Monthly Archives: August 2012

Pot Marigold for the Flower Garden

Pot Marigold

Calendula officinalis, the Pot Marigold is native to central Europe and the Mediterranean.

It’s common name, “marigold” is most likely derived from its association with the Virgin Mary and its Latin name Calendula comes from the Latin word Kalendae, “first day of the month” in the Roman calendar possibly because it can  be found in flower at the beginning of most months of the year.

It was used in ancient Greece and Rome and in early Indian and Arabic cultures.  Because of its excellent antiseptic, healing and detoxifying properties it is a major herb in modern Western medicine.

The ancient Greeks and Romans used it to colour foods, fabrics and cosmetics, as well as for medicinal purposes.

Pot Marigold

Its petals can be used as a substitute for saffron in soups and rice dishes as well as used fresh in salads.  When infused it can add colour to dairy products such as cheese, butter and milk desserts.

Calendula is a hardy annual which self seeds profusely.  Removing dead flowerheads will prolong flowering and help to control self seeding if desired.  Because it is hardy, seeds can be sown in situ in either spring or autumn.  There are a few pests and diseases that you should look out for namely powdery mildew (as you can see in the photograph, mine have succumbed), rust, cucumber mosaic virus and caterpillars.

Powdery Mildew

This is such an easy flower to grow and one of my all time favourites.  Mine are setting seed which I’ll be collecting for next year’s crop.

Seeds ripening …


Seriously Succulent

So today the inner plantaholic got the better of me.

Whilst at the garden centre a few days ago I came across Aeonium ‘Blushing Beauty’ and mustering every ounce of willpower walked away empty handed with the memory of it burning brightly in my mind.

At the same time, I’ve been wanting to renew the planting in a large clay container which has been overlooked since we moved house.  So, taking inspiration from a facebook fan page ‘The Succulent Perch’ I grabbed my purse and gave in.  Here’s what I came home with :~

Crassula ‘Tresco Seaspray’

Sempervivum calcareum

Sedum purpureum

Aeonium ‘Blushing Beauty

Here’s what I did next …

Base for the pot …

Turf removed and wood base slightly sunken and leveled.

Pot positioned and level checked.

Aeonium left in pot because it will need to come indoors for the winter. Top-dressing of pea gravel applied.

Just need to develop the planting around the pot next spring but a good start to a succulent focal point.

Medicinal, Cultural, Culinary and Ornamental Chives

Flowers appear from April – June and are great for bees …

Chives, Allium schoenoprasum, have been around for over 5000 years and have  been cultivated in Europe since the Middle Ages when it was believed that bunches of herbs hung around your home could ward off evil and disease.  The Romans believed that chives could relieve sore throats and sunburn and Romanian gypsies apparently used them in fortune telling.

The chive is a hardy bulb forming herbaceous perennial which grows to between 30cm and 50cm tall.  It’s leaves are hollow and 2mm to 3mm in diameter and it’s flowers are purple, produced in a dense inflorescence.  The seeds are produced in a small three-valved capsule and mature in summer.  Mine, seen here, were bought and planted after flowering so I’ll have to wait a while to see them flowering next year.

Allium schoenoprasum

Chives are generally free of insect attack due mainly to the sulphur compounds they contain, though thankfully this doesn’t deter the bees.

Chives are known to have a beneficial effect on the circulatory system by lowering blood pressure, much the same as garlic but much weaker which is probably why it has limited use as a medicinal herb.  In native North American medicine they are used internally as a spring tonic as well as for worms in children!

The culinary uses of chives are far more familiar as it is commonly used in small amounts for flavouring all kinds of dishes.  In England they are used to flavour Cotswold  cheese.  Over-consumption should be avoided however, as they can cause digestive problems.  On the plus side, they are rich in vitamins A and C and contain trace amounts of sulphur and iron.  The flowers are also edible and look great in salads.

If you’re more interested in using chives for ornamental purposes here’s one cultivar you should consider :~

Allium Schoenoprasum ‘Forescate’

Allium schoenoprasum ‘Forescate’

This cultivar is larger than the species, growing to around 45cm and has pink flowers.






