Gardens are at the top of the wishlist for many home buyers in the current property boom, and so it follows that many movers will find themselves with a larger plot or, perhaps, some outdoor space for the first time. Non-movers, meanwhile, have realised this year how important it is to improve any outdoor space they have. But if you’ve never gardened before, or have a blank canvas in front of you, how do you begin? Six years ago, when I moved back to the Suffolk coast after two decades living in London flats, I was in a similar position. Suddenly I had a large garden and adjoining field – a three-acre space that was a tantalising opportunity for a total novice with grandiose plans and almost zero horticultural knowledge. The learning curve was steep, the calls and texts to my friend Derren, a hugely experienced gardener, were relentless and there were innumerable errors along the way. Very early on I sketched out a plan – it has evolved as I have changed as a gardener, but it gave me a solid idea of how my garden could look. I started off small, with two large beds on either side of a newly installed terrace and planted roses, clematis, hardy geraniums, iris, nepeta and lupins, cottagey plants that were anchored with box balls and hebes. Then, each year, I’d add another section of the garden – a long double border with lots of structural plants, a gravel garden in a sun-baked, exposed south-facing spot and, most recently and still bedding in, an avenue of ornamental pear trees edged with a copper beach hedge and underplanted with a succession of blue and apricot flowers. I went on a lot of study days and garden visits – by far the quickest and most effective way to get ideas and understand what works. I learnt how to propagate – growing from seed and cuttings and dividing plants is the cheapest way to add to bulk up your borders – and I nurtured self-seeders that would do that work for me too. What have I learnt doing all of this? Get your soil right and you will reap the rewards. Digging in lots of organic matter at the outset will make the world of difference to your garden’s overall health and vitality. Use peat-free compost, well-rotted manure or mushroom compost – if your soil is poor and dry it will help it retain moisture and make it more nutrient-rich; if you garden on clay it will help with drainage.
On a recent visit to my sister’s house in Somerset, my brother-in-law asked if I could suggest some plants for their front garden. He had just dug up the parched, patchy lawn and was in the throes of creating a dry, gravel garden. I dread being asked this question. I might write about plants, but it doesn’t follow that I have a designer’s flair for planting combinations. Nevertheless, in our post-lockdown world, where an opportunity to spontaneously ‘“pop out” still feels like a thrilling novelty, I jumped at the chance to accompany him to a new local nursery in search of inspiration. Located in Horsington on the edge of the Blackmore Vale, Blooming Wild is conveniently a mile or so from my sister’s village, and, for those who don’t live in the vicinity, it’s a mere 10 minutes from the A303 – in other words, a quick detour if you’re travelling to or from Devon or Cornwall. I must admit, I wasn’t expecting much; after all it’s nearing the end of the season and I’m well aware of the difficulties nurseries and garden centres have faced as a result of Covid-19. However, it didn’t take long to realise my brother-in-law has a complete gem on his doorstep. Rather than the usual assortment of seasonal blooms you might find in a small independent set-up, the plants looked carefully curated. So much so, as my eye wandered over the nursery bays filled with perennials and grasses, it gave the impression of a beautiful planting scheme with drifts of veronicastrum, echinacea and persicaria weaving among calamagrostis, deschampsia and pennisetum. This seemed a bold move (the selection of plants might not be everyone’s cup of tea), but to my mind it is extremely helpful from a customer’s point of view because it’s then easy to get a sense of how the plants will work together in our own gardens. With some relief, I told my brother-in-law to pick out seven or eight different plants he liked, (we could fine-tune the choice later), while I headed off to find the owners, Lauren and Will Holley.
