San Francisco Urban Forest

 

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Still weighing up whether I should be wearing a flower in my hair (fifty years too late!), I made my first visit to San Francisco last year. I loved the city; and part of the reason for that was the beautiful tree-lined streets in many of the neighbourhoods. Since the 1980’s  there has been a movement to revitalise the city’s Urban Forest through community participation. The Friends of the Urban Forest help individuals and communities green their own streets, creating a more attractive and healthier environment, reducing crime, absorbing traffic noise and pollution, reducing temperatures and capturing rainwater so reducing flooding.DSC_0123

Those miniature gardens below the trees are also all over the city and are a brilliant idea benefitting from the microclimate created by the tree. Pull up a few paving slabs and off you go!

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We walked for miles exploring the city and those streets with a beautiful green canopy made a real difference on a hot day.            DSC_0129.jpg

DSC_0131.jpgDSC_0128.jpgAnother green surprise are the staircase gardens linking one switchback street to another. They are mini green spaces enhancing the neighbourhood and making their exploration a real pleasure. Great views across the city too.   IMG_0644.jpg

And I just can’t resist a tree wearing a cosy!DSC_0184.jpg

More next time on a surprising and iconic green space in New York!

 

 

 

 

 

Keeping your balance

One of the joys of a garden for me is that it will never be the same from one year to the next. It will grow, change, mature and eventually decline and the fun is to manage that development and create a balance between the plants so that each can fulfill its potential. Whether your garden is five years or 25 years old it will need ‘editing’ if you want to keep it looking at its best.

I am often brought in by clients who have inherited a mature garden and know that although they don’t want to dig up the whole thing and start again, there needs to be a process of revision to bring back the balance to the garden. This imbalance can happen because trees and shrubs have grown bigger than their allotted space and are competing for space, light and nutrients. They might be creating shade where once there was a bright, sunny space and smaller plants beneath the canopy are suffering. Spontaneous plant purchases often result in a plant growing too big for the only space available  when it was bought or not suitable for the soil or aspect. If you only visit the garden centre in the summer then your garden may be full of plants that look good at that time but with nothing for the rest of the year!DSC_0135

1.REVIEW THE BORDERS

Winter is an excellent time to look critically at the borders. Try to be objective and plan to keep only those plants that contribute throughout the year to the overall picture. If something has outgrown its space but you love it then try giving it a renovation prune in the spring to within 60cm of the ground. Look at the RHS website for advice on which plants you can safely do this with. If two shrubs have grown into each other make a decision about which to keep and which can go based on performance and shape. Widening a border may make it easier to manage as shrubs can be allowed to reach their natural girth rather than having to be constantly pruned back. Think about the shape of the borders. Sweeping curves look better than bitty wiggles and are easier to maintain. If formal is more your style then make sure lawn edges are straight and crisp. Like humans, plants do have a lifetime which varies enormously so don’t be afraid to replace those that look tired and leggy. Would you choose the same plant again today? If it does’t earn its keep in terms of flowers/foliage/bark then harden your heart and take it out! Look at photos on Pinterest and Instagram as well as in magazines and books for inspiration and for a fresh view.

Take photographs of the border, cover with tracing paper and try sketching a visualisation of how you would like things to look like when you have removed/pruned shrubs or perennials. Mark the new shape of border edges on the ground with a hose-pipe or sitcks and string.

2. RENOVATE 

Spring is a great time to actually start work on renovations. Remove those plants that are dead, diseased or you have decided will not fit into the new border. Roots need to go too or you won’t be able to replant in that space and unwanted new growth may spring up. Prune those shrubs that you have decided to keep either by cutting right back or removing one third of the oldest branches referring to RHS website. Consider raising the canopy of shrubs so that you can plant perennials and bulbs beneath for an extra layer of interest. Keep stepping back to asses how the shrub looks as you prune. If the crowns of perennials are infested with weed then you could dig them up, shake off the soil and remove every scrap of weed root. Dig out weeds in the border by hand or, as a last resort, carefully spray really invasive weeds such as ground elder or bindweed with a glyphosate-based weedkiller.   It is so important to get as much weed root out as possible otherwise they will compete for light, water and nutrients with your new plants.

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Perennials benefit from being dug up regularly in spring or autumn and splitting into smaller pieces, getting rid of the less vigorous centre pieces, and replanting further apart with space to grow.20150511a

3.FEED AND CONDITION

Feeding and conditioning the soil with organic matter is much more beneficial (and better for the environment) than feeding the plant with artificial fertilisers. It improves the structure of the soil as well as feeding the plants. I specify digging in garden compost/well-rotted manure/green waste compost/leafmould/spent mushroom compost whenever I am renovating a border or planting a new one from scratch. A couple of bucketfuls per square metres dug into the top 30cm of soil will be an enormous long-term benefit. Many councils sell green waste compost created from the garden waste they collect from us.

