Grow­ing out of con­trol

This year’s ex­tended spring means lots of hard work in the gar­den

The Sunday Telegraph - Sunday - - Life Gardening -

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

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