With our erratic weather consisting of an exotic medley of droughts and deluges, it seems that the best way to help your plants and garden is to get the soil in good shape. Talking to Tim O’Hare, a soil scientist who works all over the world, advising on soils from Wisley to Oman via the Olympic Parks, it seems current research on soil management, in gardening terms, turns a lot of perceived wisdom on its head. I cannot remember the number of times I have heard gardeners being recommended to dig a massive deep trench when planting a hedge and fill with good soil and well-rotted manure. And, when planting big trees, to take out metre-deep pits, again to be filled with topsoil and manure. But putting topsoil into a depth greater than 30-40cm when planting anything is detrimental. Soil needs air, and it gets starved of oxygen, becomes anaerobic, below this depth: the aerobic bacteria die off and anaerobic bacteria develop. These anaerobic bacteria produce methane and ammonia, which give rise to toxic conditions. The tree roots become short of oxygen, they cannot take up food and water and so they suffocate. Instead, O’Hare recommends just using topsoil for the top 30-40cm when planting. Only dig as deep as you need to accommodate the plant’s roots, or the tree’s rootball. The more you dig soil, the more you ruin the structure, and it is far easier to dig the minimal amount. Digging disrupts the all-important top 70-100mm, which contains the valuable microorganisms, mainly bacteria and fungi, and digging reduces the precious population of earthworms. When O’Hare was supervising the planting of huge trees at the Olymic Park, trees with trunks 60-100cm in circumference, they filled the lower portion of the pits with compaction-resistant subsoils or washed sands and the topsoil was limited to the top 30-40cm.
It can be easy for one to be envious walking around the parks as they turn from green to crimson, but it's easier than you think to create your own paradise in autumn, right behind your back door. Picking and choosing trees for mid-season colour is a job best done in August and September (if you're buying, that is). The Japanese maple, for instance, is a group of small, deciduous trees, which are perfectly happy to grow in large containers in smaller gardens. Make sure to fill tubs with loam-based compost, such as John Innes No 2 and keep the soil moist. A slow-release fertiliser or liquid feed is also a good idea in spring. Transplant Japanese maples into bigger tubs every year or so – April/September is the best time to do this. Make sure to cover or wrap the pots in winter, as the roots can be susceptible to frost. Japanese maples thrive best in slightly acidic, well-drained loam. This is easy to achieve in pots, however if you do not have this soil at home, they might be a little trickier to grow. Make sure to plant them in sheltered area, with some sun. Common beech (Fagus sylvatica) Perfect for…large gardens
Usually when people come over, I tell them to bring ‘just themselves’ and hope for a bottle. The other weekend, though, I had a more specific plea for friends: cuttings from their abundant rosemary bush. There was a rather sad one languishing in the dry, clay-soil beds in my garden that I’d whipped out and put in a pot as part of the Grand Garden Regeneration Plan. It was a kill or cure move, admittedly, and three weeks later little had been cured. I needed more rosemary. Now is a good time for it. The summer’s growth of woody Mediterranean herbs such as rosemary (but also sage and thyme) have had a chance to toughen up, but there’s still enough growing hormone in the plant. Horticulturally known as ‘semi-ripe’, I tend to think of them as teenage – fertile and still growing. But September is also a sensible time to get propagating because you can take cuttings of all those more tender plants that may not make it through the winter: salvias, pelargoniums, lavender. In short, if you’ve loved it this summer, take and plant cuttings. They are, essentially, free plants. Back to the rosemary: our dinner guests brought a large, spiky tote bag full. They’re not gardeners, but made up for whatever inexperience in finding a good cutting in sheer quantity. In a perfect world, especially if you’re cutting and propagating on a warm afternoon, it’s best to get the cuttings into a sandwich bag and then into a pot as soon as possible, rather than abandon the lot on the garden table and fix everyone drinks. For a cutting to have the best chance of taking – or rooting and growing – it’s important not to let it dry out. A good cutting will be growing upwards, not be flowering and come from a healthy plant. Stick to the green, or bendy, growth – you don’t want to be cutting into the woody stuff – and give yourself a decent amount to work with. A good three or four inches will do. Depending on whether you’ve carefully snipped this off with sharpened secateurs or swiftly yanked it from the neighbour’s bush, you may need to tidy up your cutting with a sharp knife. A good, clean edge helps with rooting. Leave the leaves at the top of the cutting intact, but gently strip away any on the stem, which will focus the cutting’s attention on growing roots, rather than improving its foliage, and allow more room to anchor it in the pot. Grab the nearest plastic pot going – 9-12cm is ideal – and fill it with something free-draining: I used soil mixed with a generous handful of grit. You can use perlite or sand, too. Carefully push your cuttings around the edges of the pot, where they tend to root better than in the middle, and keep the whole thing moist. If you’ve got a propagator, then pop them in there, otherwise that sandwich bag can be placed on top as long as condensation isn’t allowed to build up; too much of it and those babies could rot. Within a few weeks they’ll be rooted – a check under the pot will show roots through the holes – and you can pot them on. Alice is the author of ‘Rootbound, Rewilding a Life’ (Canongate, £14.99) and you can follow her on Instagram here. Read more: Composting is the gift that keeps on giving - but only if you do it right How to grow happy houseplants Have you used cuttings to grow your own plants? Tell us your top tips in the comments section below
