Sunday, 28 October 2012

Incey wincey, Codlings and Cream...

Before you settle down to read this and because we haven’t done it for a while, I would like you to join me in the chorus of that lovely tune that is our eponym. Clear your throat and join me at full volume in a rousing chorus. I’ll count you in… 

1…. 2……3 …. 4 go

‘DaDa Daa Da Daa Da Da Daa Bom Bom
DaDa Daa Da Daa Da Da Daa Bom Bom
DaDa Daa Da Daa Da Da Daa
And sweet Marie who waits for me there. ‘

That’s it. Feel better now? Good. On with the show.

Can you pat your head and rub circles on your tummy at the same time? If you are shouting ‘Of course I can!’ the odds are you are a multi-tasking female who can split her thinking several ways at once. (Don’t look so smug). Now, keep patting and rubbing while standing on one leg the foot of which is balancing on a tightly inflated football. Still standing? If you are you are still only half way to being as good as the spider I have been watching. 

It’s that time of year when those large round bodied spiders which I have always called orb spiders seem to be more abundant and the mists and dew of autumn bejewel the webs to make them more obvious. The orb in the name comes from the shape of the web rather than the spider. There are several genera that do it. They make strong webs which you will easily feel tugging at your eyelashes and hair if you unwittingly walk through one. I was watching one of these beautifully speckled spiders building its web which it had strung between two, head high, rows of wood stacked some five feet apart. These two rows of split logs formed a corridor twenty feet or more long and glancing along this space I could see five or six of these webs strung at regular spaces like sinister lines of washing stretched high from balcony to balcony across a narrow street. Beware inattentive fly.

Earlier that day this spider had cast a thread to the wind which had carried across the space between the log piles and stuck to the other pile. Having secured both ends and attached another couple of lines to each side and put in place some radial threads the spider started to build its spiralling web, working from the outside to the centre. I only arrived in time to see it lay down the last few threads near the centre and it is here I observed what looked like an amazing display of dextrousness and balance. With one of its legs it drew the thread from the spinners in its rear and moved it across from one radial to the next and laid it on the radial, then with another leg it seemed to push the thread away from itself thus pushing it tightly against the radial as if to make doubly sure it was stuck on. This was not done in any sort of hesitant or careful way, the spider just quickly, rhythmically and unassumingly worked its way round and round laying down the threads while having all of its eight legs under perfect control with each being put down, without miss, on a thread when not involved in the task in hand. How does it know where the threads are to put its feet down so assuredly? I don’t know, but I do know it has had eons of evolution to perfect the knack and its six or eight eyes (One to watch each leg?) must surely help.

The web thread itself is a great resource and not to be wasted so when the web becomes ragged or worn out the spider will eat it before building another web. Have you ever wondered whether the spider bothers with those tiny gnats and aphids that start to build up on a web? Well some of the larger spiders won’t bother with them until they eat up the old web and these tiny catches get gobbled up at the same time. The spider severs the silk thread not by cutting but by applying digestive juices to it. 

Codlings and Cream

Do your apples look like this at the end of the season? There are two problems here, the most obvious of which is the damage to the core. This is cause by the codling moth Cydia pomonella

The adult female moth lays eggs on fruit and leaves in June /July. Caterpillars hatch two weeks later and burrow into the developing fruit often boring inconspicuously in at the end where the flower was - the opposite end to the stalk. They then feed for a month or so then eat their way out and pupate on the plant, under leaves and in cracks and crevices. Note this and note it well – the adults fly onto the apple tree and the larvae pupate on the tree. There is no crawling up and down the trunk to be caught by sticky grease bands. Codling moths are not controlled, as is often thought, by grease bands around the trunk of the tree. Grease bands are to stop the wingless female moths of the Winter Moth climbing up the trunk to lay eggs.

Treating codling moth is not easy. To use chemical sprays you have to time it so that you hit the caterpillar between hatching and entering the fruit which is tricky and anyway I don’t think there is a chemical recommended for the amateur for use on fruit trees but practically it is not realistic to spray a large tree. Pheromone traps which use a sex hormone to attract and trap the males were used to alert fruit growers to the presence of the moths so that they could apply an insecticide at the right time. It is doubtful if they are effective in reducing populations in a significant way because moths are all too ready to fly in from surrounding trees.

So there is your Codling – a codling is an unripe or cooking apple – along with its moth.

But what about your cream?

Well here it is in all its piled on glory. 

