Sunday 14 August 2011

The end of busy Lizzies as we know them?

Is it the end of fabulous displays of busy Lizzies like these?
I've been doing a lot of question time roadshows across the country recently, and one question that regularly comes up is: "What's wrong with my busy Lizzies - they're all dying?"

The answer, sadly, is a disfiguring disease that is killing busy Lizzies (impatiens) all over the UK. Impatiens downy mildew is a relatively new disease. It was first discovered in the UK in 2003, but there was never a real problem with it until a couple of years ago. But this year it has run riot in gardens - probably encouraged by the cool, damp summer weather - killing off plants wherever it appears.

Unfortunately, the disease is proving 'difficult to control' on the nurseries growing and supplying the plants, with even approved professional fungicides proving ineffective. This could indicate either the presence of a new 'aggressive' form of the disease or that the pathogen has developed resistance to the fungicides.

For us gardeners, there are no approved fungicides for its control - so there's nothing we can do once it strikes in our gardens.

All this means that it could be the end of the busy Lizzie as we know it - the end of all those massed bedding displays and 'ball baskets'. If the plant nurseries can't control it on their plants - then they won't be growing them, as they don't want to dispatch diseased plants - and if we have no approved fungicides to use at home, once it appears on our plants that's it.

There is one possible ray of hope. The Sunpatiens varieties seem to be resistant to the disease. These plants are bigger and more robust than your common or garden busy Lizzie and it may be this that provides the resistance. They are a hybrid of Impatiens walleriana (regular busy Lizzies) and Impatiens hawkeri (New Guinea impatiens). If you look at the plants, you can see some of each of their parents in them. The flower size is somewhere between both and the leaves are slightly thicker than normal impatiens. So, let's hope these offer some

Wednesday 25 May 2011

RHS Chelsea Flower Show - lovely show

The RHS Chelsea Flower Show IS the world's greatest flower show - of that there can be no doubt.

I've just got back and I thoroughly enjoyed this year's show. I've been going to Chelsea to work since 1989, when I first went to work on the Gardening Which? stand, then 11 years working for Practical Gardening, Garden Answers and Garden News, then 10 years as the RHS Online Editor. This year, I was there as a freelance writer which was weird. After all the years of running around like a loon, trying to cover every aspect of the show for RHS Online, this year was so relaxed. I even managed to get to some of the champagne receptions and launches.

I do feel very privileged to be able to see Chelsea as a member of the press, before it's open to RHS members and the public and with the freedom of being able to go everywhere - quickly, without having to play sardines with tens of thousands of 'punters' and queuing up to crane my neck for a glimpse of a garden.

I have to admit that I thought the last two years Chelsea had lost its way, but this year it's back with a vengeance. The show gardens were generally up in quality and values. It's a shame there are so few smaller gardens - I always loved the town and chic gardens of previous years. I thought the artisan gardens didn't really work this year.

Obviously, we all disagree with the judges. I didn't think The Daily Telegraph garden was best in show. I was aghast that Bunny Guinness and the M&G Garden didn't get Gold (or even best in show). I was bowled over by Diarmuid Gavin's Fáilte Ireland garden - you know that Diarmuid is always going to be good value for money - his gardens may not be great, but you know he is going to do something to wind up the RHS, which is always great. But this year, he has wound up the RHS and produced a staggeringly beautiful garden.

But it's not only the great and the good who produce gardens at Chelsea with £250K of money to build something overwhelming. This year, schoolchildren across the country have grown plants for the Miracle-Grow'ers Learning Journey gardens. Yes, schoolchildren - as young as 7 & 8 years old. Having grown plants for an RHS show garden (many years ago now when I managed a garden centre - but the thought of it still haunts me!), I know how hard and complicated it is to get plants up to show standard, so well done to all the schools and children that took part. And yes, they won RHS Silver-Gilt Medals - which are only bettered by Gold.

View the online coverage of Chelsea on the RHS website

Elvis Costello once said:
"Oh no, it does not move me
Even though I've seen the movie
I don't want to check your pulse
I don't want nobody else
I don't want to go to Chelsea"

Well, that's his loss...

