Gold Medal for improved weather - Around the Garden with Busy Lizzie

Busy Lizzie
Busy Lizzie

AUGUST 2012

AFTER what seems like a lifetime of loafing around on the sofa watching others exert themselves in search of Olympic glory, I have finally ventured in to the garden only to find that it is now my turn.

Things have really grown and my normally well-ordered plot resembles an Amazonian rainforest.

There is nothing for it but to get out the tools and embark on some extreme sport of my own.

The 5m hedgecutter wire untangle, the 6 inch grass cut and the prune and hack heptathlon are all on the list, and that’s only for starters.

Hacking at this time of year takes some nerve and some judgment too. Prune the wrong stuff and there will be not a flower in sight next year.

For example, resist the temptation to prune anything which will flower next spring – it inevitably won’t if pruned now (this should, in fact, be done immediately after flowering).

One area that should most definitely be tackled is the removal of diseased, dying and dead material. These are invariably harbingers of infection, which can spread with devastating consequences if left unchecked.

Ornamental Flowering Cherries (pictured above), in particular, have really suffered this year.

Trees with blossom wilt and spur canker (unnatural growth nodules on the growth and flowering spurs of the tree) are likely to have been infected by the wind-borne fungal pathogen Monilinia laxa.

Cut out infected shoots now and, if really bad, consider spraying next spring with a product containing difenoconazole (yes, for once I am advocating spraying – what is the point of an ornamental Cherry if it sits sulking in the garden with brown flowers and dead leaves?)

Of slightly more concern is the increasing number of trees that are being laid low and eventually killed by the bacterial canker Pseudomonus.

Victims have yellowing, dying leaves, sometimes full of holes, sap oozing from twigs and lots of die-back.

Once again, cutting out of dead and diseased material is imperative and again it is worth considering spraying, this time with Bordeaux Mixture, once now and again in September and October.

Do dispose of all cut material sensibly and make sure all tools are thoroughly disinfected after you have completed your work.

Bacterial canker is highly contagious, as I found out to my cost earlier this year.

Of course, many trees will be beyond redemption and it may not be possible to spray – my weeping cherry is next to a pond so I would be a fool to do it – and in this case you will have to consider giving it more than a prune.

If it has to be replaced, choose a tree from another genus.

Rust, Mildew, Black-spot and leaf-drop have played havoc with my shrub and rambler roses and all are looking decidedly worse for wear.

Cutting out dead or diseased material is essential, even if this may be at the expense of losing repeat blooms.

Clear up all fallen plant material as this will only compound problems by re-infecting the plant through the soil.

Regular removal of soggy and spent blooms will also improve appearances and help to prevent further disease.

Major rose pruning should always be left to late winter but older plants will not suffer too much for having a bit of a cut now.

A follow up treatment of water, feed and mulch is to be highly recommended.

And finally, to all who have enquired about late flowering Clematis not performing as they should, it sounds as if the problem is one of Mildew.

Dead and dying leaves, small flower buds and deformed flowers all coated with a powdery white material are indicators of this problem.

It is unusually rife this year and we can only once again blame the weather. The chief cause is fungal but symptoms are exacerbated by dry root runs.

It is particularly virulent on new growth and a lot of ornamental trees such as Amelanchier and Malus are also showing signs of infection.

Removal of all infected material is to be advised. Clematis viticella is pruned in late spring and plant damage is inevitable if pruning is carried out at any other time.

Confine your efforts to snipping off leaves and flowers rather than cutting in to woodier material.

Any root disturbance at this time of year is to be avoided so if you wish to move the plant it is probably best to leave that job until winter time unless, of course, you intend to dispose of it.

Cuttings may be taken as an insurance policy as most Clematis hate moving house. If you are considering replacing the plant, choose something other than Clematis as it is likely that the ground will be infected too.

The plant will thank you for a good soaking followed by a heavy mulch of organic matter at its base.

Clematis enjoy cool conditions at their roots so placing a layer of gravel or a broken half of pot in this area will also help it to cope.

Mildew sprays are, in my opinion, ineffective at this stage of growth and are also harmful to insect life.

It seems to have been a bit of a doom and gloom article but it has just been one of those years.

My heart goes out to all those of you who are just starting with gardening.

Results have not always been pleasing and it will be easy to be put off by all the problems that everyone has encountered this year.

As gardeners, we can only learn from our mistakes and adapt our approach to planting and cultivation.

It doesn’t seem that long ago that we were being exhorted to plant exotic, drought loving plants but a couple of hard winters and a good old English summer will no doubt force reconsideration.

The many opinionated gardening experts out there will inevitably find something new for us to spend our money and time on and, no doubt, this will, in due course, be foiled by the climate as well.

What has not changed is the ability of old established favourites to perform again and again, despite everything that is chucked at them.

Many of these have their origins in British native flowers, which have had many, many years to adapt to our constantly changing climate.

I have one of these; a plant that grows all over my garden, a prolific self-seeder, which has just loved the conditions that have been thrown at it this year.

It has been in flower for months and is now developing gorgeous russet leaf colour too.

It’s nothing special or rare (Geranium nodosum for those of you who are interested) but it is happy, so at least the weather has pleased something!

Gold medal, I think.

Plant of the month

Abutilon

I MAKE no apology for giving this wonderful plant a big write up.

It is a half-hardy, semi-shrubby plant with large leaves and masses of dangling flowers that look as if they are made from paper and which are carried throughout summer.

It has been much hybridised and improved of late and the results are available in a huge variety of colours (all but blue in fact). It requires well drained but fertile soil, reasonable light levels (or it is likely to become a bit leggy) and regular watering and feeding if it is to give of its best. With time, it can grow in to a mid-sized bushy plant from which cuttings are easily struck.

Allowing some seed pods to develop will also provide interesting results as it cross-pollinates readily. Kentish Belle is a vigorous variety with bi-coloured, tear-drop shaped blooms held over a long period of time. Canary Bird has knockout, large yellow, cup shaped blooms and forms a sturdy, upright plant ideal for the centre of a bedding or pot scheme. Souvenir du Bonn has cream edged leaves with bright orange bells.

All are ideal as part of a mixed planting scheme or grown as specimen plants. In our neck of the woods, it is probably better to over-winter them indoors, where they may continue to flower throughout the year. Provided that regular care is given, they are quite happy when grown as pot plants when they can easily be moved in or out as weather allows. Whitefly can be a bit of a problem but they are otherwise trouble free.

Availability varies but as a start you could try the RHS Plant Finder for some specialist nurseries. Plants are usually more available, and cheaper, in late spring, which is also a good time to sow seed.