‘One giant scone for mankind’ said Neil Armstrong as he stepped towards this mountainous cream tea at Hobson’s Patisserie, Henley Street in Stratford on Avon. You can just see where he touched down, his moon boot pattern imprinted on the dusty surface of the scone. Eating this is akin to assaulting the north face of the Eiger, with both the tip of your nose and the end of your chin at risk of frost bite as you figure out the best way to approach it.

Now if there are any field botanists going ‘Wah! Wah! Wah! What about the real codlings and cream Williams?’ I am going to have to disappoint you because I could not find one in flower to photograph. Codlings or codlins and cream is the common name of the Hairy or Great Willowherb Epilobium hirsutum (hirsutum = hairy) which is the more leafy brother of the great Rosebay Willowherb Epilobium angustifolium (angustifolium = narrow leafed.) that brightens up our hedgerows and railway lines in late summer with its tall spikes of intensely coloured pink purple flowers. The Hairy Willowherb prefers much damper ground. I struggle to see the connection between the flowers, which I am guessing must be where the connection is made, and codlings and cream which which are not at all pink though the flower does have a cream coloured centre. If you know the connection then let me know.

Caterpillar Tracks

This cabbage white caterpillar on Cleome spinosa struck me as bit of an anomaly at first because I would have expected it to be feeding only on members of the family Brassicaceae, the cabbage family and no part of the Cleome plant says cabbage to me. A quick search told me that, after recent DNA analysis, Cleome had been placed in a new family because it was much more closely related to the Brassicas than had been thought; they could have saved a lot of money and research time if they had just asked the caterpillar.

A more obvious victim is Crambe cordifolia above. This is definitely a member of the brassica family and here has been stripped to the veins by the caterpillar. Anyone who has grown Crambe will know that its huge leaves are often damaged by another pest of brassicas, the flea beetle. This tiny beetle punctures the leaves with a myriad of tiny holes, spoiling the look of them completely. You can sometimes hear them pinging on the leaves as they jump about when you disturb them. Grow this Crambe them towards the back of the border where the huge sprays of white flowers can be enjoyed without the distraction of the mangy leaves. Treat roses and hollyhocks the same.

Scary Monsters 2

I was asked to judge the fruit and veg at the Stretton on Fosse Horticultural Show in September and a great show it was too especially as it was the first for as long as most people could remember. As good as the flowers and veg were, for me it was the children’s entries for the ‘Scariest Animal made from Veg.’ class that stole the show. 

Magical Mushrooms

Not the sharpest of pictures but what a colour. It was growing in sandy soil amongst wood chip mulch at the base of a yew hedge on the edge of Cheltenham. I used the wonderful service that is ispot to find out that it is a species of Stropharia.

Let’s just get this out of the way. - Why did the girl go out with the blue mushroom ? Because he was a fungi to be with. Gerrit?

Berry Good

Okay , what’s this then?

I spotted it in the architectural salvage paradise that is the Three Pigeons outpost of Lassco near Oxford. There was a case of old garden tools displayed by Garden and Wood and amongst them was this little gem. It is photographed through glass so it is a bit hazy but I am sure you can make out the rows of prongs and wires across its base. It’s a berry harvester , French of course, and if I never harvested a berry with it I would be content to enjoy its boxy yet elegant construction, its attractive angles and its ‘I was thoughtfully made for a specific purpose’ character. I imagine it would be used to harvest berries such as red, white and blackcurrants and maybe elderberries by scooping through the strigs and gently tugging and tipping back to land the loosened berries in the collecting box at the back with creepy crawlies and juice from burst berries falling through the wire screen base.

Or is it an S. and M. backscratcher. No, not Sparks and Menser.

What Was He Doing?

And on the eighth day, with nothing to do, God made the ugliest thing he could think of, the Cockchafer grub. With His schoolboy sense of humour He could not resist giving it a name perfectly suited to double entendres. He also gave it a scientific name designed for us to easily remember, Melolontha melolontha. This soil-dwelling creature spends its time chewing a way at roots underground perhaps for several years before emerging around May, (hence its other common name May Bug), as a large brown and black beetle-like creature over an inch long which seems to have little navigational sense if the number that have crashed into me when I have been fishing by the riverside is anything to go by. There are two in the picture , both freshly dug from about 18 inches down, but I am sure the dark one is dead. It did not move at all during the photoshoot, not even for me to get its best side. The other one wiggled and squirmed the whole time. The adults chew leaves and can on warm nights swarm into trees in great numbers - that sounds like my ultimate nightmare. There is a superb picture of one in flight and some gloriously detailed text in Peter Marren and Richard Mabey’s Bugs Brittanica published by Chatto and Windus. 

