Cacti & Succulents – A popular houseplant gift

cacti succulents pink flowers

If you’ve been given a cacti or succulents houseplant as a gift and now wondering what to do with it, here are some top tips and advice by my friend and expert, Ian Thwaites who is the Chairman of the British Cactus and Succulent Society.

The common linking characteristic of cacti and succulents is the ability to store water in the leaves or stems enabling them to survive in arid habitats. All cacti are succulents, yet cacti are defined by the presence of areoles (specialised sites where spines form) whereas succulents have none.

Succulents – the camels of the plant world

In magazines they look amazing all crammed in a pot or terrarium together, but this really isn’t the ideal growing conditions for them. This may encourage insect infestations and/or mould. It also creates too much competition for water and food – therefore it’s best to repot them into their own pot and put them in a sunny windowsill.

The most common type of succulent house plant is the Crassula ovarta, commonly known as the Money tree, Friendship tree or Jade tree as you often see them in Chinese restaurants.

Crassula ovarta

cressula ovata money tree jade plant

This is a bushy evergreen shrub that grows slowly to 2m (it will take 5-10 years to reach this height). It has rounded fleshy dark green leaves sometimes edged with red, and flat clusters of small starry white or light pink flowers in late summer.

These plants are simple to propagate, and it will get children hooked onto growing their own plants. Simply pick off a leaf, tell them to leave it by their bedside so they can chat to it when they get up every morning. After a few weeks the leaf will sprout some roots, so pop it into some soil (from the garden will be fine) and gently cover the roots with the soil and firm it in and then leave it on the windowsill and after a few more weeks it will start to grow.

Echeveria elegans

Echivera succulent plant

Otherwise known as the Mexican gem. The elegans variety is a perennial and forms a clump of evergreen rosettes of spoon-shaped, whitish-green leaves and has lantern-shaped pink flowers, tipped with yellow, in late winter and spring.

These look great in a pot for the patio table as they only grow to around 10cm tall. They also don’t need much attention so if you go on holiday for a few weeks, you don’t need to worry about watering them.

Succulent care:

All succulents like a well-drained soil/compost. Its best to add a third/half grit (or perlite) to the compost to make sure the soil is open and well drained.

They prefer a sunny windowsill but some of them are happy outside in the summer months. Generally, they like warm sunny spots.

Feed them regularly during their growing season with a high potash feed such as Tomorite. Use half strength and feed regularly during the growing season. Do NOT use Miracle Grow.

The compost should be allowed to dry out slightly between waterings, rather than keeping it constantly moist. Succulents hate having their roots in water, so don’t leave them in a dish or tray of water. Ideally use tepid rainwater for watering. The minerals in tap water builds up in the soil and can cause deposits on the leaves of succulents.

Best time to re-pot them is in the spring.

Cacti

All cacti originate from the Americas – so all the ones you see in Europe come from the Americas.

Christmas cactus

christmas cacti pink flower

This plant is named because it flowers around Christmas time, so they make a pretty gift. These cacti originate from Brazil, so they also like a hot dry climate.

Once it has finished flowering, give it a water with half strength feed (such as Tomorite) and then give it a dry rest for 2-3 months. In the spring place it in a hanging basket and hang in a tree in your garden. Remember to water occasionally with food. It loves dappled sunshine under the tree. Make sure you bring it back into the house before the frosts start. Then water and feed it again and keep the compost moist.

If the flower buds drop off, this is due to the plant drying out, so simply water and feed it again. Keep it in a cool place when in flower as this will intensify the colour.

If you want a flowering cactus, buy a globular version as the columnar varieties need to grow to a certain height before flowering.

Mammillaria cacti pink flowers

Repotting:

Like all plants, they need to be repotted, especially when they have outgrown their pots. You can use leather gloves to protect your hands from the spikes. Or alternatively you can use lumps of polystyrene by adding them to the spines which makes them much easier to handle. Simply repot to the next size up in a free-draining compost and then place gravel around the top.

Gravel is needed for various reasons, firstly aesthetics as it looks much nicer. Secondly, it protects the neck of the plant from damp soil and thirdly, it stops the white spines discolouring.

succulents planted in brown laceup gardening boots

Great use of worn out old gardening boots!

Biography:

Ian Thwaites is the Chairman of the British Cactus and Succulent Society (www.bcss.org.uk) and they have over 70 branches around the country.  The principal objectives of the BCSS are to promote the study, conservation, propagation and cultivation of cacti and other succulent plants. Ian has grown plants all his life and in particular Cacti and succulents. Ian is also a professional plant and garden photographer.  You can contact him via his web site www.ianthwaites.com.  Ian is a committee member of the Garden Media Guild.