Story and video from SWNS A wacky husband shocked his wife who wanted to brighten up their garden with a gnome - by installing a 12ft-tall replica of a T-Rex on the patio. Adrian Shaw, 52, snapped up the 14-stone resin and fiberglass dinosaur
Every week, Telegraph gardening expert Helen Yemm gives tips and advice on all your gardening problems whether at home or on the allotment. If you have a question, see below for how to contact her. I am writing as the first salvos of what seems to be an early start to the now anticipated autumnal battle with the elements have left my last-legs hollyhocks leaning at 10-past-two and massed cosmos, planted on my allotment for picking, flat on their beautiful faces. While felled flowers are of little consequence in the scheme of things, I am moved to address the subject of gearing gardens up for a windy winter. Here are my thoughts: Trees, young and old Trees obviously whip around alarmingly when they are in full leaf, as they are now. Most important are the youngsters, under two years old, which may still be reliant on the stakes that were inserted when they were planted. These should now have their support ties adjusted so that they do not chafe or constrict. This is also a reminder to those who have large old forest trees on their property, that a lofty cladding of ivy makes tree canopies top-heavy, even when leafless in winter. It is therefore good practice to keep ivy out of tall trees. Large and unruly bush roses These may have roots that are quite small relative to their bulk, and can suffer from “wind-rock”. Check their stability now (and firm them down with your boot if necessary). Later in the autumn, cut out some of the height/weight to make them less vulnerable. Rambling roses They should have made masses of long new shoots that thrash around in the wind unless anchored down. Cut any superfluous ones, not forgetting that this year’s shoots will bear the best of next year’s flowers. Climbers Check that trellises, obelisks and such are firmly anchored and that the plants they support are well tied in. Late-flowering clematis whose performance is well and truly over (and for which February hard pruning is the norm) can be cut back now, to be revisited with the secateurs in spring. Give wisteria its second cut and trim evergreen scramblers (for example, vigorous Trachelospermum and ornamental ivies) just enough to keep them clear of gutters. Young hedges Planted to become protective windbreaks themselves, they will benefit from protective artificial windbreak of their own for their first year (see premiernetting.co.uk). New fences Commonly available slatted fencing (that lets through the wind while scarcely compromising privacy) takes a battering better than solid fencing. Also, on the subject of privacy: fences and trellises to be adorned with climbers or used as a backdrop for tall shrubs really do not need to be above eye-height, since the plants themselves do the rest of the job. Of course, this is just the tip of an iceberg. Most gardeners have a boring maintenance checklist involving niggles with gutters, downpipes, gates, greenhouses and suchlike. We should aim to tick things off it during whatever Indian summer we may hopefully be about to have. From where I am sitting as I write, with wind howling and rain streaming down the window, there seems to be no sign of such a thing. Bring out the kitchen fork
When does adulthood begin? Is it your 18th or 21st birthday, or when you move out, start a career, get married or have children? I’m not sure what my marker is, but, at 28, I know I’m still some way off. During the lockdown, however, I came the closest I have yet come to feeling like an adult. Why? I started looking after plants. There have long been pot plants on our balcony, but this year I took up the protectoral mantle. In April, I bartered with neighbours for the El Dorado of compost, emptied old pots, resurrected winter-beaten perennials, carefully germinated (often unsuccessfully) tomatoes, chillies and peas, and watched (some of) them grow. I regularly checked the weather forecast before bed, surely a sign of early-onset middle age. It seems I’m not alone. Interest in gardening has spiked among people in their twenties and early thirties since the UK was plunged into hibernation. For months, many were confined to their houses, with outdoor activity limited. Those working from home suddenly had time to kill, conveniently coinciding with spring. People lucky enough to have gardens spent more time in them; others were drawn to balconies or indoor plants. Research by ao.com has found that 66 per cent of millennials had more time to garden during the lockdown. According to the Royal Horticultural Society, visits to its website are up 533 per cent year-on-year among 18-24 year-olds; for the 25-34 category, clicks rose by 123 per cent. Its virtual Chelsea Flower Show received 2.1 million visitors; 28 per cent were under 35. Conversely, the charity estimates that only one per cent of visitors to last year’s regular event were aged 16-24, rising to six per cent for 25-34. The ao.com poll says 62 per cent of lockdown gardeners found it vital for their well-being. For the RHS’s director of science, Professor Alistair Griffiths, this isn’t surprising. “There’s a lot of evidence around mental health and gardening. There’s a number of things it ties into. It provides an element of control, it helps restore the mind and there’s the physical exercise aspect.”