On the other hand if you’re wanting to grow chives for either their edible flowers or foliage, here are two further possibilities :~



Allium schoenoprasum ‘Grolau’

Allium schoenoprasum‘Grolau’

Otherwise known as Windowsill Chives, has dark green foliage with good flavour, grows well in low light and re-grows readily when cut.




Allium schoenoprasum ‘Profusion’

This cultivar has sterile flowers making it excellent for edible flower production.




Chives grow best in rich, well drained soil in full sun although they will tolerate heavier, wetter soils and a less open position than many other Allium.  My soil has a pH of 6.5 (slightly acidic) and they seem to be thriving so far.

Wildflowers of the South Downs

It’s a perfect summer’s day and what better way to start it than a stroll on the wild side.  I’m lucky that I live on the edge of the South Downs with stunning views and plenty of wildflowers to find and photograph, here are a few of them.

Pulicaria dysenterica

Lathyrus pratensis

Convulvulus arvensis

Daucus carota

Epilobium angustifolium

Senecio jacobaea (Very poisonous to livestock)

Potting-On Bonsai

The word Bonsai means ‘tree in a tray’ in Japanese.

Chinese Elm

Keeping the root environment healthy is  essential when cultivating bonsai trees, and that means re-potting when the roots become overcrowded or the plant is still in the early stages of growth.

When choosing the media you should use the tree species as a guide and use a soil composition which replicates that in which it would grow in its natural habitat.  Generally though a mix of equal parts loam, peat and sand would be fine.  Alternatively, you can buy proprietary bonsai composts which will suit most species.

My bonsai is a Chinese Elm which has been in my family for nearly 20 years (no pressure to keep it healthy!).  It has been a while since I re-potted it last, the roots are in need of trimming and the soil is depleted.  Here I explain the simple process of re-potting it.

Soak the whole rootball until saturated.

Making sure the root zone is wet will lessen the risk of transplant shock

Tease out the old soil from the roots.

Remove as much old compost as possible

Trim any excessively long roots.

Place a layer of fresh compost back in the tray before replacing the tree and gently dibbing in the fresh compost around the roots making sure there are no air pockets.

Adding new compost

Water well with a rose.

Know Your Garden Friendlies

These odd looking critters are the larval stage of our very familiar garden friend, the ladybird.  They are voracious predators consuming between 200 – 400 aphids and other pests before they are ready to pupate.  They grow up to 11mm in length and are black with white or orange markings.   Anything you can do to encourage these insects into your garden will help in the battle against many pests especially aphids, of which I have many!  I plan on constructing an insect ‘condo’ for winter shelter (eventually!).  It’s good to see I have these larvae, just need to hang on to them.

The larval stage of the ladybird …

A Fern, a Grass and a Shady Spot

Planting’s begun …

Today I’ve planted two new plants in the bit at the bottom by the toolshed.  They are Panicum virgatum ‘Warrior’, Switch Grass and Dryopteris goldiana, Goldie’s Wood Fern.




Goldie’s Wood Fern ~ Dryopteris goldiana

Goldie's Wood Fern

Goldie’s Wood Fern

This fern is named to honour John Goldie, an early botanist who discovered it in Montreal, Canada.   It’s one of the largest for a sheltered shady garden but likes moist shade so I’ve taken a slight risk as the bit at the bottom is fairly dry.  I added a good amount of homemade compost to the planting hole to help improve moisture retention and have mulched as well so fingers crossed!


Switch Grass ~ Panicum virgatum ‘Warrior’

Switch Grass

Switch Grass

P. virgatum ‘Warrior’ is a deciduous perennial grass with flat, linear leaves which are mid-green in spring and summer turning yellow in autumn.  The flower spikes turn dark purple in autumn too.  It tolerates a wide range of conditions, including any aspect, any pH (acid, alkaline or neutral) and most soils as long as they are moist and well drained.  The garden centre label claims it tolerates partial shade though most references will tell you it needs full sun.  We will see how it gets on in the dappled shade.  Assuming it settles down, I’ll be dividing this plant in mid-spring for further planting.  This is also the time to remove the dead foliage and flowered stems before new growth advances.

