Susie’s Gar­den Q&A All your gar­den­ing ques­tions an­swered

From hang­ing bas­kets to tulip dis­plays, our My Weekly gar­den­ing ex­pert, Susie White shares her ex­per­tise to keep your gar­den look­ing beau­ti­ful...

My Weekly - - Contents -

I’VE NOT HAD A LOT OF SUC­CESS IN THE PAST WITH MAK­ING UP MY OWN HANG­ING BAS­KETS. WHAT CAN I DO TO CRE­ATE A REALLY WON­DER­FUL DIS­PLAY? To cre­ate a fab­u­lous hang­ing bas­ket you need a few key things: the right choice of plants, reg­u­lar wa­ter­ing plus a really good com­post. A big bas­ket gives a big­ger dis­play and dries out less quickly. Adding wa­ter-re­tain­ing gran­ules helps too. It’s worth spend­ing more and us­ing Dale­foot Wool Com­post, a premium pot­ting com­post made from Herd­wick sheep’s wool blended with bracken. The wool re­leases a steady stream of ni­tro­gen and other es­sen­tial nu­tri­ents, pro­vid­ing a long term feed. The wool also traps wa­ter so the bas­ket stays moist for longer.

For a gor­geous ef­fect, tr y ivy leaf pelargo­ni­ums (gera­ni­ums). These are the kind that are used in ev­ery French win­dow box and are amaz­ingly free flow­er­ing. Or plant it up with pur­ple petu­nias and trail­ing blue lo­belia. I WOULD AP­PRE­CI­ATE ANY SUG­GES­TIONS ABOUT WHAT I CAN DO TO TREAT BISHOP’S WEED? I’VE TRIED WEED KILLER, BUT IT’S ALL OVER MY GAR­DEN AND REALLY DIF­FI­CULT TO GET RID OF. Bishop’s weed or ground el­der is so in­va­sive it can creep through bor­ders and take over. To erad­i­cate it, you have to get out ev­ery last bit as the small­est piece will re-root.

One gar­dener I know used bar­ley straw to smother ground el­der and has writ­ten about it at gc­ The rhi­zomes of bishop’s weed run close to the sur face and I’ve found it eas­ier to dig up if given a thick mulch of leaf mould. There is also a pretty form with var­ie­gated leaves, but also in­va­sive! WHEN IS THE BEST TIME TO TAKE GERA­NIUM CUTTINGS? I HAVE NOT HAD MUCH SUC­CESS, SO WOULD LIKE TO KNOW WHAT I AM DO­ING WRONG. There’s a dif­fer­ence be­tween pelargo­ni­ums (in­for­mally known as gera­ni­ums) which are

an­nu­als and true gera­ni­ums which are peren­ni­als and hardy. It all goes back to when they were first in­tro­duced from South Africa in the 17th cen­tury and they were wrongly named!

It’s very easy to di­vide and prop­a­gate hardy gera­ni­ums and early spring is the ideal time. I think, though, you are re­fer­ring to pelargo­ni­ums. Short cuttings root eas­ily at any time of year but need good light and warm com­post. If pos­si­ble, give them bot­tom heat and don’t cover them. WE RE­CENTLY MADE A POND IN OUR GAR­DEN US­ING A LINER BUT THE AREA AROUND IT LOOKS VERY BARE. WHAT PLANTS COULD YOU REC­OM­MEND TO SOFTEN THE EDGES AND PRO­VIDE US WITH COLOUR? Putting in a pond is the best way of en­cour­ag­ing wildlife to your gar­den. Hav­ing plant­ing around it will make it not just more at­trac­tive vis­ually but pro­vide cover for that wildlife. You can soften the edges with frothy green lady’s man­tle and golden creep­ing Jenny, both plants that will flop over the edge and hide the liner. And for bril­liant sum­mer colour, why not plant a se­lec­tion of can­de­labra prim­u­las? They are good for in­sects and come in a range of yel­low, or­ange and rich pink.

WANT­ING TO HAVE SCENT AT MY FRONT DOOR, I PLANTED A LAVEN­DER BUSH A FEW YEARS AGO. UN­FOR­TU­NATELY, I WASN’T SURE WHEN TO CUT IT BACK AND IT HAS NOW BE­COME OVER­GROWN WITH MORE WOODY STEMS THAN FLOW­ERS AND GREEN LEAVES. WOULD IT GROW AGAIN IF I CUT IT RIGHT BACK? OR WOULD I BE BET­TER START­ING OVER AGAIN WITH A NEW PLANT? IT’S NEVER HAD MUCH OF A SCENT, EI­THER. If your par­tic­u­lar plant hasn’t had much scent, then per­haps it’s an op­por­tu­nity to buy a new one. The most fra­grant va­ri­eties are ‘Grosso’, ‘Provence’ and cul­ti­vars of English laven­der (La­van­dula an­gus­ti­fo­lia) such as the deep pur­ple ‘Hid­cote’. There are also the lovely French laven­ders (La­van­dula stoechas) which have frilly tops, though these are less hardy.

Prune the new plant af­ter flow­er­ing to keep it compact. If you do want to re­vive your old plant, it can only be cut back to where you see tiny leaves on the stems; if you cut into old wood with­out these signs of life, that branch will die.