The last of summer days are fizzling away but not without a final flourish. Ripe tomatoes jostle for space on vines, and corn, tender and bursting with colour, is starting to emerge from its green blanket to be barbecued or roasted. In September, there might be hot days that require a t-shirt and soft drink; while some mornings will be spent in a light jumper, trimming wilting roses and picking the last of the summer soft fruit. There is still plenty of time to enjoy the abundance of the lighter months, but now is the time to think about change-over jobs. Take a look at the list below for some inspiration. Ripen tomatoes
This is where I emulate one of those personality quizzes from a teen magazine: Have you potted on your houseplants this year? If yes, please click away, and enjoy your weekend. If no, read on. I’m going to suggest something a little out-of-season, but bear with me. If you’ve not potted them on yet, this is the last chance to get to the garden centre and crack on with some belated houseplant husbandry. A disclosure: the traditional time to upgrade your houseplant pots is usually around April, when the days are lengthening and a new boost of space and nutrient-rich soil can encourage a surge of growth as houseplants wake up from winter dormancy. But getting compost in April was as difficult as getting flour. Lockdown encouraged a new-found fascination with gardening, and everyone scrambled for seeds and soil as a result. Throw in the fact there’s been a global pandemic and, in my case, the usual annual late-running of such tasks, and my houseplants remain firmly in last year’s pots. So why do we pot them on? It’s the equivalent of a trip to Clarks with the imminent arrival of the new school year. Happy, healthy plants can swiftly become root-bound in too-small pots, which makes it more difficult for them to take up nutrients or water from the soil. With autumn arriving in three weeks, and the clocks going back in eight (sorry), that gives us two months to break in those new shoes before shorter days see dormancy set in. It’s a simple and satisfying job. I like to gather all of mine from the various places in the house, often clucking over the forgotten ones on top of shelves in the bathroom, and lay them out on a table – if this is inside, put down newspaper. Everyone gets a good drink, because they have been struggling through a hot, dry, summer and potting on with dry soil is messy and stressful for the plant. Then the inspection begins. You’re looking for plants that have roots poking out of the holes in the bottom of their pots. Others, with more shallow root balls, may just look tight against the rim of the pot. Then begins the game of pot roulette: often, those at the smallest end of the scale will end up graduating into another’s recently vacated pot. Otherwise, you’ll need to pick up a few more – I like terracotta, for classic style and porosity. Whatever you get, make sure it has a hole in the bottom for drainage. It’s crucial that the new pot is no more than a couple of centimetres larger than the plant’s current one – any bigger than that and you’ll be surrounding it with too much fresh, wet compost that can rot the roots. A layer of hydroleca balls or gravel at the bottom will improve drainage and save on soil, and try to retain as much of the existing soil around the root ball as possible. If roots are looking black or mouldy, chop them off. Once it’s in, pat down firmly into the new soil. Water well, leave somewhere bright and feel satisfied you’ve finally got around to it. Alice is the author of ‘Rootbound, Rewilding a Life’ (Canongate, £14.99) and you can follow her on Instagram here. Read more: How to holiday-proof your garden What is your recipe to grow happy houseplants? Share your tips in the comments section.