Sunday 15 May 2011

Winter plant deaths - final tally

I've not wanted to do this blog - it makes me cry just thinking about it - but I've finally made a tally of all the plants that have died in my garden due to the extreme(?) winter weather. I've already blogged about cordylines dying all over the country - and I'm still getting questions and e-mails about them.
To further complicate the cordyline problem, they are now suffering from bacterial slime flux: patches on the stem ooze white or orangey liquid that is sometimes frothy and which has an absolutely foul smell. There may also be black staining below the patch of ooze. Sadly, there are no cures for this bacterial disease - just cutting down affected stems.
Anhyoo, back to the winter deaths. I've left it this long to make the list, as plants can recover, but if you dig them up prematurely - they won't!
These are the ones that have croaked in my garden:

Buddleja Buzz Lavender & Buzz Magenta (in pots)
Campsis radicans Flamenco
Chamaerops humilis
Clematis paniculata
Clerodendrum trichotomum Carnival
Convolvulus cneorum x 2
Cordyline australis Sparkler
Coronilla valentina subsp. glauca 'Citrina'
Dianthus Devon Cream x2
Dianthus Passion
Dianthus Raspberry Sundae
Gerbera Everlast Pink & Everlast White & other varieties
Lobelia tupa
Musa basjoo
Olea europaea
Passiflora caerulea Constance Elliott
Penstemons – 6 different varieties
Pittosporum tenuifolium Abbotsbury Gold
Pittosporum tobira Variegata
Trachycarpus fortunei x 2
Tulbaghia violacea Silver Lace

Died/overwintered in the greenhouse:

Still looking ill/will they recover?
Corokia x virgata Sunsplash
Laurus nobilis
Phormium Cream Delight

What about you? Are there any plants you'll admit to losing over the winter?

Monday 11 April 2011

Fine weather, growing veg & allotmenteering

I hate to do it, but to quote The Sun – phew, what a scorcher! The weather this week has been fabulous - if you like warm, sunny days out of keeping in April that is. I guess we'll have to pay for it later on in the year - snow in June?
It has meant I've spent a lot of time away from my computer over the last few days and spent it in the garden & on the allotment - topping up the tan. Which also means I've caught up and got ahead of jobs.
I've sown my tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, courgettes and squashes. I've also sown lots of salad and brassica seeds in modules to transplant out later. I find this far better than sowing seed direct into the ground - especially for plants on the allotment, as it gives them a better start in life so they make stronger plants.
I'm also growing lots of grafted plants this year, as I had such great results last year - especially with the aubergines as they were my best ever.
The allotment is looking very pristine - thoroughly weeded and the grass paths mown. Yesterday, I planted the early potatoes - 'Charlotte' is the one I always choose. And I've been picking and eating asparagus, purple sprouting broccoli, kale and leeks like they're about to become extinct.

In my 'spare' time(!) I've been creating a vegetable growing course for  If you're interested and want to sign up to learn how to grow veg to perfection then visit the MyGardenSchool website.

Saturday 12 March 2011

Grow Your Own & Edible Garden Show

Wow, what a month it's been. After a slightly quiet and slightly nervous January, where workloads were looking a little low - February exploded into a massive work meltdown. To be honest, in January I was thinking OK, no worries, at least I can spend more time in the garden/on the allotment. As it turns out, at the moment the garden is something that 'exists' somewhere outside my office!

I signed up to be a tutor for - an online horticultural teaching facility, which meant sorting out scripts and images and going off to record the scripts for use in the online tutorials. They'll be going live by the beginning of April, so sign up if you want to learn from the master!

The RHS asked me to write another book for them in the practical gardening series - this time on pruning. Of course, I said, how long have I got (thinking four weeks, like the last three books)? 10 weeks was the reply - 10 weeks, wow - more than double the last three. However, three weeks into writing, I get an e-mail saying that schedules have been changed and I need to get it all finished in three week's time. A bit of a shock - but still 50% greater than previous books. Today I'm tackling pruning fruit.

Scotts Miracle-Gro has just asked me to help their Interactive Manager manage the website - - and work on their e-mail campaigns and e-newsletters, among other things.

The 'other' things include doing talks and demonstrations for the company at The Edible Garden Show on March 18-20 and the Capel Manor Spring Gardening Show on April 2-3. If you're going to either show come and say hi!

I have promised myself a trip to the allotment this weekend. I'll probably need to take a machete!

Tuesday 8 February 2011

Cordyline death...everywhere

This weekend I made my regular trip to Chelmsford to guest on the Ken Crowther Gardening Programme on BBC Essex. Ken was on holiday, so it was up to me to give all the gardening advice. It was a busy two hours with lots of calls, texts and e-mails.
The over-riding question was on cordylines - all suffering from the winter cold. It looks like cordylines have been one of the biggest casualties of the cold snap - we had numerous calls on this one, all wanting to know what to do to save them. I gave a talk last night at the Middlesex Hardy Plant Society and again cordylines were a hot (or freezing cold) topic of conversation. Well, if you're worried about your cabbage palms, here's some advice.

