Category Archives: garden

Strawberry short-cuts: Alan Titchmarsh on growing a succulent crop

From planting to choosing, strawberries are the fastest fruit possible grow. In the event you started a brand new bed last autumn, it can crop well this summer, but it’s not too late to install pot-grown plants this spring, once they seem on sale. To increase the picking season to its maximum, grow one row each of early, mid-season and late- cropping varieties. The identical strawberry plants will fruit for four seasons before they want replacing.


Strawberries need rich, fertile, well-drained soil in a sunny situation. Prepare the soil well; fork in well-rotted organic matter and a handful of general-purpose fertiliser, akin to blood, fish and bonemeal, per square yard/metre. Plant in rows, spacing plants 18 inches apart, with a path two to a few feet wide between rows to permit easy accessibility for cultivation and picking. 

Spring care

March marks the beginning of the growing season, so now’s the time to weed strawberry beds carefully and repeat regularly (weeds encourage pests and disease, in addition competing for moisture and nutrients). Avoid dislodging the plants, as they’re shallow-rooted.

In late March or early April, sprinkle one ounce of sulphate of potash along each yard/metre of the row, applying it carefully to 1 side of the plants (should any get directly to the leaves, wash it off to bypass scorching). If it doesn’t rain soon afterwards, water or hoe this in, and if there’s a dry spell when the plants come into flower in late spring/early summer, water well so that they don’t suffer a sign in growth, if you want to reduce your crop. 

After flowering

As soon because the flowers finish, the primary tiny green strawberry fruitlets start “setting”. Weed thoroughly, then sprinkle organic slug pellets or manage slug traps between the plants. Next, spread a skinny layer of straw (teased out from a bale and shaken loose) all around the plants and over the trails between rows. Alternatively, lay strawberry mats carefully around each plant. The purpose of it is to boost the fruit off damp ground and to prevent soil splashing directly to the ripening fruit – which inspires rotting – so lift up foliage and developing fruitlets, and tuck the straw or mats carefully underneath. 

Continue removing any weeds that have the capacity to appear through this mulch. Lay any early-developing runners along the rows so that they don’t obscure the trails in the course of the crop.

Avoid watering after flowering if possible, since damp conditions will encourage grey mould and rotten fruit. If a dry spell makes watering essential, do it the first thing within the morning in order that foliage and developing fruit dry off quickly.

As soon as fruits start swelling, cover the beds with netting, raised up on wire hoops and well pegged down around the sides, to offer protection to the crop from birds – don’t wait until berries start ripening.


Do this primary thing within the morning, when fruit is at its juiciest, and pick only ripe red fruit since orange berries won’t have developed their full flavour. Pick the strawberries carefully, complete with their stalks and green calyxes – don’t tug them off the plant – and handle them with care in order that they don’t bruise. That you can pick everyday or two.

When many of the crop has gone and only small and/or misshapen fruits are left, remove the netting and let birds have anything else. Alternatively, you can also make jam or smoothies with these.

After fruiting

Use shears or large scissors to chop all of the fruited plants all the way down to about three inches above the bottom, removing each of the old leaves and runners. This sounds extreme, however improves the health of the bed by removing potential sources of disease, and in addition exposes pests for birds to address. Sprinkle a handful of general fertiliser and one ounce of sulphate of potash to every yard of row, applying it carefully between the plants and washing it in afterwards.

If you want spare plants to exchange old ones or to increase your strawberry bed, propagate your personal. Just leave about a “parent plants” unclipped on the end of the rows and peg the largest, healthiest runners down into pots, able to replant once they are big enough. You’ll have spare plants free of charge. 

Plant of the week


If you spot a poinsettia-like shrub flowering outdoors around now, it’ll be a pieris. From a distance, the foremost noticeable feature of this neat, dome-shaped evergreen is its bold clusters of bright-red young leaves, but a more in-depth look reveals short sprays of white urn-shaped flowers splaying out over deep green foliage. The show continues until May, when the flowers are over and the hot leaves revert to green. But pieris isn’t something everyone can grow; it needs acid soil, so in case you can’t grow rhododendrons on your garden, pieris won’t do well either. The choice is to grow it in a bath of ericaceous compost.

