The Sunday Telegraph - Sunday - - Gardening -

Now that things are less fran­tic in the gar­den, it’s a good time to re­flect on the year and see how you can im­prove its per­for­mance next year.

I’m a great be­liever in a Chi­nese say­ing that trans­lates as “the best ma­nure is the shadow of the gar­dener”. Don’t just look at your gar­den and think “how nice”. You must scru­ti­nise, ob­serve, mon­i­tor, and take sig­nals from your plants if things aren’t as they should be.

Many of the pro­fes­sional gardeners I have worked with have idio­syn­cratic ap­proaches to mak­ing their gar­dens re­ally sing. I have called on a few to gather their top tips, and added a few nuggets from Pippa Green­wood’s new book, 1001 Ways to be a Bet­ter Gar­dener.


1 “Think about tex­ture and form be­fore colour, and think about space and at­mos­phere be­fore any­thing,” says Tom Stu­art-Smith, the land­scape ar­chi­tect and gar­den de­signer. 2 If there is no space be­neath a shrub to plant some bulbs or lower-level colonis­ers, do some light prun­ing to raise its canopy. 3 Big struc­tural plants in big pots, whether in a bor­der, in gravel, paving or a lawn can raise in­ter­est lev­els. Re­move the base of ter­ra­cotta pots with a disc cut­ter. The plant will an­chor and wa­ter it­self af­ter a year.


4 Wa­ter newly sown seeds with warm wa­ter; ice-cold tap wa­ter chills it all down and de­lays ger­mi­na­tion. 5 Al­ways han­dle seedlings by the leaves – th­ese are much tougher than the stems. Han­dling by the stem is po­ten­tially lethal. Also, re­search has shown that stroking your seedlings by brush­ing the tops with a bit of pa­per or card sev­eral times a day, whether in­side or out, helps them de­velop stur­dier stems. 6 Add a few Night Scented Stock seeds to your con­tain­ers of sum­mer bedding – night per­fume is such a bonus.


7 Don’t be tempted to use soil in your con­tain­ers for bedding, says Pippa Green­wood. Soil rarely keeps its struc­ture in a con­tainer and the plants of­ten suf­fer from root rot. For more per­ma­nent con­tain­ers, a 50 per cent soil-based com­post (John Innes no 2/3) and 50 per cent loam­less com­post gives more stay­ing power. 8 My cousin Claire Austin, a nurs­ery­woman (www. claireaustin-hardy­plants.co. uk) al­ways writes twice on a plant la­bel, one above the soil line and one be­low. The pen­cil name be­low the soil line lasts a good five years or more, whereas the one above gets de­graded far more quickly by sun­light. Peter Seabrook adds that if you gather up the la­bels from suc­cess­ful crops it gives you all the in­for­ma­tion needed to re­peat the suc­cess. For my “per­ma­nent” plants I use stick­y­backed, lam­i­nated, wa­ter­proof la­bels, which I type on a la­belling ma­chine (from less than £30, www. vizid.co.uk; 01572 574910). Each la­bel takes sec­onds and they have been tested to last for 16 years. 9 Get a green­house, says Toby Buck­land, the Gardeners’ World pre­sen­ter. Even un­heated, it vastly ex­tends the grow­ing sea­son for home­grown food, and in our in­creas­ingly tem­per­a­men­tal sum­mers makes for a cle­ment place to gar­den. Mine be­comes more in­valu­able each year – it ex­tends your range in­cred­i­bly. 10 I am a great be­liever in do­ing things in the gar­den when the mood takes me. I some­times move plants in the height of sum­mer and, pro­vid­ing you have a de­cent amount of soil on their roots, shade net­ting and can wa­ter, they of­ten es­tab­lish re­ally quickly. There is much guff talked about how you must never move herba­ceous pe­onies. Pro­vided you take a de­cent bit of soil with them, I have never had a prob­lem with get­ting them to flower straight af­ter mov­ing. 11 A tip from my mother, who runs a nurs­ery (www. clas­sic­gar­dener.co.uk). She puts sev­eral sheets of soaked news­pa­per (prefer­ably the Tele­graph) into the base of a plant­ing hole with some soil on top. The pa­per acts like a wick and stops the wa­ter dis­ap­pear­ing too fast. It’s es­pe­cially use­ful for plant­ing in dry places, such as climbers by a build­ing. Twenty-five years ago I planted one third of my horn­beam hedge with and two-thirds without, and the dif­fer­ence was stag­ger­ing. 12 If you are con­cerned about a tree be­com­ing too huge for the po­si­tion you have cho­sen for it, act now. It is far bet­ter to prune and shape a tree when it is younger than sidestep­ping the is­sue un­til it is large and ma­ture.


13 When grow­ing let­tuce in pots, put some in the shade to slow down bolt­ing – a great tip from Pippa Green­wood. I will take it on board and do it with leaf co­rian­der, too. 14 Gar­den de­signer Ara­bella Len­nox Boyd uses strulch (www.strulch. co.uk, 01943 863610), a new ma­te­rial made of brown straw as a mulch to keep weeds out of her veg­etable patch. She says it is a real win­ner. 15 Anne Swith­in­bank (my fel­low Gardeners’ Ques­tion Time pan­el­list) rec­om­mends plant­ing mar­jo­ram next to your run­ner beans. The flow­ers at­tract bags of bees, so you get great pol­li­na­tion (and set­ting) of your beans.


16 Vine wee­vils, above, are ex­tremely good at play­ing dead when dis­turbed – do not be fooled by this! 17 If you see larger fungi, such as toad­stools or bracket fungi, ap­pear­ing on a large tree in your gar­den, it is es­sen­tial you find out ex­actly what the fun­gus is. Some are of no con­se­quence, but oth­ers can in­di­cate that the tree is po­ten­tially danger­ous. Re­mov­ing a fun­gal growth from a tree does not re­move the prob­lem – it may help to limit spore pro­duc­tion, but the dam­age is likely to con­tinue within the tree. 18 Ants were ev­ery­where this year. If you find ants and don’t know where their nest is, put down a dol­lop of jam and trace the nest. Then dis­turb it with a fork and add a pro­pri­etary ant killer or boil­ing wa­ter.


19 John Cush­nie’s tip is top­i­cal. He says when cut­ting the grass at this time of year, raise the blades a bit be­fore run­ning the mower over the lawn (with a box); give it a light cut and col­lect the leaves at the same time. Then put the whole lot on the com­post heap. Al­though I am a mulch mower con­vert, I use a ro­tary at this time of year for leaf col­lec­tion. 20 Rules are made to be bro­ken. When nec­es­sary, I have sown lawns in deep­est win­ter (con­trary to all re­ceived wis­dom), and have not had a fail­ure yet. 1001 ways to be a bet­ter gar­dener by Pippa Green­wood (Mitchell Bea­z­ley, RRP £16.99) is avail­able from Tele­graph Books for £14.99 + £1.25 p&p. Call 0870 428 4112 or go to tele­graph.co.uk/book­shop

Don’t be tempted to use soil in your con­tain­ers

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