4.RESHAPE

Cut the new shape of the border into the lawn and lift unwanted turf with spade or a turf-lifter. Stack this turf upside down in a corner of the garden as it will rot down to produce excellent compost.057

5.ASSESS AND REFRESH

Now the fun bit! Choose your new plants carefully having worked out the type of conditions you are going to be providing them with. Ask yourself what the aspect of the border is….sunny, shady or a mixture of both? Soil type is also key in choosing plants. Is it heavy clay which sticks to your boots or sandy soil which dries out quickly? Get a soil testing kit from the garden centre to work out pH (acidic, neutral or alkaline?). All these factors should guide your choice of plants. Next think about successional interest through the year. Choose some plants which look good in autumn and winter as well as spring and summer. This can be leaf or bark colour or structure from dead seed heads or the tracery of branches. Make sure you provide pollinators with nectar for as long season as possible. Research height and width of plants at maturity to make sure they will fit the space. One-third evergreen to two-thirds deciduous is a formula that works well for shrubs. And lastly, of course, decide on a colour scheme which helps to focus the choice of plants further. Remember this needs to fit in with any plants that remain from the original scheme. Phew! Now you know why planting plans take so long to create!

6.DIG IN

Take a tip from designers and place all the plants out in their pots on the border before you start to plant and move them around until  you are happy with how they combine. Plant perennials in groups of at least 3 to avoid a fussy,spotty look. Make sure all plants are at the same level in the soil as they were in the pots. Too high or too low may spell disaster for the plant. Water them in well so that each plant gets a couple of bucketfuls of water. Repeat once a week for the first season, a good soaking once a week is better than a sprinkling every day. Consider mulching with 75mm of pine bark nuggets which will help retain moisture and cut weeding by two-thirds. If you do, make sure mulch is kept away from the stems of shrubs.

All done! Pour yourself a well-deserved cup of tea or glass of wine and sit back and enjoy your fresh new garden!IMG_0503.jpg

Wildflower meadows

7158929185_ea2b23a84c_bWe have lost 97% of our lowland wildflower meadows since the end of the second world war. This in turn has lead to loss of habitat for pollinators and insects resulting in many of our previously well-loved birds and small mammals falling in numbers dramatically. Many of us would like to help rectify the loss in our own gardens and with this in mind I spent an interesting day at Wisley Gardens in Surrey yesterday on a course organised by the Royal Horticultural Society. Aimed at Garden Designers, Head-Gardeners and local authority horticulturalists, it was called ‘Learning to Design the Wild: wildflowers and naturalistic planting in horticulture’.thumb_2451856635

I didn’t really grasp the the relevance of the word ‘learning’ in the title until well into the day, when I began to realise that even those working at the top of the horticultural world are still learning the best methods of establishing and maintaining wild-flowers in a garden setting. What I learnt was that there are various methods being experimented with and what is key is to choose the one that best suits your soil, situation, budget and maintenance abilities. It is worth saying that wild-flower meadows are definitely NOT a low maintenance option, as some have suggested, but there are ways of short-cutting the complications of establishment and of creating impact on a budget.

Once you understand that Wildflower meadows are dynamic communities, changing throughout the year and from one year to the next then you start to see that planting wild-flowers can be a long-term management challenge. A lot of fun, but a challenge all the same! We talked about everything from a tiny wild-flower lawn in an urban situation to the huge Big Sky Meadows project at RHS Hyde Hall. Here, an initial 7 acres was seeded in January with many more acres to be put down to wildflower meadows over time.

Title: The Wildflower Meadow at RHS Garden Hyde Hall Description: Poppies, Cornflowers, Corncockles and Milkweed in the Wildflower Meadow at RHS Garden Hyde Hall Date: 15th June 2008

I’m sorting through all the useful information we were given to pick out what will be most useful to me as a garden designer.

Meadow on a budget

  • Utilise your existing lawn, or a part of it. Stop mowing regularly, let the grass grow and see what appears. Weed out coarse unwanted weeds by hand. In the late summer/autumn of the first year mow and scarify the grass. Supplement wild-flowers that appear naturally with plug plants of ones that you would like to see plus some small spring bulbs to naturalise if budget allows. Sprinkle parasitic Yellow-rattle seed to suppress vigorous lawn grasses at the same time.442f5304935e5e23501f62a3cd577cd2
  • In a low fertility soil, and where you are prepared to put in some work establishing the meadow, then broadcasting seed on  prepared soil is a good budget option. in the spring, mow the area to mark it out. Spray off with glyphosate-based herbicide or lift turf. Level the soil and scatter the seed mix. Rake in and roll soil or trample in with boots. Water. An annual mix can be left to go to seed then cleared at the end of the following winter. Hopefully seeds will germinate and you will get a show the following year. After 2 years you will probably need to start again with fresh seed to prevent the mix becoming dominated by one or two species. A perennial mix takes a little more horticultural input but will come back each year.

