Our Country Gardener experts can solve your gardening problems.
Andrew Midgley our popular garden writer tackles our postbag of readers’ questions this month. Andrew worked for the National Trust for 17 years and was recently garden manager for the National Trust gardens at Coleton Fishacre, Greenway and Compton Castle. He now runs a gardening business near Newton Abbot in Devon.
Q. I have mainly white Japanese anemones in my garden but there is one clump which is pink. Might they cross pollinate?
A. I shall stick my neck out here and say it should not be a problem but if you are concerned about it you could just dig out the offending clump with a mattock. As a point of fact the best way to propagate Japanese anemones is by taking root cuttings in the autumn due to its fleshy roots. You can divide clumps of emerging Japanese anemones in the spring and plant out elsewhere. A good mulch will encourage the roots to bed in. They are great plants to extend the flowering season from August until the first frost. The best known one is the mauve pink Anemone ‘September Charm’ or my personal favourite one is the white flowering A. ‘Honorine Jobert’. At five foot or so, it is one of the tallest of the autumn anemones and its round, pink-washed buds and substantial chalice-shaped flowers, held on branching stems, make it by far the classiest. It has a double row of petals, giving each flower substance. Their whiteness is set off by a green centre surrounded by a corolla of bright-yellow stamens.
Q. I have an acid soil and my rhododendrons do very well. But my garden at the moment is a 'one trick wonder' and are there any other plants which will do well in such soil?
A. There are numerous plants that will complement your rhododendrons in spring and beyond. Shrubs and trees are well represented with azaleas, camellias, magnolias, pieries, Japanese acers, skimmias, hydrangeas, ceonthus and liquidambar springing to mind. There are a good number of perennials to choose from too, including the Japanese anemones, Lirope muscarii, geraniums, geums, irises, libertias, dianthus and dicentra. For inspiration visit your nearest garden (s) throughout the season that are open to the public where you can see what grows and you get a feel of what you like and don’t like. By the way there are four major reasons for soils to become acidic: rainfall and leaching, acidic parent material, organic matter decay, and harvest of high-yielding crops
Q. I have been advised to plant a hedge using roses but am concerned about it. I see them as individual plants. Are there any advantages of using roses rather than other shrubs for hedges?
A. One of the first jobs I did when I started my career in gardening was pruning a rose hedge made up of Rosa rugosa which is the staple plant used in most rose hedges. Rose hedges can be very attractive when in flower as well as having the added bonus of scent. Roses can be used as a hedge to subtly divide up a garden room or as a prickly barrier. The classic Rosa rugosa is used as hedging and can be bought with white or purple flowers and has the additional bonus of bearing large red fruit hips in the autumn. Rosa Queen Elizabeth Hedging is a fabulous pink rose with wonderful scent and Rosa Stromboli is a repeat flowering floribunda red rose that has a long flowering period.
Q. I have a small garden affected by coastal winds. We are a mile from the Devon coast but the garden does get battered. This year many of my favourite shrubs have been either scorched or damaged. Is there anything which will flourish in these conditions?
A. Though it can be a challenge gardening on the coast there are many plants that can be grown that can cope with salt laden winds here in the South West. For inspiration have a look at the numerous gardens opened to the public dotted around the Devon and Cornish coasts. It is well worth considering planting an evergreen hedge such as Escallonia or Griselina to filter the wind through as having a fence means that the wind will hit the fence and go up and over and down in to the garden causing damage to plants. I have planted perennials such as osteosperums, salvias, argyranthemums, penstemons, geraniums and cannas with great success. For shrubs, you could plant out olearia, pittosporum, phlomis, fuchsia, callistemon and the archetypal Torbay Palms (Cordyline).
Q. I can access, through my contacts, both poultry manure and spent mushroom compost. How will they help my soil and how should them both?
A. Enriching the soil is all part and parcel of good gardening practice.
Use spent mushroom compost as a soil improver or as a mulch as it has a very high organic matter content and if you have a vegetable patch the vegetables will love it. Ornamental plants will also benefit from a good mulch which will help suppress weeds and retain valuable moisture. However, do not use this compost around ericaceous plants such as camellias and rhododendrons as the mushroom compost is very alkaline. Chicken manure is very high in nitrogen and also contains a good amount of potassium and phosphorus. The high nitrogen and balanced nutrients is the reason that chicken manure compost is the best kind of manure to use. It is useful as a top dressing in the spring for nitrogen loving plants in the vegetable garden. Again, chicken manure is not suitable around ericaceous plants and is best added to the compost heap. You can buy pelleted chicken manure in tubs which are easier to handle.
Q. I compost and recycle as much as I can, but I sometimes burn things I can’t compost, mostly cuttings which are too thick. What should I do with the bonfire ash? What is the likely pH, and what nutrients will it contain?
A. Ash from wood (it must be untreated) has a slight liming action and is therefore useful for vegetable growers. If it is quite chunky, it can, in addition, be used to bulk out soil to improve its structure.
Ash from bonfires that consists mostly of green, sappy prunings contains some potash and other nutrients. Ash from older wood logs, cardboard packaging etc. contains fewer useful nutrients.
The nutrient content of all wood ash is so variable that it is hard to be precise about its application in the garden. Probably it is best to store it somewhere dry and add it sparingly to the regular compost bins. Ash from coal fires is of no use to gardeners at all and should be binned - unless its grittiness is useful as a slug and snail barrier around vulnerable plants.