I'm A Bit Rusty

I have received a request for help from Lee Cleaves.

He has sent me the picture below from his allotment and wonders what he can do about whatever is affecting his leeks.

What you have here Lee is a rust disease on your leeks called, rather surprisingly, leek rust, Puccinia alli. I have the same problem on my leeks this year. I think mine has cross infected from my Chives which had it bad last year.

Rusts are mighty interesting fungi with several types of spores produced for different functions and we might have a look at them in greater depth in another issue.

But back to Lee’s leeks. The leek rust is typical of rust fungi in that it produces pustules of orangeish – rusty – coloured spores which get blown or splashed about thus spreading the disease. These narrow, slit like, pustules are produced on the leaves and don’t usually penetrate the centre of the leek though a bad infection can reduce the vigour of the plant. The disease’s spread usually slows down with the onset of autumn.The spread of the disease is encouraged by damp and wet weather.

The second picture with black dots shows what look like a different type of spore, a teliospore, which my book tells me you don’t get on leeks so where does that leave us?

Can you do anything to prevent the problem? Make sure you clean away any leek debris from the site to prevent it infecting next years crop. I generally discard the unwanted leaves and leave them lying on the garden which is not good practice. In my case it would probably pay me to get rid of or reduce my chives to avoid any spread from them. Practice as long a rotation as you can to reduce the number of spores in the ground. Four years or more if you can. Growing resistant varieties is always a useful way of coping with any disease. The varieties Oarsman F1, Upton and Swiss Giant all show resistance to rust. Plant you leeks with plenty of space around them and in an open and airy place.

Hell for Leather on the Helter Skelter

Two pictures here, one I took on a visit to the Olympic park before completion and another taken on a trip to Southend and its amusement park. Which is which (the large banner in one picture might give you a clue) and did one of them influence the design of the other? 

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Bugs, Bees and Scary Monsters

‘Raise the song of harvest home.

All is safely gathered in

Ere the winter storms begin.’

I am writing this during the glorious sunny weather of early September. Here in South Warwickshire it seems as if the farmers have been gripped by the Olympic spirit and were all ready with their toes up to the line just waiting for the starting pistol of this hot spell to launch them into a frantic frenzy of harvesting. Everyone is flat out. I don’t think you could get hold of a spare harvester, tractor or trailer this week for love nor money.  

Forget any plans for making a quick journey through back lanes as first the dismantled harvester, cutting unit going on ahead on a trailer, pulls out followed by the ungainly looking threshing and winnowing unit, and then the grain trailers continually shuttling back and forth take up the road and leave you in first gear doing your best to be patient.

Great clouds of dust churn from the combine harvesters as they spout the grain into trailers running alongside, trailers with their fat tyres spreading as the weight of the spilling grain increases, eager to get away, be emptied and then back for more . Tractors heave their loads out of the field gates and down the road. Grain finds the gaps in the trailers tailgate and slips out bouncing high back down the road and gathering on the corners. The swathes cut neatly through the standing corn, the sharp dark shadows of the cut edges stark against the almost white stubble and the regular stacks of baled straw all have a satisfying geometry. Floodlighting headlamps keep the machinery going through the night. My three in the morning trip along the landing allows me a glance at this relentless activity ; lit up like a distant oil platform with lesser lights ferrying back and forth , the rhythmic riverboat thrumming of the turning mechanism and surely some very weary drivers racing against the coming rain but with the thought of heavy wage packets helping to keep fatigue at bay.


As part of the Daily Mail and Scotts sponsored Gardening Question Time Roadshow panel - Barry Gayton and me -I have been out and about at garden shows around the country answering people’s queries and sometimes getting stumped by the odd question. One of the good sides of not knowing the answer is that it makes you go and find out and the finding out sometimes leads you down an unexpected but very rewarding path. One lady, Sue, showed me a picture of a bug below. To give you an idea of scale the bug is sat on a plant label (It is low res. so I hope you can see it okay.). She wondered if it was one of the Harlequin ladybirds that are becoming established in this country. I knew what it wasn’t; a Harlequin ladybird, but I did not know what it was. My first thought was that it was the insect world’s own version of a Star Wars Storm Trooper. Take a look. I checked all my insect books without success so I posted the image on the ispot website and within minutes I had the most comprehensive identification and a reference to the Pied Shieldbug lifecycle. 