As an advantage, being confined keeps the plant naturally compact; within the garden it might grow to six-8ft. Grow it in light shade or dappled shade under trees. The earliest pieris to flower are types of pieris “japonica”, and instead to white flowers, there also are pink varieties, reminiscent of “Blush” or the red-flowered “Valley Valentine”. But perhaps most spectacular are the varieties with variegated leaves, corresponding to “Flaming Silver”, because the foliage makes a show all year round.

Garden of the Week: Bodnant’s secret Yew Dell is revealed

The Yew Dell at Bodnant Garden, near Conwy, hidden from public view for greater than a century, is a woodland with a stream running through and is akin to a Himalayan glade.

It is filled with old, rare rhododendrons, many grown from seed collected by famous plant hunters George Forrest and Frank Kingdon-Ward during their Asian travels within the early 1900s.
There also are many rare Bodnant hybrid rhododendrons, bred on the garden over the past century.

The opening marks the primary phase of a prime renovation project which aims to open up one other 38 acres of this special garden over the following three years. 

Visitors may be ready to see the work in progress – or even help the gardeners.

Bill Warrell, who’s overseeing the hole up of the brand new area, says: “The Yew Dell is a gorgeous and uniquely atmospheric component of the garden.

“With mature rhododendrons and hydrangeas overhung by oak, ash and magnolia, it has a secluded, lush atmosphere.

“We hope that, over the subsequent couple of years, visitors will enjoy watching the transformation going down or even get entangled themselves by enjoying volunteer days and special events.”

The 3.5 acres of the Yew Dell were originally laid out from the 1870s by Bodnant Garden’s creator Henry Pochin.

He was inspired by leading Victorian designer William Robinson, who recommended mixing exotic and local plants suited for climate and terrain instead of to a specific horticultural style.

The area has remained untouched aside from basic management for a few years, but over the last two years gardeners had been weeding, decreasing brambles, renovating shrubs and trees, in addition to repairing paths and drains.

“After some exertions to make the world safe and accessible it’s now able to welcome the general public – but there’s plenty more to do yet,” says Bill.

“During the renovation work new plants might be added, including hydrangea, euonymus and acer to increase interest into autumn.

“The rhododendron collection can also be expanded, as more Bodnant hybrids are planted.”

The opening of the Yew Dell should be followed in 2015 by another private riverside area is called the Skating Pond, and in 2017 by Furnace Wood.

Sowing the seeds: Alan Titchmarsh on windowsill gardening

If you’re visiting a gardening friend any time now and beauty why their windowsills are packed with little pots and punnets there’s an easy explanation. The spring seed sowing season is under way. Spare bedrooms, utility rooms and studies all make great temporary nurseries for plants that need an early start with some warmth.

I’ve even heard of folks who arrange an old ironing board next to a window to extend their propagation space (well gardeners are known for creative recycling). So in preference to buying all of your half-hardy bedding plants before everything of summer why not save a number of quid by growing your individual from scratch?

Things to sow now include all half-hardy container favourites akin to French marigolds, verbena and petunia, together with any taller flowers for cutting or for filling gaps in borders reminiscent of antirrhinums, nicotiana, pictured above, cosmos and zinnias. You are able to also sow foliage favourites inclusive of silvery Helichrysum petiolare and coleus, with flame-coloured foliage.

The other must-sow-nows are outdoor tomatoes. When you’re heating your own home anyway seed-raising on windowsills is terribly economical. For best results you’ll desire a steady temperature of 60-65F but when your heating goes off when you’re at work then it pays to speculate £20 or so in a small electric propagator.

All you have to for indoor use is a model (roughly the dimensions of 1 standard seed tray) with no thermostat. This maintains a temperature about 10F higher than that of the encompassing room, and holds approximately 15 to 18 small square plastic pots inside, that is plenty for many people.

Spread a skinny layer of fresh, moist silver sand within the base and fit the pots inside so that they cover the distance completely. Fill each pot almost to the rim with an incredible brand of seed compost. It’s not worth economising on compost: with seeds being so expensive it pays to provide them the very best start in order that most arise.

