of them.

Poinsettias belong to the Euphorbia family of plants, which exude a milky sap from leaves, flower bracts and stems when broken open. Just a note of caution: sometimes the sap can cause mild skin rashes, bit it is a myth that they are poisonous.

Indoor cyclamen

Indoor cyclamen will flower for several months. Choose a plant that has lots of buds, and look for healthy coloured (dark green) leaves.

Cyclamen prefer a cool, bright spot, out of strong sunlight. Be sure to keep them away from heat sources and out of draughts. If possible, water from below by placing to stand for a while in a bowl with an inch or two of water in it, then allow to drain. Avoid over-watering.

Remove finished flower stems. After flowering, continue careful watering and feeding until leaves yellow, then decrease watering as the plant goes dormant in summer. When new growth resumes, start regular watering.

Indoor azaleas.

These like cool, moist and shady growing conditions. An east or north-facing window sill is ideal. Don’t let them dry out, and keep them away from hot air heating outlets. The best way to water them is to set the pot into a saucer of water at room temperature for about five minutes, and then let the pot drain. Indoor azaleas also benefit from added humidity provided by a pebble tray.

Indoor azaleas can be kept outdoors in the summer in a cool, shady spot. Water frequently, and give it fertilizer for acid-loving plants. Bring the plants back indoors before frosts arrive.

Christmas cactus

Christmas Cactus prefers a bright position out of direct sunlight. Too much direct sunlight can burn the plant, whilst too deep shade can affect how well a plant will flower during the blooming period. As with all houseplants, be sure to keep away from draughts, and heating sources. Try to keep the plants at around 15 degrees celius.

Even though its name contains Cactus, a Christmas Cactus is not a true cactus. Allow the compost to dry out between waterings, but do not let it dry completely. Water thoroughly once every two weeks or so, however this will vary depending on the location of the plant.

An appeal to our audience.

December has rolled around and it is inevitably time to think of what gifts we might get our gardening friends for Christmas. Or even what we might spoil ourselves with as a reward for all our hard work this year.

So instead of the normal plant based article I want to review a few books that have caught my eye this year and might make a good present for the horticultural enthusiasts amongst us. In doing so I also want to issue an appeal to those who read this to contribute some of their own ideas, it doesn’t have to be a book review, so that we get more people involved. Just write a few lines about your experience about whatever it is and send it along. It doesn’t even have to be in time for Christmas; there are always birthdays, anniversaries or those occasions when we want to treat ourselves. Use the link at the bottom of this page to get in touch and share whatever you want.

I firmly believe that whatever the plant we are trying to grow we can grow it better when we understand a bit more about where it can be found in the wild and under what conditions it is found growing. That is why I have chosen my first two books.

The Explorer’s Garden – Shrubs, Trees and Vines from The Four Corners of the World. By Dan Hinkley. Published by Timber Press.

Hinkley is an American plantsman, nurseryman and traveller who founded the famous Heronswood Nursery in the U.S.A. In this book he has collated some of his experiences and some of his most outstanding horticultural finds from his trips around the world.

The book is organised by genera and each chapter is begun with an excerpt from his diary giving a flavour of what it is like to travel to far flung places and find these wonderful plants, as well as his feelings at the time.

Amongst the plants to be encountered are obscure exotics such as Metapanax, Alangium and Lardizabala as well as some better known members of more familiar plant families; Hydrangea, Hamamelis and Euonymus for example.

The language is perfectly accessible to the reader, no far flung latin here, only concise descriptions of the plants as he found them and as he grew them back home and sound reasoning as to why each one deserves garden space.

Through the travels of this admirable plantsman we can get a feeling for some of the introductions which await discovery by the gardening public.

Piet Oudolf – Landscapes in Landscapes. Words by Noel Kingsbury. Published by Thames and Hudson.

No single person has had more influence on the way perennials are used and planted, especially in public spaces, over the last ten or more years than dutch plantsman and designer Piet Oudolf. His designs can be seen as far afield as the United States of America, Germany, Italy and Trentham Gardens in Staffordshire.

Oudolf himself emerges from the New Perennial planting movement, a loose collective of gardeners, designers and nurserymen (of whom Oudolf is one) who emphasise structure as the most important element of successful gardening. It has become a well worn phrase these days to suggest a plant ‘dies well’ but the beauty of a plant throughout its life cycle is prized more than colour by Oudolf and his cohort. Expressive but ecologically sound planting is at the heart of what Oudolf does.

This book is more about Oudolf than by him and features twenty three of his public and private gardens. The text by Noel Kingsbury contextualises his designs and as a bonus the book provides copies of detailed planting plans making the designs more accessible for adaptation to smaller personal gardens. The photography is lavish and generous and although the slick design and cool graphics make it appear as one of those ‘coffee table’ books (a phrase which usually makes me want to put a book down rather then pick it up) this work should be well thumbed by any gardener.

Plant Names Simplified – By Johnson and Smith. Published by Old Pond.

This is my own personal ‘little black book’. Pocket sized, it contains 120 pages of plant names organised by genera with a guide to pronunciation and the meaning of each name, followed by species epithets and those meanings also. And that is all there is to it, what plant names mean and why. Carry it on garden visits and although it is not exhaustive (how could it be) you might never be stuck for information about a plant, its origins, discovery, habit or habitat again!

Merry Christmas, ho, ho, ho and a happy new year to you all. Keep working hard (if you like) and see you next year.

Please note: images have been removed from this pages because some of them may have been used without permission.

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