 

 

 

 

 

Carol Klein’s Top Tips for Autumn Colour in Your Garden

Carol Klein on stage RHS Malvern Autumn Show

Carol Klein’s Top Tips for Autumn Colour in Your Garden

I had the pleasure of meeting the Gardeners’ World presenter Carol Klein at the RHS Malvern Autumn Show 2019.

As we sat down to talk behind the main stage, one of Carols colleagues shouted over and asked Carol if she had a sewing kit in her handbag, Carol replied “No, but I’ve got a boiled egg, babybel and a piece of chocolate!” So now you know what Carol keeps in her bag… who knew!!! It certainly broke the ice as I found it very funny.

Carol is a regular visitor to the Malvern Shows and loves the people and plants, she says it’s very down to earth and loves mingling with everyone in the floral marquee.

But we all want to know, what’s in Carol’s garden right now that’s looking good?  Here’s what she had to say about some of her favourite Autumnal flowering plants.

Rudbeckia fulgida var. deamii

Rudbeckia yellow daisy

Carol loves this plant as it’s such a ‘sunny’ autumnal flower and grows well in her gardens heavy soil. She went on to say they’re really easy to propagate and it’s best done in the spring.

They are a perennial which grows to around 60cm tall, with dark oval hairy green leaves and bright yellow daisy flowers which bloom from late summer to mid-autumn. Ideal for clay, loam or chalk soils in full sun or part shade.

Molinia caerulea subsp. caerulea ‘Edith Dudszus’

Molinia Edith Dudszus moor grass

Commonly known as Moor Grass. This grass turns gold in autumn and she loves how it tumbles over in the border and can easily self-seed.

This grass can grow in any moist but well drained soil in full sun or part shade, but prefers neutral soil.  It grows to around 90cm tall so it’s ideal for mid/back of borders. It’s deciduous and its best to remove any dead foliage and old flowered stems in spring.

*TOP TIP* Carol loves Asters and has a top tip of combining similar flowers of different heights to give a tiered effect.

Aster × frikartii ‘Mönch’

Aster blue daisy

The word Aster comes from an ancient Greek word meaning star, Carol went on to explain where the variety name came from and it’s an interesting story.  But in a nutshell a Swiss plantsman called Frikart created three new cultivars, naming them after Swiss Mountains: ‘Mönch’, ‘Eiger’ and ‘Jungfrau’.

Monch is a bushy perennial that grows to around 1m tall, likes full sun and is happy in loam, chalk or sandy soil. It has pretty lavender-blue flowers which bloom from August to September. Loved by pollinators too!

Symphyotrichum ‘Little Carlow’ (cordifolius hybrid) aster

 

Aster Little Carlow blue daisy

This aster (shown in the back of this photo) is also a bushy perennial that grows to around 90cm tall. It’s happy in most soils – clay, loam, chalk and sandy so long as it’s moist but well drained. It likes full sun or part shade. It may need staking. It’s also easy to propagate in the spring too.  It has pretty violet-blue flowers which bloom from August to October.

What an interesting insight into Carols garden and her advice on propagation is invaluable, she said it’s simple but as asters put all their energies into flowering late in the season, means it’s not until spring that their new roots begin to grow. Chop up an aster in autumn and your divisions may well sulk and possibly die.

We crammed a lot of information into a short space of time, and I would like to thank Carol for sharing her fabulous tips and knowledge with me.

If you would like to see the National Collection of Asters, please visit Old Court Nurseries and The Picton Garden in Malvern, Worcestershire – it’s a beautiful garden and you can buy Asters too!

Further reading on my blog – https://borderinabox.com/autumnal-asters-add-colour-garden-borders/

Rudbeckia yellow daisy Picton Garden

Aser blue daisy

 

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Aster

Perennials for Pots

perennials for pots border in a box

 

Spring and summer are traditional times to create containers full of seasonal bedding (annuals) to add colour to the garden, however, by using perennials, it can add more texture and interest.

What is the difference between an annual and a perennial?

An annual is grown from seed, blooms, produces seeds, and then dies all in one year. Whereas perennials will last several years – it usually dies back over the winter and regrows each spring.

By planting perennials in pots, you can add structure and height along with lots of texture with different shaped and coloured leaves.

Pots are ideal to fill in gaps in the garden borders and if you’re living in temporary accommodation it is one way to create a beautiful garden that can move with you.

Other advantages of using pots are taking care over winter – they can be moved into the greenhouse, porch or closer to the house for protection. Also you can use different soil which will enable you to grow any plant you choose.

When it comes to planting perennials in containers, it is better to choose a bigger pot due to having larger root systems than annuals, so they require more space to grow well.  It’s also ideal to have pots in odd numbers and different heights which creates further interest and are easier on the eye.

What perennials look good in pots?

