Growing out of control
This year’s extended spring means lots of hard work in the garden
It has been an extremely long spring. Partly, we did not really have a winter; also, the summer seems slow in coming. As a result, my lawns and hedges are growing almost before my eyes, and keeping up with it all is certainly keeping me fit. A couple of weeks ago, I had to spend several hours removing or cutting back wall flowers, sweet rocket and perennial stock which had achieved jungle proportions. I am always reluctant to turf them out but I soon realised I should have done it earlier. With this wet weather, there are two problems uppermost in my mind: box blight and slugs. I have lots of box and many slugs, but now I am confidently keeping both these problems at bay. Yvonne Cannon, head gardener at Holker Hall, has cleared up the box blight there dramatically. She put me on to her cure: a combination of a disinfectant and a systemic fungicide, which has miraculous results. A commercial horticultural adviser once pointed out to me that the affliction is not a problem for mass producers. Commercial growers never stop growing box. They just treat it. Having said that, a recommended disinfectant for the home gardener is Bayer Garden Fruit and Vegetable Disease Control, available for about £6. This is a fungicide, but also it sanitises the leaves. Spray it on after the rain to stop spores spreading, and apply it up to five times a year in the growing season. Between applications of this you can use a qualified contractor to apply Signum, a systemic fungicide, or use Systhane, which is available on the retail market for home use. Again, apply during the growing season at roughly monthly intervals. I am currently working on a large garden with a bad attack of the blight, but using these methods I am pretty sure I can bring it back to tip-top condition. Cultural factors are also important when dealing with box blight. Do not cut your box hedges when they are wet, as the spores ping everywhere and spread the infection rapidly. If instead you cut when they are dry, the spores will just abort. Traditionally, people tended to cut after Derby Day on June 7, but with spring creeping forward, most gardeners have abandoned this. Getting the best tools for the job makes a huge difference: light, cordless hedge cutters such as my Bosch AHS 48 LI (from £100), which has a 48cm cutting length, makes hedge trimming almost enjoyable. However, I find that the lithium battery, which costs £50, does not last long. The manufacturer claims that the batteries should last if used correctly, and say that they will replace flat ones in some circumstances. I use the same machine to cut my big hedges too (yew and mixed native). A wide strip of butyl laid on the ground collects the cut sprigs of foliage, avoiding the need for endless raking of the gravel afterwards. For the fiddlier bits I use the cordless, hair dryer-sized Bosch ISio, which has a 13cm blade (from £49.99). I also use old-fashioned shears to tone my arms and give my hands a rest. It is also vital to mulch the hedge roots in order to keep this part of the plant healthy. As for the slugs and snails, I am happy to say that they are disappearing fast, leaving my vulnerable French beans, dahlias, and tobacco plants to get on and grow. I have sprayed my plants with Grazers G2 formula (Grazers also make another very useful organic deterrent that stops rabbits, pigeons, deer and geese munching through your roses). G2 is a calcium chloride-based product that actually strengthens and stimulates the growth of the plant but makes it unattractive to slugs and snails. Crops can be eaten (by us) safely after application. Beer traps, slug pellets and the like attract pests towards them so you do pull in more pests, but with G2 the local population of slugs and snails go elsewhere to munch and in turn be munched by the birds. G2 is widely available as a concentrate (makes 10 litres) at £9.99. I cannot resist growing new plants each year and have splashed out on some standard roses. Rather like mini trees, the wide head of the roses sit on top of clear, slender trunks. These were popular in Victorian times and were common additions to rose gardens to provide some height. They fell out of favour as they were thought to be more trouble than they were worth. Now they are much sturdier and are grafted both at the top and the bottom. The stem often used now is ‘Chessum’s Choice’ (it used to be rugosa) and this is budded onto the normal ‘Laxa’ rootstock in the summer. The following year the stem starts to grow and then three or four plants of the chosen ornamental variety are budded onto the top in late summer. In the winter, the top growth of ‘Chessum’s Choice’ is cut off and the chosen variety left to grow. These standards take about three years to produce. The stems are usually just over 3ft (1m) high (convenient nose height), with weeping standards usually measuring about 4ft (1.3m). I will have to make sure that I remove any small shoots coming out of the stem and in the head that are not from the grafted rose. These standards need supporting all their life. I hate seeing thick posts supporting the stem so I use 12mm metal stakes and get a metal worker (manorwelding. co.uk) to weld a ball on the top to make them both safer and more attractive. As the trunks are far fatter than the stakes, the latter quickly become almost invisible. My standards are not going in a rose garden, but I am planting the fresh white ‘Claire Austin’ in a border that lines the lightly shaded path to the greenhouses. They will punctuate my green-and-white planting scheme (tall white epilobiums, ferns and box) which is backed by a north-facing wall. I love the light in north-facing spaces, and surprisingly many roses will thrive in light shade. Another newcomer that has self-sown elsewhere (and I am miles from another garden) is a pink snapdragon. It has a mass of bright pink flowers which open at the base of the stalk and slowly work their way up. They favour cool weather so this year they are in clover. I first noticed them in mid-May, harmonising with my Astrantia ‘Gill Richardson’. Providing I cut off the spent stalks to about 150mm from the ground, the snapdragons should flower for months and hopefully self-seed again. So far I am quite a fan, and will sow a few different ones next spring. Chiltern Seeds (chilternseeds.co.uk) offer a new F1, Antirrhinum ‘Liberty Lavender’, a dark fuchsia variety that is rather superior to my invader. Having cleared my jungle, hopefully we will have some dry weather to slow it down – and give me a little time to enjoy it.
Growing like trees: Harlow Carr roses, above, and Anne Boleyn roses, below