The bug was the final instar ( larval stage ) of the Pied Shieldbug and if you take a look at the reference above you will see from the completely different looking adult why , even though I had Pied Shieldbugs in my reference book, I could not track it down. is part of the Open University and anything you post is seen by any number of specialists who are keen to identify what you have sent in. I am sure they get excited by what might look to be something rare but they are just as happy to identify the more common natural history subjects. Sign up and give it a go and check out the British Bugs site, it is remarkably good with superb photography. Natural history is an integral part of gardening and you cannot ignore it particularly as we are all being encouraged to do our bit for wildlife so go take a look at this site and you will then want to buy a x10 hand lens and the maybe a modest microscope and then a macro lens and then a camera that will fit your microscope – it can be addictive. I am at the modest microscope stage but maybe a new lens will be on my Christmas list.

I will be out and about doing more of the Gardening Question Time shows next year which I will post here on my blog in good time should you want to come along. I have just opened a twitter account but I have to confess I am not quite sure what to do with it yet but I am sure to have the hang of it soon so if you also tweet then lookout for my news – if you want to of course. I do feel it is a bit presumptive that anyone should care two hoots about what I get up to.

Pied Shieldbug

Lazy B's.

If you grow runner beans then you will know that bees have found a sneaky way of getting at the nectar without having the faff of having to bury themselves in the flower and get covered in pollen - which is what you really want them to do to help set the flowers. They simply make a hole further up the flower towards the stalk and put their tongues through the hole and take the nectar.

I have a Fuchsia magellanica growing too near my garden path and at this time of the year you have to brush along it to get past and it is alive with bees. I stopped to watch them coming and going, bumbles and honey bees both. I expected to see them dangling awkwardly off the end of the anthers trying to scramble their way up into the centre of the flower for the nectar. Not so. They had either learned from their bean experience or found out anew that they could short cut the system and go straight in at the top of the flower. In the pictures you can see the holes they make. Judging by the look of the swelling seed case it doesn’t seem to affect pollination so they may well be self fertile.

Fuchsia magellanica flowers.

Sneaky bees take a short cut to the nectar  by making a hole  at the top of the fuchsia flower

Scary monsters 

Those big ‘Don’t mess with me’ eyes are all a sham. This 3 inch long Elephant Hawk moth caterpillar rears its ‘head’ in the hope of scaring me off.

Those big ‘Don’t mess with me’ eyes are all a sham.
Rain gives the normally matt finished caterpillar a gloss.

As it settles down and makes its way off, the tiny, far less fearsome, head can be seen stretching out at front something like an elephant’s trunk and hence its name. It will be heading off to find willowherb, bedstraw or your Fuchsias to feed on. The adult is a large, handsome, bronze/ green and pink moth.

As it settles down and makes  its way off, the tiny, far less fearsome head  can be seen stretching out at front.

Strange goings on.

We veer off the garden path here with a local story of some considerable mystery.

Our science correspondent and avid conspiracy theorist Lidll Groenmenn has reported that a small village in central England is proposing to emulate the recent successes of the Chinese space programme and put a man and his dog, Spot, into space. Rather than return to earth Chinese style slung beneath a huge parachute they are aiming for a reusable craft that will use wings similar to the very successful American Space Shuttle. The launch team stress they have no plans at this stage to visit the International Space Station.

Lidll says there is considerable secrecy about the scheme and the intended landing site has not been disclosed though it will require a runway which limits it to one of the local airfields or possibly Birmingham International. Rumours that a long straight section of the nearby Roman road may be closed to accommodate the landing have not been commented on by the highway authority.

Liddl was able to breach the security fence to take the picture below of the rocket being readied for launch. The picture shows the pattern of the heat resistance tiles and some heat scorch marks from the forward thrusters. It also shows the movable forward section of the wing in its extended position which would be used for maximum control during re- entry but which will be drawn back inside the main wing to reduce drag at lift off. At the end of her report Lidll was unable to contain herself any longer and went on to expound her theory that similar launches were being prepared across England and that many years ago alien beings came to earth and secretly installed their technology into several spired buildings which would one day lift humans into space to a far off alien land. If you are reading this Lidll, please break cover and come in for treatment.

Hosepipe Oracle.