Choose plants that have interesting leaves and flowers for long periods – here are three plants that will create a lovely display together:

Heuchera

heuchera in flower

I love these plants due to the colour range of the foliage, the long thin stalks with tiny flowers on top and they simply look great in any garden. They like full sun and part shade and are mound forming so are ideal for the front of a border, or in a pot, clumped with other pots. Variety ‘Plum Pudding’ has striking dark purple foliage with a dusting of silver. *Top-Tip* buy immature plants to make your budget go further – here is an example of a 2L pot compared to a 9cm pot, the juvenile Heuchera will soon mature to the size of the 2L pot.

Penstemon

purple penstemon

Another favourite – especially the ‘Pensham ‘ series. These were developed by Edward Wilson, who sadly died in 2009, but his legacy of Penstemons lives on through Hayloft Plants in Pensham (a local company to me).  An ideal variety to go with the Heuchera is Penstemon ‘Pensham Plum Jerkum’ which flowers from July to October, with tall flower spikes of dark purple with white throats, which are very striking.

Artemisia

Artemesia silver leaf plant

The third pot for an attractive contrast to the Penstemon & Heuchera is Artemesia ‘Powis Castle’ with its aromatic, silvery coloured fern like leaves. It’s also semi evergreen so it will remain over winter, but will lose a few leaves. It grows to around 70cm tall and prefers full sun. It will flower in August with small insignificant yellow flowers, which look great with purple.

Other perennials you could use are Salvia’s such as the ‘Caradonna’ variety with dark square stems; Helleborus for spring flowering, and Lavender for it’s amazing scent.

 

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pink tulips

Autumnal Asters – how to add colour to your garden borders

Aster purple flower

If your borders are lacking colour right now, then pop along to the Picton Garden at Colwall, Worcestershire for some inspiration and you will see some stunning Aster’s, commonly known as Michaelmas Daisies which are a vibrant edition for any garden.

I met with owner Helen Picton to find out more about the home of the Plant Heritage National Collection of autumn flowering Asters.  The Picton Garden & Old Court Nursery has been a family business since 1906 and they specialise in breeding and growing Michaelmas Daisies.

There are over 400 varieties to choose from and the peak flowering season is September and October, with Michaelmas day falling on the 29th September. They vary in colours from the palest blues to striking pinks – no matter which one you choose they will all look fabulous especially if you combine them with other plants such as grasses and Rudbeckia.

Rudbeckia yellow daisy Picton Garden

 

Picton Garden aster grasses

There is lots of inspiration to take away with you such as this combination of Verbena bonariensis with Aster x frikartii ‘Wunder von Staffa’. This would be great if you have a narrow border as the verbena will give the height and this aster is shorter, so will create interest at a lower level.  Add in some spring flowering bulbs too, and you will have a simple sunny border that flowers from spring through to the autumn.

Picton gardens verbena bonariensis

Other favourites of Helens’ are:

New England Quinton Menzies aster

Aster Novae-angliae ‘Quinton Menzies’

Picton gardens purple aster

It has large deep purple-pink flowers with strong woody stems that need little or no staking, it’s mildew resistant and flowers from late September and grows to around 140 cm.

Rosy Veil aster

Symphyotrichum ericoides‘Rosy Veil’

Picton gardens rosie vale aster

This aster has fine foliage which is smothered in tiny pale purple-pink daisies from late September. I love it and it grows to around 100 cm tall.

 

Helen Picton aster

Symphyotrichum novae-angliae ‘Helen Picton

This plant was raised by Helen’s dad who named it after her.  It has large, rich violet-purple flowers from September into October and grows to around 120 cm tall.

Asters can grow in most soils in a sunny or part sunny border.

If you would like to visit, the garden is open from August until mid-October including many days for the National Gardens Scheme, so check their website to make sure it’s open. Website: http://www.autumnasters.co.uk/

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BBC Gardeners World Live Beautiful Border, Jar of Life

 

Container gardening using thrillers, fillers & spillers

Whether you have a small balcony or a sprawling country estate, containers can be a really useful way to add year-round colour and interest to your garden.

You can grow plants in just about any kind of container, as long as it’s large enough to hold compost to suit the plants’ needs, and it has drainage holes in the bottom. If you live on a windy site, consider the stability of the plant and the pot, particularly if you’re growing something tall.

Containers are great in that you can move them around the garden to fill empty gaps and create seasonal displays. Concrete or stone pots are more difficult to move but are sturdier. Plastic pots are less stable, but easier to move. One way around this is to place a plastic pot inside a stone pot to make it easy to interchange plants through the seasons.

When I’m creating a garden, I take into consideration the plants, the pots and their location, along with colour schemes and style. There’s a lot to think about! Here’s an example of how one plant – a pittosporum – can look different depending on the container and the background. The traditional terracotta pot stands out much more against the blue background than the brick wall, while the white pot contrasts well with both backgrounds and has a more modern vibe.