Sow one sort of flower seeds or tomatoes per pot, label them, then sprinkle a gentle dusting of horticultural vermiculite or sifted seed compost excessive , simply enough to barely cover the seeds but not more. In case you sow too deep they won’t arise. Next stand the pots in an inch of tepid water for 10 minutes until the moisture soaks to the skin.

When this changes colour you’ll know they’re done. Place them within the propagator or on a drip-tray on a bright windowsill over a radiator and wait. Depending what kind they’re seeds may germinate in days or even weeks.

When the seedlings are sufficiently big to address, usually more than one weeks when they germinate, prick them out into trays or small individual pots. They’re on the right stage when the primary pair of seed-leaves has opened out and the primary or second true leaf has sprouted in between them.

By sowing now you’ll have half-hardy flowers and young tomatoes at just the perfect stage to plant out in mid-to-late May. It’s also the time your central heating goes off so you’ve made good use of “free heat” for your windowsills.

Golden stars: Alan Titchmarsh on growing miniature daffodils and narcissi

Go along in your local nursery or garden centre right away and you’ll find potfuls of them bursting into flower and able to be transferred on your garden or into tubs, containers and windowboxes to bring instant colour right as much as the home.

Without a doubt, the preferred variety is ‘Tête-a-tête’ with its nodding bright yellow flowers which can be often (but not always) carried in pairs – hence the name. The explanation this variety is so popular is that it’s incredibly reliable and keeps arising and flowering its socks off year after year, unlike a few of those massive daffs that appear to supply nothing greater than grassy foliage after many years. (It truly is usually the fault of shallow planting or spring drought – no chance of the latter this year).

I have three large tubs containing olive trees. They sit alongside my shed and to cheer them up just a little I planted ‘Tête-a-tête’ narcissi inside the surrounding soil a terrific seven or eight years ago. I do nothing to them, rather then watering the olives in summer and (after I remember) adding a drop of liquid feed – but that’s rare. Within the root-ridden earth the narcissi erupt each spring to offer me a flower show that i actually don’t deserve.

The other wonderful thing about dwarf narcissi is they suit the size of small gardens and aren’t bowed down by snow and rain as are the bigger daffs like ‘King Alfred’ and ‘Carlton’, which always seem martyrs to slug and snail damage.  

The time to plant dwarf narcissi is in autumn, but all of us forget, often times, where the gaps are in our beds and borders, so buying about a which can be about to flower of their small pots straight away is a forgiveable sin. 

It allows us to liven up dreary patches of bare earth.

When you plant them within the garden, do you should definitely set them deeper than within the pots (when the bulbs are almost level with the outside of the compost). Set them a great two or three inches deeper. Their leaves will extend and the bulbs will flower more reliably in years to come.

Seek out any varieties on offer. Among my favourites are ‘Little Witch’, ‘Jenny’ and ‘Jetfire’, and none of them will cost you an arm and a leg. If there are spare pockets of earth on your garden, don’t leave them of their sorry state: add just a little instant spring sunshine inside the sort of miniature daffs and narcissi. You’ll never regret it.

Don’t miss Alan’s gardening column today and each day within the Daily Express. For additional information on his range of gardening products, visit

Out & About: Take part Garden Re-Leaf Day to elevate funds for children’s hospice gardens

The actors have recorded a round of questions for an audio quiz that garden nurseries could be running as customer events in the course of the annual fund-raising weekend.

Garden Re-Leaf is in aid of Greenfingers, the nationwide charity devoted to building gardens in children’s hospices across the UK.

Since 2012 Garden Re-Leaf Day participants have donated greater than £116,000 to the charity, funding several life-enhancing hospice gardens.

Now it aims to assist Greenfingers’ Rosy Cheeks’ entice raise £750,000 over two years to fund not less than 10 more hospice gardens with the intention to give children and families who use the hospices a possibility to spend time together outdoors.

Many garden product and plant brands also are offering special offers and promotions at garden centres nationwide to aid raise further funds.

Alan Titchmarsh, one of many first to support Garden Re-Leaf Day before its launch in 2012, said: “You’ve heard of Comic Relief and Sports Relief… now the garden industry has its own version, Garden Re-Leaf. It can become the most important event within the gardening calendar.”