MY GRAND­DAUGH­TER LOVES EX­PLOR­ING OUR GAR­DEN. I’M A BIT WOR­RIED ABOUT ALL THE CHEM­I­CALS WE’VE BEEN US­ING ON THE GRASS AND PLANTS AND DON’T WANT HER TO TOUCH ANY. IS THERE ANY­THING SAFE OR OR­GANIC THAT WE COULD USE? As a grand­mother my­self, I know what a de­light it is to watch a child ex­plor­ing the world. I’ve gar­dened with­out chem­i­cals for years and have found that, once you get the nat­u­ral bal­ance right in your gar­den, there isn’t any need.

I use a bi­o­log­i­cal con­trol called ne­ma­todes against slugs and find it very ef­fec­tive. For snails though, you could try beer traps, hand pick snails at night, or re­veal their hid­ing places so that thrushes can eat them.

There’s a prod­uct called Mo Bac­ter Or­ganic Fer­tiliser which feeds the grass and kills moss. We hand weed dan­de­lions but we just ac­cept moss and other plants as part of the green space that is the lawn. I PLANTED A SALVIA ‘HOTLIPS’ A FEW YEARS AGO AND IT HAS REALLY THRIVED. I’VE CLIPPED OFF THE DEAD STEMS BUT NEVER CUT IT BACK AS IT SEEMED SO HAPPY. HOW­EVER, IT’S GET­TING TOO BIG FOR ITS SPACE NOW, BUT I’M WOR­RIED ABOUT CUT­TING IT BACK AS THERE ARE SO MANY BARE STEMS IN THE CEN­TRE. HOW CAN I BRING IT BACK TO ITS BEST? This de­light­ful woody sage from Mex­ico is free flow­er­ing and aro­matic. It needs well drained soil, is drought tol­er­ant but can suf­fer in wet and cold win­ters. It’s rel­a­tively short lived so, when the plant be­comes leggy, you could take cuttings from it and start a new gen­er­a­tion of plants. If you can see shoots near the base I think I would risk prun­ing it hard back. I AM HELP­ING OUT AT A LO­CAL SCHOOL AND WOULD LIKE SOME SUG­GES­TIONS OF FLOW­ERS THAT ARE EASY TO GROW FOR CHIL­DREN. HOW ABOUT A BUT­TER­FLY BUSH? What a lovely idea. I think it is so im­por­tant for chil­dren to gget ear­lyy ex­pe­ri­ence of gar­den­ing g. Al­though bud­dle eias at­tract lots of bbut­ter­flies, and ye es, I would in nclude one, they t will prob­a­bly flower in i the school hol­i­days. Se­dums are equally good in­sect plants and flower in early au­tumn when the chil­dren are back at school. And lamb’s ears have softly furry leaves that they will love to touch.

If you show them how to grow from seed, choose fast grow­ing an­nu­als so that they get quick re­sults. Colour ful ideas are can­dytuft which comes in pur­ple, mauve or white, vi­brant nas­tur­tium which has edible flow­ers, and sun­flow­ers so that they can see whose gets tallest!

LAST YEAR I PLANTED LOTS OF TULIP BULBS AND HAD A MAG­NIF­I­CENT DIS­PLAY IN THE SPRING. THIS YEAR, HOW­EVER, THE TULIPS HAVE NOT COME THROUGH AS STRONGLY - SOME AP­PEAR A BIT STUNTED WITH THIN­NER STEMS AND LESS GLO­RI­OUS HEADS. WHAT COULD I DO TO IM­PROVE THESE FOR NEXT YEAR? The bed­ding types of tulips never pro­vide such a good dis­play af­ter their first year and are best re­placed. You can lift and dry them af­ter flow­er­ing, but I pre­fer to grow species tulips or cot­tage va­ri­eties such as “Apel­doorn” which can nat­u­ralise. Af­ter flow­er­ing, let the leaves go com­pletely brown so that they feed the bulb. It might also be worth check­ing that they are not suf­fer­ing from tulip fire. This dis­ease makes the leaves look with­ered and cov­ered in brown spots. Af­fected bulbs need to be re­moved and you shouldn’t plant tulips in the same spot for three years.

OUR BIG­GEST PROB­LEM IS ONLY ONE OUT OF 10 SEEDS HAS POPPED THROUGH SO FAR. HOW DO YOU GUAR­AN­TEE 100% SUC­CESS RATE? IT FEELS A BIT LIKE A LOTTERY EV­ERY YEAR. IT’S FEAST OR FAMINE. Ger­mi­na­tion is­sues may not be down to you, but to the age and qual­ity of the seeds sup­plied. If you have very low ger­mi­na­tion, try writ­ing to the com­pany in case other grow­ers have re­ported the same. Re­mem­ber there is re­duced vi­a­bil­ity af­ter the “Sow By” date as well as from pack­ets that have been opened for a while. Keep seed pack­ets in an air­tight box and sow as fresh as pos­si­ble.

Use a seed com­post, not a gen­eral pur­pose one, and don’t over-sow. If seedlings are too close to­gether they can be af­fected by “damp­ing off” dis­eases that cause them to col­lapse and die. For large seeds such as nas­tur­tium or cour­gette, I sow only two seeds to each pot. I don’t sow too early in the year, pre­fer­ring to wait un­til it is warm and ger­mi­na­tion hap­pens quickly.

Var­ie­gated bishop’s weed

Pelargo­ni­ums in pots

Bring a burst of colour to your life this sum­mer...

Don’t cover pelargo­nium cuttings

Can­de­labra prim­u­las can be rich pink... ...or yel­low


The ‘Hid­cote’ is very fra­grant

Salvia ‘Hotlips’

Gar­dens are an ad­ven­ture for young ones


Tulips make for a gor­geous dis­play

Basil seedlings Marigold seedlings

They come in so many vivid colours

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