All those who are interested in innovative or original gardens will have been intrigued in recent years by the growing reputation of an ambitious designed landscape in mid-Devon – if they had even heard of it, that is, since this is a garden which has been very much “off the radar”. Created since 1992 by a solitary owner, accompanied by a single part-time gardener, Plaz Metaxu is the singular and highly articulated vision of art historian Alasdair Forbes, whose conception might be placed in the art-garden tradition of the late Ian Hamilton Finlay (maker of Little Sparta in Scotland). Forbes’s vision is of an alternative world – a green and watery capsule, defined by the valley’s edges, peopled by the spirits of Greek gods and the places they dwell in, expressed as a series of metaphorical episodes. (Forbes prefers “metaphorical” to “symbolic”, which he sees as too constrictive.) The associative qualities of the garden mean that it owes something to the 18th-century tradition of landscapes such as Stourhead, with their temples and statues. But there are no such grand accoutrements at this garden, which is determinedly modern and understated in its execution. Here, semi-abstract sculptures, hedged enclosures and inscribed plinths instead imbue the place with a sense of dynamism, urgency and meaning. A stream runs its length, passing through a man-made lake at the garden’s centre. At the edges of the lake are hedged enclosures named for gods, goddesses and sacred places, while a white figure incised into the turf on the southern valley slope both represents Pan and makes reference to musical notation.
The life of a garden historian is never dull – permission to roam interesting and often sublime designed landscapes is a joy. Studying garden history can tell us a lot about how society has developed. Attention is often focused on more traditional periods such as Georgian or Victorian landscapes, understandably as they have many stories to tell. However, I am particularly drawn to the history of our more recent designed landscapes, those of the 1960s to the 1990s. Exploring the era in which I grew up appeals – the music and fashion of the day resonate and I seem to make a more passionate connection to the place, developing a deeper understanding of the design and how it was built. But designed landscapes of these decades are disappearing at an alarming rate and few are protected. While the heritage value of post-war architecture is growing in appreciation, that of its landscapes is less understood. The physical space occupied by such places is frequently generous, tantalisingly so to developers, and often the fact that it has actually been designed is not realised, unlike a building which has a more obvious design intent. In addition, some might say that such landscapes are too young to be loved. But, having spent a chunk of my working life dedicated to the period, I disagree. I am not alone – Historic England have announced that 24 sites representing some of the best post-war designed landscapes and their associated features have been added to the National Heritage List for England or upgraded. This is brilliant news and represents an almost doubling of the number of post-war landscapes on the list. It will enhance understanding of this period of landscape design and help protect the sites, and our future enjoyment of them. The latest listing project, called “Compiling the Record”, is the result of collaboration between Historic England and the Gardens Trust. The new additions are as varied in their type as size, and encompass private gardens, public parks, housing estates, business parks, an engineering plant, a university college and a memorial landscape. A housing scheme
Most of the world’s calories are provided by a handful of wind-pollinated grasses, such as wheat, rice and maize. Nevertheless, most of the world’s crops need pollinators, chiefly bees, and it’s those pollinator-dependent crops that provide most of both the variety and the essential micronutrients in our diet. Without them, life would be unpleasant and very dull. So reports that pollinators are having a hard time is bad news. But how bad exactly? At one extreme, it’s possible that even if pollinator numbers have declined, there are still enough left to provide our crops with all the pollination they need. Alternatively, the yield of most crops, in most places, might be limited by inadequate pollination. To distinguish between these scenarios, you need to make some observations. Specifically, for lots of separate crop fields, you want to know how many pollinators are visiting the flowers of the crop, and then you want to know the yield (of apples, pumpkins or whatever) of each of those fields. Put those sets of data together and you can see if pollination and yield are related. If they’re not, then you don’t know what’s limiting crop yield, but you know it’s not pollination. But if there’s a nice positive relationship between pollinators and crop yield, then you know that most of your fields didn’t have enough pollinators. Actually, it’s worse than that – even your best fields might have done better with more pollinators. That’s a lot of work, but a big group of American researchers have done it, and their results are published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society. Sparing you the details, some crops are strongly pollinator-limited, and some aren’t. The yield of cherries and blueberries is commonly limited by inadequate pollination, and apples are always pollinator-limited. On the other hand, pumpkins and watermelons are not. But whether yield is limited by pollination or not, pollinators are valuable, indeed essential, for all those crops, and many others. The annual value of pollinator-dependent crops in the USA is over $50 billion (£37 billion). What about the relative value of honeybees and wild pollinators, chiefly bumblebees and solitary bees? Again this varies with the crop, but wild bees are generally more important than honeybees. The massive Californian almond industry is the exception that proves the rule. To make sure they are adequately pollinated, the one million acres of Californian almonds (which produce 80 per cent of the world’s almonds) need fully two-thirds of the 2.7 million honeybee colonies in the entire USA. Nearly all those bees, about 30 billion of them, have to be trucked across America from other states. It’s a mind-bogglingly huge, complex, expensive operation. For most other crops, wild bees do most of the job for nothing, so you can see why it pays to look after them. Anyway, so much for America. In Britain, agriculture and other kinds of land use are both smaller in scale, and more mixed up, and gardens and allotments in towns and villages are pollinator hotspots. So by looking after your local pollinators, you’re also doing your bit to help everyone, amateur or professional, grow more and better apples, strawberries, blackcurrants, courgettes, beans or whatever. Ken Thompson is a plant biologist with a keen interest in the science of gardening. His most recent book is Notes From a Sceptical Gardener, the second collection of his Telegraph columns. Visit books.telegraph.co.uk.