The vast majority of other questions on Ken's programme were to do with grow your own - both fruit and veg - so it looks like this is still a big gardening subject for 2011 - despite what some industry experts are saying.
We had questions on what to do with seed potatoes (to chit or not to chit that IS the question), growing sweetcorn, blueberries, scab on apples, what to do with too many leeks (eat them?), planting soft fruit, splitting and moving rhubarb, getting the best from raspberries and starting a new veg garden in a small space, among others.
Another new gardener thought her whole garden was 'dead', but it was just that she wasn't used to brown being the predominant garden colour in winter. And, like my last stint on the show, what to do to get the best from orchids - obviously either the most popular houseplant or one that causes more angst than any other - was worrying the county.
So, gardening is alive and kicking in the minds of gardeners - even if all their garden plants are dead!

Friday 4 February 2011

The Garden Press Event 2011

It's always good to start the gardening year with a class event - especially after the miserable winter - and yesterday was the Garden Press Event at the RHS Horticultural Halls in London. This is open to all members of the gardening press and a great chance to catch up with a large number of gardening sundry suppliers and nurseries. It's always a goodie - and this year was better than ever - IMHO.

I travelled down to London with Nigel Colborn & Philippa Pearson and like the keenies we are, arrived before the doors officially opened, so had to sneak in the side door - desperate for the loo and a coffee. Luckily, there were bacon butties on offer and I managed to sneak away several Danish pastries to keep me going on the fuel/food front. All very necessary, since I later missed lunch - time just flew and it was too late to eat when I realised what the time was. And, as it turned out, later I downed a couple of glasses of champagne on the Hillier stand, which went straight to my head.

The event was meant to end at 4.30pm, but I was still there at 5.15pm - although it's not that easy talking to people as they dismantle their stand around you. Even getting there early, missing lunch and staying late didn't give me enough time to see everyone I wanted to - in fact, I probably only saw a quarter of the stands.

Someone did ask me whether I thought it would be the last event, because in future we could do virtual shows via webcams. I certainly hope not (even being a virtual kind of guy), since it's the face-to-face interaction that makes all the difference and the only way to winkle out those little gems of information.

But it was great to see who I did, catch up with friends and colleagues and find out loads of gossip. Apologies to the 75% of people I didn't see. I must stop talking so much and get a pair of skates or a skateboard for next year's event!

Saturday 29 January 2011

Raised bed a go-go

OK, not as much progress as I'd hoped, but I have finished filling the second bed and moved the soil where the third one is meant to go. Sadly, I haven't treated the wood for the last two beds, yet - so onwards & upwards - that's a job for today. In fact, now, as soon as I finish scribbling this down.

Just finished my RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch. And the results are in...
Blackbird 7, collared dove 3, greenfinch 2, robin 4, blue tit 4, dunnock 3, house sparrow 5, song thrush 2, carrion crow 1, feral pigeon 2, starling 5, chaffinch 1, great tit 3, woodpigeon 1, magpie 2. If I remember rightly the numbers are about the same as last year, but I'm missing goldfinch and long-tailed tits from the previous survey. I have had a couple of visits from a sparrowhawk, so maybe this has dealt with the tits - not sure it would go for goldfinches. I have seen a couple of piles of feathers...!

After 10 years in this house and garden, I've never had any 'mammal issues' in the garden - and I've always boasted about it when people ask me how to deal with squirrels, rabbits, foxes, deer and moles. Well, my boasting has just come back to bite me on the bum - a fox and a squirrel have moved in over the last couple of days. Time to put my own pest control suggestions into practice in my own garden.

Sunday 23 January 2011

The rise of raised beds

Well finally, me and my big mouth. In my blog on November 27 about putting up raised beds I stupidly said we'd have a bad winter - and so we did. All of which meant that I've not been able to get any further with the raised beds - that is, until today.
I bit the bullet and managed to put down the first 1.8m bed, fill it with soil, move the soil where the first 2.4m bed was meant to go, build it, install it and start to fill it. Sadly, rain, bad light and a knackered back have stopped play. So, not quite half way there.
Not to worry, it's still too cold to sow directly outside - a minimum soil temperature of 7C is needed for most seeds to germinate and it's nowhere near that yet.
Hopefully this week I can get away from the computer, sneak outside and start treating the wood for the last two beds with wood preservative. Knowing my luck it'll pour down all week. Aha, will I never learn? Bearing in mind my winter comment I shouldn't have said that.
Also, on my website, I've put up a load of information about square foot or block layout veg growing, which you may find useful interesting. There's a load of info about yields, spacing and how many plants of each veg to grow.