Other celebrities who’ve recorded questions include Skyfall’s Miss Moneypenny, actress Naomie Harris, who’s currently on cinema screens as Winnie Mandela in Long Walk to Freedom.

EastEnders cast members Danny Dyer (new Queen Vic landlord Mick Carter) and Patsy Palmer (fiery market trader Bianca Butcher) have also joined in, as has impressionist Alistair McGowan – inside the vocal form of Radio 4’s John Humphrys, and comedians David Mitchell, Dara Ó Briain and Stephen Fry.

The quiz includes both general knowledge and gardening rounds, and Garden Re-Leaf Day’s founder Boyd Douglas-Davies (Hillview Garden Centre’s CEO) said: “We’re enormously grateful that such a lot of mainstream stars have supported this year’s Garden Re-Leaf Day quiz – it will likely be more popular than ever!

“It’s an easy way for shops both to participate in Garden Re-Leaf, and attract scores of shoppers in-store in the beginning of the spring gardening season.”

Garden centres and suppliers around the UK are expected to participate within the find-raising weekend.

To find details of events on your area visit the web site

How one can plant a patio pot of winter colour

Of course, after I say colour I mostly mean green – evergreens – but plants that hold onto their brightly-coloured berries also are useful, as are early-flowering bulbs comparable to snowdrops.

There are dozens of snowdrops to select from and although not all are on hand in garden centres that you must look out for Galanthus elwesii ‘Remember Remember’ and Galanthus plicatus ‘Three Ships’ because they ought to be in flower by Christmas in most regions.

But first you have to choose your point of interest – that’s more likely to be a small evergreen shrub with a purpose to dominate the design.

Skimmias always work well because they maintain their berries all winter. Skimmia japonica shrubs are nice and compact, with slightly aromatic leaves and Skimmia japonica ‘Rubella’ have red berries in winter, scented flowers in spring and are available with an RHS Award of Garden Merit.

Dogwood is another good option owing to its vivid stems: the dogwood called Cornus Sericea ‘Flaviramea’ is yellow and Cornus alba ‘Sibirica’ is a flaming red.

You needs to be in a position to buy them of their red or yellow stemmed glory at present, but they have to be pruned to ground level in early spring to retain their colourful winter bark.

Sweet box, or Sarcococca confusa, is another great choice as it has tiny little lace flowers from December to March which smell sensational – a sweet honey scent that lifts your spirit on a bone-cold day.

It also has quite small evergreen leaves and stems that won’t dominate other plants an excessive amount of.

To complement your center of attention you’ll need some bedding plants. Cyclamens are perfect with their pleasing heart-shaped leaves and chic white, red or cerise flowers.

Heuchera are good for foliage, with evergreen or semi-evergreen foliage in green, bronze and purple-tinged green.

Or you are able to always use traditional winter bedding plants along with pansies, violas and primulas – but don’t leave it too late because they want warmish soil while they get settled.

Pots also needs to be lifted off the floor for winter, on special purpose-made “feet” or simply on bricks, to assist with drainage.

And if the elements turns seriously cold it’s worthwhile to cover pots with horticultural fleece or simply tie some bubblewrap around them.

Tips on how to sow tomato seeds

There are dozens of tomato varieties to select from, however the type you pick may depend upon whether you’re growing them outside or in a greenhouse.

Tomato blight was an issue for me during the last few years, because I grow my tomatoes outside, so high on my list are disease-resistant varieties.

I also find that although i will grow tomatoes of all sizes quite successfully, the really big ones never quite ripen properly – even in last year’s summer sunshine.

So I’m going to be growing small cherry tomatoes again this year, which ripen quickly. Last year Unwin’s Organic Tomato Sweetie was very successful.

I also will try blight-resistant seeds comparable to Thompson & Morgan’s Tomato Ferline F1 Hybrid, that’s proof against fusarium and verticillium wilts, and even though it is a beefsteak tomato, it truly is quite small compared with others.

If you’re growing tomatoes in a greenhouse you will have fewer issues of blight because your crops should be sheltered from wind-borne diseases, and your tomatoes can keep on ripening well into autumn.

Unfortunately greenhouse growing does produce other problems, together with tomato leaf mould due to loss of ventilation.