I was feeling quite smug about finishing off a job in the garden and looking forward to an early finish when I looked down and felt my own hosepipe was trying to tell me something.

Looking good in the garden.

Eucomis autumnalis
Despite the best efforts of slugs and snails this clump of Eucomis has managed to put out eight or nine flower spikes. Each head is about nine inches high and topped with a frill of leaves giving it the name Pineapple flower. Eucomis are very good for lending an exotic feel to a border. Eucomis bicolour has larger flowers than this one and flowers earlier in the year. All my Eucomis have come through the last three winters in the ground outdoors so while they look exotic they are surprisingly tough.

Anometheca laxa
This is a small (six or seven inches high), but utterly charming plant. I have written about it in the next edition of Hortus

Althaea cannabina
Althaea cannabina is over two metres high but never needs supporting. The leaves are somewhat cannabis like hence the name but the whole plant is a wiry, wispy, transparent delight.

The small, mallow like flowers are short lived but enough keep coming in succession to make it one of my favourites for this time of the year. It will self seed quite readily and some consider it a nuisance because of this but not me.

Datisca cannabina

Another plant with a cannabis reference in its name, Datisca cannabina. I am not an expert on this, man, but I think there is a general likeness to the cannabis plant in both the flowers and the foliage. No danger of the munchies here. Over two metres high and self supporting. Not showy just magnificent. Did I put this in my previous blog? Maybe, which just shows how long its presence is felt in the garden?          

From our correspondents.

I had an email from Rosa Onions who has problems with Horsetail on her allotment and wonders what to do.

Horsetail is often called Marestail but strictly speaking they are different plants. Marestail is a flowering aquatic plant while Horsetail is a non-flowering spore bearing plant of ancient lineage – 100 million years. The spore bearing spikes are intriguing structures so take a good look at them before you hoe them off.

How to treat it? Well, it isn’t easy. If you have the plant you will know that it feels rough to the touch. This is because the plant cells are coated with silicates and silicates are tough. (It was, and can still be, used as a pan scourer). They prevent herbicides from entering the plants system and so are immune to most herbicides. The usual recommendation is that you bruise the foliage before spraying by, for example, dragging the back of a rake across it to break up the protective coating which then allows the herbicide in and it does help but does not guarantee good results. Use a glyphosate based weed killer. All these treatments are going to take several seasons to be effective and several applications are going to be needed.

Depending how bad it is you can simply pull off the shoots regularly as they appear which helps to weaken the plant but bear in mind it has roots which can go down two metres deep and therefore has considerable underground energy reserves waiting to send up more shoots. These roots spread far and wide underground and if you were to rid your garden of this weed it is likely that it will come back in from the surrounding land. I was brought up in a mining area and miners used to say they would see the roots coming through the top of the mine tunnel – a bit of an exaggeration methinks but an indication of how much of a nuisance they saw it as being.

One potential treatment is to raise the pH of your soil up to 8 because the horsetails prefer an acid soil and an alkaline soil might go some way to slowing it up. Most of your veg will grow at pH 8.

Where the ground on your allotment is not being used you should cover the area with black plastic or similar to cut out the light and again deprive the plant of energy. Trying to dig it out is likely to be counter-productive as any broken bits of root left in will sprout afresh.

I have horsetail in my garden and where I can, on the unused ground , I spray with glyphosate and where it is in the borders I carefully spot treat it with a herbicide if I can and I pull it up where I can’t.

But I am gradually accepting it has become a fact of gardening life.

Sorry I can’t be more encouraging Rosa. You will have an ongoing relationship with your horsetail that could last years and you are unlikely to ever be the dominant partner.

Seen and heard.

‘So how big is your infinity pool?’

We apologise to our customers but we are currantly out of sultanas.

Rhododendrums – RHODODENDRONS! - They are a plant not a percussion section!

… you can get even, even Ivan Lendl says so.

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Box Blight and Barrows. Alien invasion?

If you can have a post script can you have an ante script? I hope so because here’s mine.

A.S. At the end of the last  edition  I mentioned  the  quarterly gardening journal Hortus, well I have elevated its mention to the top of the page  partly to emphasise  what a good read it is and also to let you know that I write  a regular piece  for the  journal –  but don’t let that put you off. Take a look at

Welcome to the second edition of ‘Is this the way to Amaryllis?’. It’s the usual mixed bag of gardening stuff  but we start off with some unusual happenings.

Alien invasion?

Crop squares.