Monday 17 January 2011

Are there any gardeners out there?

Q: What happens when you do a radio gardening phone-in programme on the first nice, dry day of the year?
A: No-one phones in because they're all in the garden!
Well, good for lucky old them.
Sunday's programme on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire was a bit flat since, we only had eight questions in the whole hour. Admittedly, the programme has been moved around a bit recently until it has settled at its current, final slot, due to changes in the station's schedules. Maybe it was because I talked Welsh to the weather presenter? Or maybe it was because everyone was gardening or visiting the local garden centre - for a cup of tea or to buy garden equipment?
Never mind, at least presenter Chris South and guests Philippa Pearson & I can talk for Britain, so we just rabbited on about 'stuff'.
The 'hot' questions (if you can have hot questions in these circumstances) were roses. One caller had had what he thought and had been told was fire blight on a new pyracantha hedge and wanted to replace it with a rose hedge. The other had bought a load from the pound shop and they were in full growth - not surprisingly as I'm sure pound shops are nice and hot and not used to looking after live plants - and wanted to know what to do with them.
Is fire blight still as prevalent as it used to be? Anyone seen it/had it recently? Answers on a postcard please...

Saturday 15 January 2011

ABC of amaryllis, bonsai & cyclamen

I've been guesting on Ken Crowther's gardening programme on BBC Essex again, sorting out the county's problems.
It's odd how questions go around in packs/trends and this time everyone was fretting about their Christmas purchases or Christmas presents.
How to look after amaryllis (don't just chuck them away after flowering but keep them growing), bonsais (by the dozen) dropping leaves - mainly due to overwatering - and cyclamen not flowering - or flowering very well if the callers were showing off. One caller had flowers on 30cm long stems - a tree cyclamen.
One caller wanted my thoughts on composts and fertilisers for his crops on the allotment - not an easy answer to give in two minutes - especially as he had spoken to other people, read several books and they all contradicted each other/gave different advice and his head was in a spin. My 'Hodge's guide to soil & plant feeding in two minutes' seemed to sort things out for him. One of the things he'd read was that he needed to apply ammonium nitrate now, followed by sulphate of potash in February, followed by ... I just told him to chuck a couple of ounces of Growmore around. As you'll see I like to make things simple.
Sadly, we then had follow-up calls asking why I hadn't featured feeds for this situation or that plant or the other condition. My suggestion of a two-hour programme dedicated to compost, manure and fertiliser didn't go down too well with the powers that be at Essex - surprisingly. Some people say I speak a load of old compost all the time anyway.
Another caller then wanted 'Hodge's two-minute guide to potting composts', which opened a whole new can of worms - almost literally!

Tomorrow I'm off to BBC Radio Cambridgeshire to do their gardening slot at noon with the lovely Philippa Pearson. More muck & magic?

Sunday 2 January 2011

Trendy gardening

So while I wait for the garden to thaw, dry out, warm up and generally become more pleasant for working in, I thought now's a good time to look at the gardening trends for this year. Ah yes, that old January chestnut. The thing with trends is that anybody can start one - and once started they can become self-fulfilling prophecies. Either that or everyone ignores them by February.
Anyhoo, here are mine:

Black & white We'll all be clamoring for flowers in these 'colours'.
Hardy evergreens Following the last winter, we'll be looking for evergreens that survive cold winters. This may include dwarf conifers; gawd, did I really say that?
Dahlias Yes, I know these have been back in favour in recent years, but I believe 2011 is the big one.
Cut your own OK, so I've stolen this one from elsewhere, but after the huge increase in GYO veg (which will continue to grow in 2011, but not as much as in recent years), gardeners will realise they can also save a fortune on visiting the florist.
Growing up with vertical gardening Yes, we all love our climbers, but I think there will be a huge increase in demand for these. And, as gardens get smaller, growing walls, veg walls, green walls etc will finally take off.
Green roofs Similarly, green roofs will start to become popular with gardeners - not just designers, scientists, those with huge estate gardens and 'greenies'.
* Research shows that covering walls and roofs with plants can cut down on your heating bills (see Gardening with a purpose).
Lawns Finally, we'll all get so miffed with our lawns that they'll finally revert to their natural states - or be given a good topdressing - of concrete, and converted to patios.
Gardening with a purpose We'll all wake up and realise that gardens aren't for sitting in and enjoying, but they are a wasted space and so should be used for some higher purpose - biodiversity, wildlife, food supplies and biofuels & green energy (this one is done a bit tongue in cheek!).

Does anyone else have anything better?