My Gardening Week March 9th 2014….. Jeyes Fluid and Zen Buddhism !

As I mentioned in my last article yellow fever is full on now with daffodils everywhere , 27,000 varieties bred so far and by bred I mean artificially created by specialist growers over the last hundred years , mainly for commercial reasons as the public’s taste changes for different colours and larger flower heads . Different colours really means either variations on yellow or white but for my own taste I don’t take much heed of specialist varieties as in my view yellow is yellow  and I just buy in bulk sacks at the garden centres but I do try to keep the colours separate so one area will have nothing but white daffs and vice versa with yellow  .

Daffodils are extraordinarily tough cookies and will grow in most conditions , multiply in the ground and come back year after year and even if you throw away a few bulbs they will flower in the oddest of places … however there can be a situation where daffodils don’t produce flowers or flower heads and this is called “ blind “ , nobody knows for certain what causes it but it could be ultra dry locations, overcrowded clump of bulbs, not allowing the foliage to die back after flowering etc. but it is rare although it has happened to me on a few occaisions and the only thing to do is dig up and discard the bulbs as in my experience daffodils never recover from this blindness .

I now favour the dwarf varieties as they don’t blow over in wind as do the taller normal type of daffodil . The other thing I never do is plant into lawns as you need to leave the foliage for at least six weeks after flowering to store up food for next years plant and this means you can’t mow this area in that time and it looks messy so I plant under shrubs and trees and in particular under shrubs that lose their leaves during winter as the new spring growth will cover up the daffodil foliage after flowering in March/ April .

My favourite daffodil is tete a tete , a dwarf variety that grows to about seven to eight inches and which is widely available … no use having a favourite anything in gardening in my opinion if you have to trek up to the north of Scotland with a full team of huskies to get it !

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Tete a Tete mineature daffodil March 2014

Of course yellow fever at this time of year is not confined to daffodils as the Euphorbia is also coming into flower … I got my first Euphorbia Characais at a Plant Sale Sale in Wexford in the late 70’s and from that one plant which I remember was in a white styrofoam coffee holder it self seeded everywhere and this is one of its great great grand daughters !

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Euphorbia Characais March 2014 …. a self seeded two year old plant

March 3rd I spent my first full day in the garden today , a real pet day with wintry sun and managed to move four pots into new locations and as I intend to use different plants for these containers it meant levering out the old plants without damaging the pots … not an easy task and if you have used a pot with a narrow neck then forget it as you will never get the plant out . The more I move plants from pots the more I realise that only summer annuals that are dug up and thrown away at the end of the growing season  are suited for pots and containers and when I see the congested roots of small shrubs which have been in pots for a few years as happened to me today  I think this is a really cruel way to treat shrubs . Otherwise stick to perennial or annual bedding plants in containers and after seeing the state of the roots of a box ball I dug out of a pot today I have planted my last shrub in a container .

I know that container gardening is necessary where space is at a premium or indeed where a small balcony is the only garden available and I was in this situation myself during twelve years in Bosnia when I had no garden and packed a small balcony with pots of plants  . I also use containers in bright primary colours , blues and red , to brighten up dark shady areas of the garden in the wood which are tucked away and provide impact when you round a corner and come on them unexpectedly .

The reason for all the container moving today was that I had three lovely tall green ceramic pots in different locations around the garden and decided to group them together and I will plant them with hostas … the big green leaved sieboldiana variety elegans which I will underplant with simple white allysum , easy on the eye and the big leaves of the hostas coupled with the green of the pots will add a dramatic effect .

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Final word on containers , if you must use small shrubs or even small trees then each year  remove the plant and change the potting mixture and if the roots are getting congested either cut back or move up to a bigger container . As a rule replace the soil in the top half of a large pot every year , I use John Innes Potting Compost , as the mixture will have become leeched of all value and don’t forget also  to line the bottom of each pot  when originally planting with small stones , broken pottery and gravel which will help drainage .

Do I practice what I preach ?

No and like most gardeners I just left well enough alone on the basis if it ain’t broke don’t fix it but I do now religiously adhere to good container management  but the attached photo shows just how congested the roots of a hosta got after just three years in a pot in our garden  and where it eventually cracked the container so now I check each container with a perennial plant in spring and if the roots are getting too big after two seasons I divide the plant and replant with a smaller version and have the twin bonus of a healthy container plant plus a new plant from the division to plant out in the garden .

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A Hosta with pot bound roots November 2013

Apart from the pots of hostas close to the house I leave the watering and feeding of the containers in the rest of the garden to nature but I treat the pots around the house to a weekly feed of tomatoe fertiliser and I turn the hose on them daily as hostas are hungry buggers and respond spectacularly to regular feeding and watering and give you the wow factor from May till October !

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March 2014

Apparently quite soon there will be a new Gardening App which if pointed at a plant will list the name and what growing conditions it needs … great for those times in a garden centre or when visiting another garden where you might need instant info BUT ….. and here I am firmly wearing my old fogey …. stuck in a time warp & don’t move with the times hat …. or if I learned the hard way why can’t you  ?!

Essentially like all electronic apps or internet sites these are great for  just a quick intake of info which will never replace the hard grind of learning the basics about plants …. get over it I can hear you say !

Great also for Snezana my co – gardener here  who positively dislikes the use of latin names of plants and who has a down to earth approach to what she considers pretentious in gardening .

This approach was evident when we were visiting the Japanese Garden in Kildare recently and she announced loudly in front of one of their large antique urns that if it was in our garden she would scrub all the dark grey patches   of lichen off it with Jeyes Fluid …. I tried to explain that  the patina and aging process had been carefully maintained on the urn and encouraged for the past 100 years … No I would clean it she says  …..and in the background two passing Buddhist Monks shrieked and made some very un Zen like threatening noises and ran off to get security while I hurried our cleaning warrior to the car park !

For myself I am not a fan of large public Japanese Gardens as both here and in the UK they were part of an aristocratic craze that became popular in Victorian times which in my view did not transfer very well from Japan and usually ended up as what the Victorian elite considered a Japanese Garden should look like and I would imagine most Japanese visitors are horrified at the over use of both rock and non traditional plants and I think these gardens now come across as almost Disneyland Japanese .

That said I did have some sympathy with the Kildare Buddhist Monks that day !!




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