Facebook Q&A Session Januay 7th


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Name: Corinne Surkitt

Question: I am new to gardening (except for helping my grandad years ago as a child) and having spent weeks removing several trips to the tips worth of rubbish and weeds i have 2 small but lovingly prepared beds ready for the spring. I am looking to create a scented garden this year but am spoilt for choice and just want to buy... everything but am worried that I will go mad and buy loads of annual plants and then be left with bare soil again in autumn whilst I await the oppurtunity to buy the next years ...but with such a small space I am worried about filling it up with shrubs that will take over and leave me no room for a change ...any tips on how I can have the best of both worlds ?

Answer: Hi Corinne, I agree it can be very difficult to decide what to do with new beds. Try to avoid planting too many individual plants which can look a bit messy. It is always better to plant groups of just a few species. You may be best to have a few shrubs along with some herbaceous perennials, and then leave some gaps for planting annuals each year.

Shrubs are good for providing winter interest and structure so it’s worth planting a few small types (shrubs also provide some of the best fragrances). You could try Sarcococca confusa (Christmas Box) which is evergreen with scented white flowers during winter. It will grow in the sun or full shade. You could also try Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’ which is an evergreen shrub with yellow-margined leaves and pink, highly scented flowers in mid-winter and early spring. Both the Sarcococca and Daphne will eventually reach about 1 to 1.5m height and spread but are slow growing so there is no danger of them quickly taking over.

Plant some herbaceous perennials to extend the season of interest from spring until late autumn. For scent I would try Phlox paniculata or fragrant Carnations (Dianthus). Although they are not scented, grasses are also particularly good because in the winter the golden seed heads and foliage remain on the plant providing structure and ensuring the ground does not look completely bare. Carex Red Rooster is a particularly attractive variety. You can fill the gaps with annuals or even dot a few bulbs around the beds for spring interest.

When I create a new bed I mainly plant it up with annuals the first year for instant impact and to see how the plants work together and find out which parts of the bed are dry, wet, hot or shady throughout the year. Don’t be afraid to experiment - you can lift most perennials in the spring or autumn and move them if you’re unhappy with where they’re placed. Even the shrubs can be moved if necessary. Beds are normally a work-in-progress! I hope this is of some help to you and good luck.

Name: Bijal Mistry

Question: Busy Lizzie failure! For the last 5 years all my busy lizzies have failed due to busy lizzie downy mildue. Is there any cure? I am seriously thinking of not growing them at all in 2011. Can anyone help?

Answer: Hi Bijal. You are not alone in your battle against downy mildew. This fungus is quite widespread and often affects Busy Lizzies during warm wet periods in summer, making the foliage turn yellow and drop, and eventually leaving just a mass of slimy stems with a tuft of yellow leaves at the tips. A diagnosis can normally be confirmed by checking for a white downy coating on the underside of the leaves that are still on the plant.

Unfortunately, to the best of my knowledge, there are no fungicides available to the amateur that will cure downy mildew. However copper based fungicides and those containing the active ingredient Mancozeb may help to prevent outbreaks. Once infected, the plants will gradually deteriorate and eventually die. If this occurs you will need to destroy all infected plant material to prevent spores reinfecting any remaining plants. I would advise against composting them as spores may remain in the compost heap and infect new plants next year. Burning them is the best option.

You might also like to try growing Sunpatiens®. This New Guinea hybrid appears to be less susceptible then the usual bedding Busy Lizzies (Impatiens walleriana).

Name: Jo Barlow

Question: I would like to grow some wisteria up the back wall of our house which is south facing. Any tips as to the best sort to have (I like the blue coloured one) and any tips on planting, pruning and growing successfully please?

Answer: Hi Jo. The Chinese Wisteria (W. sinensis) is most commonly grown but the Japanese Wisteria (W. floribunda) is also widely available.  Both are quite fragrant, however, Chinese Wisteria often has a stronger scent.  Its Japanese cousin has longer, showier flowers , although it can take a few more years to become established and may be slightly slower to flower.

A sheltered south facing position is ideal for your wisteria as the flower buds can be damaged by hard spring frosts in colder aspects. Grow your wisteria plant in a sunny or semi shaded position in any moist, well drained soil. Prior to planting add plenty of well rotted manure or garden compost to the soil. Remember that wisteria is a large and long lived climber so it will require permanent sturdy supports for its growth. Strong wires can be attathed to your wall with vine eyes prior to planting. After planting, feed and water your plant regularly until it is fully established.

Prune wisteria in July and again in February.  During the first two years, prune to create a framework of permanent stems.  Tie in selected lateral shoots to sturdy supports and cut back unwanted growth.  Once the desired framework has been created, continue pruning wisteria twice a year to contain the plants growth within its allotted space.

Name: Daniel Stewart Marshall

Question: Hi Sue, I planted some Autumn planting garlic about a week before everything froze solid. Do you think they will have survived?

Answer: Hi Daniel, autumn-planting varieties of garlic are fully hardy. Provided the soil isn’t waterlogged your garlic should be fine - look out for new growth in a few months time when the weather starts to warm up.

Name: Daniel Stewart Marshall

Question: Oh I've another question if that is alright! Last year I planted a double chamomile in a pot. It grew really well but there were no flowers. Now what foliage is left is hanging over the side and the middle is a mass of stems. What should I do with it? Thanks, Daniel.

Answer: Don’t worry Daniel, the double chamomile is perennial and will produce fresh growth in spring. Cut back the old stems and foliage to encourage dense, bushy new growth. You may need to give it an occasional trim in summer too, to stop the growth becoming thin and straggly.

Name: Anna Simon

Question: Hi. I have recently moved into a house with an established fruit garden. Our raspberries fruited from August (when we moved in) until mid-November. I pruned half of them by cutting the canes which had borne fruit down to about 3-4 inches and leaving those which looked 'newer'. Is this right? I haven't had a chance to do the other half. Should I do the same now? it is quite hard to tell the difference between the canes now. Many thanks, Anna Simon.

Answer: Hi Anna, how lovely to gain an established fruit garden. It sounds like you have a variety of autumn-fruiting raspberry. The pruning you’ve carried out is correct for summer-fruiting raspberries. For autumn fruiting raspberries, cut all your raspberry canes to ground level in February. The new canes produced will then bear fruit this coming autumn.


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