Whatever form of tomato you to decide to grow, though, all of them start up a similar way.

Fill a seed tray or modules with seed compost then gently water the compost before sowing any seeds, in order that they don’t get dislodged.

You have to sow them as thinly as possible – or simply two to every module.

Because tomato seeds are so small they just want a thin covering of seed compost or, better still, vermiculite on top, in order that light can penetrate to help germination.

Put the tray or module in a propagator when you’ve got one, or simply on a sunny windowsill, and the seedlings should emerge within 10 days.

If you don’t have a propagator you could put the seed tray inside a transparent plastic bag, to maintain within the warmth, but it’s lots of messing about and never really necessary.

Once the seedlings have a couple of real leaves, which can be slightly ragged instead of smooth-edged just like the first two seed leaves, you may transplant the strong-looking ones into their very own small pots.

If you don’t have many small flowerpots yogurt pots or plastic cups will do, however it is healthier to punch holes within the bottom for drainage.

Fill these pots with general compost then firm it down and use a narrow dibber or pencil to create a planting space.

Use the dibber or pencil to tease out the seedling from its tray, and hold it by a leaf as opposed to the stem as you transfer it.

Don’t forget that if a leaf tears in two the plant will grow more, but when the stem breaks the plant will probably die.

If you’veyou’ve got you have got sown seeds in modules just keep the strongest seedling in each module.

Then it’s only a question of keeping the seedling watered and in loads of light in order that it grows right into a strong plant able to go within the ground or a growbag in May, once the specter of frosts is over.

• For a step-by-step video guide to sowing tomato seeds, click play at the Thompson & Morgan Seeds above

How one can preserve climbing and rambling roses and which to make your mind up

Then I remember the Paul’s Himalayan musk rambling rose that covers one side of my garden with a froth of delicate pale pink flowers every June and that i re-evaluate.

November and December are a great time to plant roses so long as it’s not too cold, so one can get settled into the bottom when there’s a number of moisture to assist feed growing roots.

Good soil choked with nutrients can be essential, so that you should add compost for those who plant your rose and always ensure the collar – or ring across the trunk – of the rose just isn’t buried underground.

The attraction of climbers and ramblers is that you just don’t must give over valuable garden space to something that only looks good for a short while.

They might be tucked away in the back of the border, along fences and intertwined with hedges.

I prefer roses with dainty flowers that swarm across fences and hedges, into our trees and hardly look worse for wear after a storm, as larger flowers do.

The difference between rambling roses and climbers is that ramblers are more robust and only flower once a season – but quite spectacularly.

I can recommend Rambling Rector with its clusters of little white flowers with yellow centres.

We even have the climber Veilchenblau: it’s an unusual purple multiflora rose cultivar that fades to pink, with hundreds of tiny flowers crawling along the fence behind our pear tree.

The climber Rosa filipes ‘Kiftsgate’ has single, small white flowers that mingle with the pale pink Paul’s Himalayan Musk and on the bottom of the garden we’ve got the rambler Rosa mulliganii, which is analogous to Kiftsgate with long-lasting displays of bright red hips.

Another vigorous rambler is the Sir Cedric Morris rose, which we always think looks similar to miniature fried eggs and popping through Sir Cedric Morris are the tiny startling red flowers of the rambler Chevy Chase, and the glowing reddy-orange of the climber Warm Welcome.

We have found that having a mixture of climbers and ramblers means there are roses stoning up somewhere within the garden all summer and this year the fall hips was almost as attractive because the flowers.

They do take a little bit taking care of, though. We’ve a rambler within the front garden that has just climbed into among the many council’s trees on our street – so we have to prune it now before we get into trouble.

We also have to tie in other new shoots in order that they don’t cause any damage during windy weather and cut out any dead or misshapen shoots to create a great structure with quite a few air in order that mildew isn’t an issue next summer.

But we won’t be snipping off the ramblers’ hips – they may be for the birds and for cheering us up as we head into the gloomy December days.

Now heirloom seeds are under threat from EU regulations

While the demand for “heirloom” seeds has nearly doubled lately, The Organic Gardening Catalogue’s managing director has warned that proposed EU Plant Reproductive Materials Regulation can make it too expensive for firms to register seeds.