I still remember my first encounter with a cottage garden. After a four-hour car journey from Reading to Mousehole, Cornwall, my three brothers and I, all under ten and desperate to escape the cramped back seat, tumbled onto the gravel leading up to Saltponds Cottage. It was early morning, but the garden teemed; there were bees nestling into wild lavender, shrub roses and grasses. The scent of salt, petals and petrichor from the storm the night before was in the air. The garden was wild, unapologetically so, but there was some order, too. Now it seems sensible to consign this magical space to memory. I don’t have a cottage by the sea, or a garden for that matter, but for Greg Loades, author and plantsman, this isn't a possibility. "Why should you give up on that dream?" He asks. "Creating a cottage garden in a small space may seem implausible but it is possible. Nostalgia is what brings many people to gardening; it’s always the childhood memory of ‘grandma’s roses’ or a visit to a national garden that brings on the urge to start. Gardeners of today are keen to pick up elements of modern design but don’t want to eradicate the plants they grew up with." Loades has a brilliant solution to this problem, which he has modelled in his own tiny back garden in Hull.'Who can resist choosing new plants for the garden when they see them in flower in a nursery, even if they don’t know where they will go or whether they are in keeping with what is there?' He writes in his new book, The Modern Cottage Garden (£18.99, Timber Press). 'As we introduce unlikely plant partners to the border, we push the boundaries of traditional garden styles, whether by accident or design. This is, in fact, a good thing. The mixing together of plants from older garden styles is creating something special indeed: a new style that combines the best of the traditional cottage garden and of the new perennial movement.'
Since 2016, Plant Heritage, the national plant conservation charity, has published an annual list of “Missing Genera”, exhorting gardeners to create collections of plant groups that are at risk of being lost from our gardens forever. Genera disappear from our seed catalogues and nurseries all the time. Gardening trends and climate change, pests and diseases, and a lack of general and specialist gardening knowledge are all contributors. As Vicki Cooke, conservation manager for Plant Heritage, explains, the problem is that once a plant has gone, all its associated cultural history (links with people and places, events and traditions, poetry, stories, songs, art and architecture) and all its breeding or gene pool have gone, too. Dr Tim Upson, chairman of Plant Heritage's Conservation Committee, is determined that more of us can help save this heritage. “Yes, we need to ensure that collectors are able to do the job required and that each collection is established before it’s accredited, but we also need to remove the idea that a wide range of people can’t become holders of a National Plant Collection. “By breaking down the definitions of what makes a collection, to include more regional associations, for instance, or cultivars bred by specific breeders, we can make NPCs more robust and suitable for a more inclusive range of people.” Which is why this year’s list includes familiar names such as oriental poppies, aubrieta, daphne and berberis, genera that can be collected and cared for on a smaller scale and in domestic gardens. To find out more about what is involved, I spoke to some of Plant Heritage’s experts, including its newest accredited NPC holders, Brian and Kathy Pike, and took a closer look at this year’s missing genera. New collection holders
It’s been an interesting 2020 for the floristry industry. Just as the British growing season kicked off, as people started to prepare for weddings and look ahead to summer events, lockdown changed everything. Florists proved nimble, making bouquets of seasonal flowers and setting up online ordering systems. But beyond the coronavirus pandemic, an even greater change has been afoot, as florists and growers have – at what should have been the busiest time of their year – made rapid and remarkable progress to uphold and celebrate diversity in their industry. In June, the death of George Floyd in the United States and the awakening of a new era in the Black Lives Matter movement rippled throughout the world. As thousands marched in protest, many businesses, including florists, quietly mobilised. The individuals interviewed here pulled together online panel discussions, shared ideas and amplified the work of black florists and flower growers and those of colour. While much of the horticultural industry sat tight as Instagram turned black and statements appeared on websites, a noticeable anti-racist revolution was under way among the flower-growing and arranging community. Sage Flowers: Romy St Clair and Iona Mathieson Newcomers who set up online panels and courses to promote diversity.