    Pictorial Meadows 'Patchwork Quilt' mix
    Pictorial Meadows ‘Patchwork Quilt’ mix

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  • Wildflower turf is a product developed to shortcut the hard work of establishing a meadow from seed. It is a wildflower meadow in a roll! Delivered and laid like ordinary lawn turf, the wild-flowers are already established on a growing medium. There will not be the same competition from weeds though you will still need to manage the meadow by weeding out undesirables that appear and cutting at least a couple of times a year. Useful for difficult areas such as sloping pond sides or sloping gardens where seed might be washed away by rain. Suitable on heavier, more fertile soils. Not the cheapest method but is one of the easiest ways to ensure successful establishment if managed correctly. Turf can be bought suitable for specific situations such as underneath trees or on a green roof.

Maintenance tips

  • Time your mowing regime to prolong flowering. A cut in the summer before seeding will often encourage another flush of flowers later in the year.
  • Mowing, weeding by hand or spot weeding with glyphosate are techniques which can be used to deal with over-competitive species of grass and flowers and unwanted invadors such as dock and thistle.
  • Mow regularly around the edges of the meadow to show the long grass is deliberate. In larger areas mow paths through the meadow, and maybe even a circle for a small table and chairs, so you can really benefit from the environment.

3e4d84b40757e50b963f4164aa8c5144If you design a meadow close to vegetable crops or in an orchard then you will find that the insects attracted in will also pollinate your crops and provide a natural method of keeping pests down! So consider a place in your garden for wild-flowers this year and have a go! It will be lots of fun and you will be helping our pollinators thrive again.

Useful links

Royal Horticultural Society   http://www.rhs.org.uk

Pictorial Meadows mixes of native with non-native seed   http://www.pictorialmeadows.co.uk

Wildflower turf   http://www.wildflowerturf.co.uk

Native wildflower seed   http://www.johnchamberswildflowers.co.uk

Get Bristol Buzzing project   http://www.getbristolbuzzing.org

Wild gardens and meadows to visit for inspiration   Wild garden weekends byTania Pascoe

Unveiling the beautiful Hellebore

Hellebores are stunning plants. I have pointed this out before, I know, but want to remind you that it really is worth braving the cold to trim back the old Hellebore leaves to reveal the unfolding flowers. Here is the ‘before’ example in a client’s garden this week:

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Then 5 minutes later after some careful snipping:

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See what is revealed! Not only are hellebores beautiful in cream’s, yellows, pinks, purples and blacks but they also provide nectar for early foraging insects. So everyone is happy. Some varieties do tend to droop their heads so we miss the beautiful markings within the flower, but planting them in a raised bed or container means we can see their beauty more easily.

Surreal Snowdrops

Spotting the first snowdrop opening its nodding head amidst the wintery weather of late January or early February is always a landmark in the turning year for me. I know we are on the first stage of an inevitable journey towards the riches of spring and summer. So each year I try to visit a different garden which specialises in Snowdrops, to celebrate their brief glory. This year it was the Chelsea Physic Garden in London. There were lots of beautiful varieties of Snowdrops threading through the borders, under shrubs and trees, in the shady conditions they love.IMG_0336But someone on the staff had also come up with a rather more unique way of displaying the tiny flowers, so we could look right up into the pretty bells. Hanging like christmas baubles from one of the trees by the entrance to the garden were snowdrop spheres, covered in moss and twisting gently in the breeze.

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Great fun for children…and adults too actually!

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My grandson was intrigued! We were also impressed by the novel (I use that word intentionally!) ‘bug hotels’ that were hanging from another tree.IMG_0341

The roof was made from an old gardening book covered in plastic, with lots of canes slotted below to give ladybirds, solitary bees and other beneficial mini-beasts a place to see out the winter.As an ex-librarian this appealed to both the literary and the horticultural aspects of my nature! I am going to search for a battered copy of Francis Hodgson Burnett’s ‘Secret Garden’ and make one myself next winter. Chelsea Physic is a real ‘secret garden’ of London, tucked away behind  old brick walls in Chelsea, full of interesting treasures whatever the time of year.