By the way, the fern in the foreground is a Hart’s Tongue, Asplenium scolopendrium which came with us in a pot when we moved house.

Caring for your Moth Orchid

Phalaenopsis is a large genus of epiphytic plants, that is they grow on other plants but aren’t parasitic.  The moth orchid produces superb flower spikes which are extremely long lasting.  If the plant is strong it may produce several flower spikes a year and some might even flower continuously.  The species can be found ranging from India to New Guinea on the upper branches of trees in forests where there is heat and humidity.  Most of those currently in cultivation can be found in the Phillipines and its neighbouring islands.

Growing indoors is easy.  Orchid compost, which is essentially bark, can easily be bought at most garden centres.  Heat and humidity are essential to the plants health but direct sunlight, especially in summer will scorch the foliage so a bright windowsill where light is filtered or shaded greenhouse are best.  Because Phalaenopsis are essentially hot-house orchids, the plant shouldn’t be allowed to dry out especially during the summer when the roots are actively growing.  Fresh air and ventilation are important but avoid draughty spots.

Where the potting compost has deteriorated, rather than disturb the actively growing plant, it can topped up as necessary.

Moth orchids should only be re-potted when absolutely necessary, when it is clear the root system has outgrown its pot.  When re-potting, the older roots should be pruned back.  Rockwool or a proprietary orchid compost (bark based) are the usual potting media.  Drainage should be sharp so adding a few crocks to the pot when potting on is a good idea.

During the flowering period, August onwards (length dependent on growing conditions) I water mine once a week, more if necessary.

I’m not a lazy gardener, but I’d have to recommend this orchid as being one of the least troublesome plants I’ve ever had the pleasure of growing.



Orchids are Easy



Phalaenopsis, moth orchids are one of the easiest flowers to grow.  Here are a few of mine just coming into flower.  With the right care they will flower well into winter and beyond.

Green Manures for Late Summer Sowing

Winter Mix

Leaving soil bare over the winter period can have detrimental effects on its structure and fertility.  Rain leaches nitrates from the soil and weeds can gain a foothold creating extra work for the gardener.  Green manure plants can help in a number of ways.  Members of the legume family can fix nitrogen in the soil improving fertility for the following crop, all of them help to suppress weeds and when dug in add organic matter.  Some, like the broad bean, Vicia faba can also provide food during the growing period.  Here are a few of the most beneficial plants for sowing now (late summer/autumn) and overwintering.

The Nitrogen Fixers


Alfalfa (Lucerne) Medicago Sativa

This crop is a tall perennial with deep roots which can occupy a plot for a whole season. It provides plenty of organic matter when dug in, is a good weed suppressant and is a nitrogen fixer coming from the legume family.  It can be sown in late summer for digging in come spring.

Broad Bean

Broad (or fava) Bean Vicia faba

This crop is highly versatile withstanding the coldest winters, providing organic matter when dug in and again is a nitrogen fixer.  Additionally, if sown in rows 30cm apart with 10cm between seeds then you will get a crop of beans too.  Seeds can be harvested for the following year’s crop of green manure or beans if desired.  Sow in autumn or early summer.

Red Clover

Red Clover Trifolium pratense

Red clover is low growing with a wide spreading root system.  It fixes nitrogen and provides plenty of organic matter when dug in.  It needs to be sown before autumn, preferably in spring or late summer.  Sow in rows 15cm apart scattering the seed at 30g per sq metre.  When the land is needed just dig it in.

Winter Tare

Winter Tare Vicia villosa

This plant is extremely useful as an overwintering crop where land is unoccupied.   It has an extensive root system, fixes nitrogen and supplies a good return of organic matter to the soil.  Seeds are sown in late summer, in rows 15cm apart and about 7cm between each seed.  It can also be sown in spring and summer if needed.


Non Nitrogen Fixers


Rye Secale cereale

This agricultural crop is a perennial with an extensive root system.  It doesn’t fix nitrogen but adds a good amount of organic matter to the soil when incorporated in spring.  The perennial variety can be sown in late summer or autumn, scattered in rows 23cm apart.  It can also be broadcast sown at 30g per sq metre.  If you want seeds for the following year, allow some plants to set seed and save.