My Twitter and Instagram feeds, along with my allotment Facebook page, are busy with gardeners talking about aphids. If it’s not blackfly on their runner beans it’s greenfly on their roses. Or random “clusters of evil” on anything from cardoons to dahlias. I watch, as gardeners swap organic tips for extermination – soap spray, a quick blast of the hose or pinch of finger and thumb. “Ooh, it’s a terrible year for them,” they say. “I’ll be lucky to get any beans at all.” I wonder if it is a bad year for aphids or if we’re all just spending more time looking at them, in this year of staying at home? And whether those blasts of water or soap spray are necessary, whether the sticky residue of dead aphids on the fingers is worth it? I wince when shop-bought bug sprays are mentioned, as most contain the neonicotinoid pesticides that do so much harm to bees. I haven’t “controlled” aphids in my garden or allotment for years. Do my plants die? No. Do I get beans? Oh, yes. Researching this article, I conducted an “aphid audit” in my garden and allotment. I couldn’t find a single aphid in the garden and there’s virtually no blackfly on my allotment beans, despite neighbouring plot holders lamenting heavy infestations. What is it about my garden and allotment that’s so different from my aphid-infested internet buddies? Is it just luck? Or could it be that wildlife gardening, particularly letting nature take its course, is control enough? Honestly, I don’t know the answer. What I do know is this: in my garden the house sparrows have just had their third brood of the season. While the adults eat seeds, they feed their chicks invertebrates, particularly aphids. I’ve watched them, every few weeks as each brood of eggs has hatched, picking through the garden for every juicy morsel they can find. No aphid cluster has been able to grow enough to become a problem because the sparrows haven’t let them. And if I removed aphids in spring I’d be denying baby sparrows a meal in summer. So I leave them. And I’m rewarded with absolutely no aphids. Thanks, sparrows. On the allotment I did find a lot of black aphids on my parsnips, which I let flower and seed after I forgot to harvest them. But these will be a different species from the black bean aphid, Aphis fabae, so my beans are safe. What’s more, along with the aphids were also masses of ladybirds – seven-spot, two-spot and harlequins. Some were mating, others laying eggs, while the larvae of others were already tucking in to their favourite meal – aphids. I left them to it. It’s not just house sparrows and ladybirds that eat aphids. Most hoverflies lay eggs on aphid infestations and their larvae gobble them up, as do lacewings (their larvae are so voracious they’re known as “aphid lions”). Wasps, too. In fact, the wasps this year seem to be doing a good job of controlling the scale insect on my lemon tree. By washing, spraying or squishing aphids I’ve absolutely no doubt that gardeners are also destroying the very things that eat them. So let’s stop. When I see aphids I look for ladybirds and lacewings. I don’t reach for the spray, I don’t have aphid blood on my hands. Could it be that relaxing and waiting is the best way to deal with these sapsucking “pests”? What if we spent more of this time we have at home looking for aphid lions over aphids, sparrows over sapsuckers? Could we all loosen our grip on the “control” we have on our gardens? Really, what would be the worst thing to happen if you left them?