Michael Hedges claims this is able to therefore make it against EU law to even share home-saved seeds with friends.

And Mr Hedges says the proposed European rules would threaten the existence of many historic and favourite garden seed varieties.

“In many cases it might not be economic to register them, making it illegal to sell them or maybe share home saved seed with friends,” he says.

“Biodiversity will suffer consequently, and the eu seed market will be controlled by a handful of enormous seed companies.”

He adds: “This regulation is ill conceived and desires to be resisted.”

Demand for heirloom seeds have been increasing because the Grow Your individual boom because gardeners are trying to find vegetables with more flavour than mass-produced supermarket varieties.

Record numbers are growing their very own tomatoes, as an example, some choosing varieties that originate from before World War One.

The Organic Gardening Catalogue, which have been supplying seeds to organic gardeners for fifty years, records that sales of tomato seeds were up 40 per cent inside the 2013 season.

Some of the most well liked tomato varieties driving demand include the Harbinger, introduced in 1910, Golden Sunrise, which dates back to 1896, and Ailsa Craig, from 1925.

“Tomatoes remain essentially the most widely grown crop for home growers within the UK, and there’s been a distinct trend towards finding a more in-depth taste,” says Mr Hedges.

“We’re seeing a rise in interest within the old varieties, supreme to home garden growing, and customarily characterised by thinner skins, rich flavour and a protracted harvest and ripening period.

“It can be hard to locate anything like these within the supermarket.”

Mr Hedges also says that the increased demand for these older forms of British seeds was driven by fears over future restrictions introduced by EU rules.

“The proposed EU Plant Reproductive Materials Regulation threatens the existence of many historic and favourite garden seed varieties,” he says.

Find out how to choose trees for a small garden

While oak trees, beech and horse chestnuts are glorious they’re far too big for even spacious gardens, and in case you are confined to a more modest domestic plot you ought to choose a tree that’s not only small but in addition has year-round interest.

You are searching for spring blossom, attractive summer foliage, autumn berries and colour plus interesting bark.

Not every tree can deliver in all those categories but many are spot on over lots of the seasons.

Positioning of trees can also be crucial. Obviously, don’t plant a tree so with regards to your house that its roots will cause problems when it’s mature and its canopy will cut out your daylight.

Instead, plant your tree in order that it becomes a focus within the garden, drawing your eye to it and far from less salubrious areas, similar to the compost heap or greenhouse.

Evergreen trees create an excellent backdrop to other planting in summer and are excellent in winter when there’s little or no colour within the garden.

You could try a kohuhu tree (Pittosporum tenuifolium) perhaps, which has glossy leaves, small honey-scented purple flowers in spring and is reasonably compact – even though it may grow to 20ft (6metres) once mature.

Another excellent evergreen is the magnolia tree Magnolia grandiflora, that is known for its fragrant waxy cream flowers and big dark green glossy leaves.

It is nice for growing against a border as it spreads itself out wide, but you would have to keep it in check: Magnolia grandifloras can grow to 40ft (12m) high.

Deciduous trees are better if you need autumn colour. Almost any Japanese maple offers you fiery reds and oranges, however the Acer griseum goes one better and has bronze-brown bark that appears adore it is peeling off – hence its common name the paperbark maple.

Silver birch trees are utilized by garden designers specifically thanks to their white trunks, which stand out particularly well in winter.

Betula jacquemontii is without doubt one of the best varieties, thanks to its extra-white bark, however it can grow to greater than 40ft.

If that’s going to cause problems, it’s possible to purchase silver birches which have had their main leader cut out in order that other branches grow to supply smaller multi-stemmed trees.

And for those of you who love spring blossom you can’t get significantly better than the flowering cherry tree Prunus serrulata ‘Mount Fuji’.

It is a frothy pale pink bouquet in spring but additionally has a glittery bronze trunk for winter interest and its leaves turn yellow and red in autumn – so it really works all year round.

But while you’re a pragmatic type your best bet is to plant a fruit tree. Apple, pear, plum, cherry – all of them have lovely spring blossom in addition to autumn colour and you’ve got the added bonus of free fruit.

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