For drama and impact, choose colours opposite one another on the colour wheel such as red and green, yellow and purple, or blue and orange. For harmony and tranquillity, choose similar colours that tone well together, such as purples and blues. Here’s an example of a harmonious pot, with a burgundy phormium combined with pink scabiosa and forget-me-nots.

So, what do we mean by thrillers, fillers and spillers? The thriller is the star of the container – the attention-grabbing, dominant eye-catcher. The fillers do exactly that, and fill the pot around the thriller, while the spillers are the trailing plants over the side of the pot.

Now the weather is warming up and frosts are less frequent, you can fill your containers with summer bedding plants. Try a pelargonium (thriller), combined with petunias (fillers) and trailing lobelia (spillers). If you need plants that are pollution tolerant, try dwarf buddleia, or evergreen skimmia, yew or berberis. For hotspots, you can use more exotic plants such as cannas or ginger lilies.

One last thing to bear in mind is watering. Container plants need watering more than those in the ground, so add water-retaining crystals to the compost and mulch the surface to minimise evaporation. Smaller pots will need watering more often than larger ones.

 

summer bedding plants in a pot

patio pots in a large garden

white flower pot with plants blue background

 

 


 

Tree Ferns at Pershore Horticulture College

Beautiful Tree Ferns at Pershore Horticultural College

Tree Ferns at Pershore Horticulture CollegeFollowing an investment of £5.8m in the college facilities, a group of 100-year-old New Zealand tree ferns are now taking pride of place within the Collections House at Pershore College. After meeting the Director of Horticulture, Diane Whitehouse, and Commercial Manager John Farmer; it’s easy to understand their enthusiasm for the project.

The new Collections House is an imposing glass-fronted building on the north side of the college, which creates a semi-Mediterranean climate for growing a number of carefully selected plants. Its sophisticated censor-controlled system maintains a constant 19-20 degrees centigrade, single-glazed windows maximise the natural light, and there are also automatic ‘grow lights’, as used in the tomato farming industry.

Living Wall

Within its new reception area there’s an impressive living wall, but the main eye-catcher is the collection of Dicksonia squarrosa, commonly known as the tree fern, some of which are already 5.5m (18ft) tall.

To stop the ferns drying out, vertical hydroponics have been installed to drip water down the fibrous trunks, in efforts to mimic the growing conditions of their native New Zealand rainforest.

If you’re thinking of growing your own tree fern, remember they only grow about 2.5cm (1in) per year, but can eventually reach up to 6m (20ft) with a spread of around 5m (16½ft).

They can be situated in containers, outdoors, or in a large greenhouse or conservatory, but will need a sheltered spot and winter protection if grown outside. Water the trunks but avoid watering the crowns. They are generally pest free, but remove any damaged or dead fronds.  They prefer a part shade or full shade garden. They like a sandy or loam soil with a pH of acid or neutral soil.

To see the tree ferns for yourself, and to find out more about the courses on offer, contact the college directly for more details, visit https://www.warwickshire.ac.uk/events/open_events/pershore_open_events.aspx

Greening Grey Britain

The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) launched a campaign to improve our homes with simple planting. It doesn’t have to be Chelsea Flower Show standard – it can be a windowbox or hanging basket which can be easily changed in each season.  You could also use a large pot or a border, which can be filled with pretty flowers by sowing annual seeds, plant cuttings or with established shrubs from your local garden centre.

Why we need to add plants to our front gardens

The RHS are encouraging us to plant more for various reasons, not only does it improve air quality in towns and cities, but it can support our wildlife and insects, which are crucial in the pollination process. Around 90% of our plants require pollination by insects (and the wind) which creates our food and ultimately our livelihood.

Butterflies are among our prettiest garden visitors, but they’re dwindling in numbers: according to a Butterfly Conservation report published in 2015, The State of Britain’s Butterflies, three-quarters of UK butterflies have shown a 10-year decrease in their population levels. The Greening Grey Britain plan is to reverse this trend and encourage homeowners to create more green spaces to encourage our wildlife and insects.

Many homes have paved over their driveways, which means surface water has nowhere to drain to. By making some simple changes, our front gardens can become pretty and welcoming as well as functional. Space is usually at a premium, so why not add a climbing plant, in a container by the front door, such as a Jasmine which is evergreen and the flowers smell divine. Instead of slabs or concrete paving, use gravel with a porous membrane. Utilise the corners by adding a shrub or container, in a style and colour scheme that co-ordinates with your front door.

These are some simple ideas to transform your front garden which will make your outdoor space a nicer place to live and a welcome back home with some great kerb appeal!

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