It just wouldn’t be a festival without a downpour of rain (typical after a week of glorious weather) but there's no need to get the wellies out. This weekend, independent flower farmers join forces for the Flower Farmers’ Big Weekend, a digital festival in support of Flowers from the Farm, a not-for-profit association with over 880 members. Covering five central themes - the basics, from plot to vase, flower focus, top tips and plot stories - 23 growers will cover all aspects of growing and caring for cut and dried flowers on the website. Laptop gardeners can pick up expert tips and show support for British growers who have had, it’s fair to stay, a turbulent lockdown. Thanks to a resurgence of interest in British-grown flowers over the past decade, registrations for the association have risen by 65 per cent since 2017, while during lockdown, when many households have found sanctuary in their gardens, membership increased by 10 per cent in a few short months. Founded in 2011 on a shoe-string budget, Flowers from the Farm aims to educate the nation about the plethora of British flowers on offer, and to support the growers that supply them. And it has never been more important to show support for local business. Due to the spread of Covid-19, thousands of independent florists, growers and suppliers have faced redundancies, blank diaries and mass wastage. While showing signs of increased market share, British-grown flowers still only account for only 14 per cent of cut flowers sold in the UK. The majority are hot-housed in Holland or flown in from Kenya, Ethiopia, Ecuador and Colombia. Gill Hodgson, honorary president and founder of the association, says: “Our members have risen to the challenge of lockdown. Some may not have the same income, but they have discovered different income streams and widened their customer base. More people have been looking for local flowers than ever before. It’s a difficult time for everyone all over the country, and I am pleased that our members are making seasonal, locally-grown cut flowers accessible . “My hope is that all the people that have discovered their excellent local businesses during lockdown - whether it’s food, drink or flowers - will continue to think and buy local, and that the demand will attract even more people to make a living in flower farming, taking the industry from strength to strength.” The line-up
Gardens, where would we be without them? From hidden patios in Clapham to lavish lawns in Dorset, green spaces across the nation have become sanctuaries in which to hide, refresh and raise a glass to escape from the bad news over lockdown. It should come as no surprise, then, that the behaviour of home buyers and sellers has come to reflect the importance of green space. “Buyers’ needs have changed,” says Richard Banks, director at Michael Graham Estate Agents. “They’re looking for brighter and greener areas, most often work-from-home boltholes that offer great views. Gardens, both front and back, are becoming a crucial element of property marketing.” The property market has been busy since it was released from lockdown in mid-May. Fuelled by deferred demand from buyers, a temporary ‘mini boom’ drove up housing prices in July to 1.7 per cent higher than in June on a monthly basis, boosted by Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s temporary suspension of stamp duty on property sales up to £500,000 in England and Northern Ireland. The latest Halifax House Price Index puts the average price of a home at £241,604 in July, 1.7 per cent higher than June’s £237,834, while prices are 3.8 per cent higher than July 2019. Although Halifax managing director Russell Galley maintains that the ‘effects of the pandemic on the housing market will still create a good deal of long-term uncertainty’, sellers don’t seem to be put off and are keen to take advantage of the stamp duty suspension that could save them up to £15,000. But in this unstable market, are there any tips and tricks to convince buyers to take a chance on your property? Yes, according to a recent survey from OnBuy’s Garden Furniture, in which 60 per cent of the 3,400 participants admitted that they were more inclined to view a house if the garden was up to scratch. Results from the survey found that 78 per cent of participants ranked hydrangeas as the most desirable front garden plants for potential buyers, while lilies, lavender and shrub roses followed closely behind. These flowers have, as many property experts would say, major kerb appeal, and could improve your chance of selling. But it is not just flower choice that can maximise the potential of your home. Here are the best ways to plan your garden, from feng shui to rose arches. Softening plants
Story and video from SWNS Meet the amateur gardener who fills more than 100 hanging baskets and pots in his small suburban garden with nearly 1,000 stunning plants every year. Shaun Schroeder, 57, spends up to three hours a day planting,
It was the most rancid little garden we’d ever seen. When my friend’s family bought the flat, the estate agent hadn’t even mentioned it. No wonder – it was vile. It was worse than having no garden at all. The three of us – me, the friend, and another friend, the three of us moving into the new place – looked at it from our second-floor window. There was a rusty bridge from the back door of the block to said garden; it crossed an open basement that might once have been a delivery entrance to a below-ground store room. It looked more like an open sewer. The children in the flat below us had for years been hurling litter into it – sweet wrappers, toys, kiddie bikes, even a Samsung tablet. Beyond the bridge was a dense forest of head-high weeds and broken glass. Beyond that was more litter, a bin that had been used as a fire pit, and a bunch of broken bicycles discarded by the Domino’s takeaway on the ground floor. There’s a part of Stranger Things where the US military sends terrified, PPE-clad soldiers, two at a time, to scope out a horrifying portal into a dark parallel universe, and of course they’re dead as soon as they’re out of sight. Our garden was like that, but worse. It looked unsalvageable, we agreed. A write-off – leave it to the rats.