Strange, angular, geometric patterns have been spotted in a field of barley in South Warwickshire, England.

A local resident said ‘This is none of your student on a string malarkey, it can’t be because it’s square. The rest of the world has crop circles but here we have crop squares, very strange. ’ When viewed from above the  pattern is  said to be exactly field shaped. It is rumoured that this large scale pattern  can be seen from the moon  or at least from the Great  Wall of China. The local police force has  not commented  on this unusual spectacle. 

A local farm worker  sceptical about  any alien connections   blamed the weather, explaining  that the  straight lines were  the  ‘ tram lines’ that the tractors  made when they  were spraying the field and  the soil  compaction caused  the wheels made the barley grow   shorter but more sturdy or the extra light allowed into the row  also made the plants stronger and more  resistant to the effects  of  wind on  stalks and foliage  made heavy with rain.  – Oh well, it takes  all sorts!

The root of the problem?

Lavender roots still twisting from when they were growing in the pots years ago.

I was digging out some old lavender plants a day or two ago and as you can see in the picture  the  oldest roots were still curled in  the shape of the pot they were in  when they were planted.  I have been asked before about   what to do when planting  plants where the roots are well established and curled around in the pots. Do you just plant them or do you   try to tease out  the roots?

Research by Tijana Blanusa and Ross Cameron has  shown that one of the most effective  ways of dealing with  this problem is simply to prune  the roots  of the  plant  with  secateurs. This  root  pruning has the effect of stimulating  new lateral roots just above  the  end of the cut roots  and these roots will grow out  in to the surrounding soil. As  part of  their experiments  they cut off  up to half  of the roots  off    pot grown shrubs  as well as trying   a less severe root pruning regime   and in the subjects they used  , Buddleja and Cistus,  the plants  benefited more  from having their roots lightly pruned than  having them teased out at planting.   Common sense  has  to be applied as to how  deep you cut  into the root ball  but  with a  2 or 3 litre pot plant   you might   cut in to half the length of your secateurs’ blade in four places around the pot  but that is a very rough guide for people   who haven’t a clue  about anything. Use old secateurs because the grittiness of the compost  will dull the edge of your best, shiny Felcos. 
Does this curling of the roots really make any difference to the well being of the plant? The lavenders  in the pictures grew well  for many years and were only being removed because they were too big for where they grew so you could argue that  no, it made no difference in this case,  though how  much better and sooner they might have established  if the roots had been trimmed is open to debate.

Where this root curling is a real  problem  is when you are planting a tree. A tree is going to rely on a strong and even root system, well attached to  the trunk, to secure it in the ground and a keep it upright   in the strongest of winds. To avoid the root circling problem altogether there is a  very  good argument for using well grown, well prepared, good quality   bare root trees   if the  long term welfare of you trees is  a consideration.  

‘Don’t dig there , dig it elsewhere, you’re digging it round and it ought to be square………….’ 

So sang Bernard Cribbins in 1962   in his song ‘Hole in the Ground’. Some years ago I remember  reading in  the trade magazine Horticulture Week that it was now recommended that planting holes should be square and the accompanying picture showed a man planting a  Chamaecyparis pisifera ‘Squarrosa’ ( a perfectly legitimate  name) . The  issue was dated 1st April.

Now I find that life is imitating humour. It is now recommended by the RHS that planting holes are indeed made square. Older readers may well be chuckling  and thinking of all the  successful plantings they have  made in round holes. My initial  response was to  roll my eyes  but after a moments consideration you realise there is a quite a lot of commonsense in this idea. We have  all seen how roots will run around  inside a pot  when  they come up against  the resistance of the pot  side so it seems not wholly unreasonable that roots planted into   a round hole  in heavy  soil   back filled with  friable compost  may well follow the ‘wall’ of heavy   soil around the  sides of the hole and not get  easily out inot the heavier surrounding soil. By making a square hole you will encourage the roots to break out at the corners. Sounds reasonable? I am sure this would not apply to light soils  but when you are trying to establish  plants in heavy clay soils anything  that might give your plant a better chance should be tried.

Blox Bight  (recte sic)*

Box blight is more likely, though not exclusively, to occur on tightly clipped plants.

Box blight showing characteristic brown, oily looking damage to leaves.

The  recent warm and undoubtedly  wet weather has provided perfect conditions for  box blight to develop at least that’s what I have concluded from the fact that in the last week  I have come across two outbreaks. One is  in my garden on a recently bought in plant and the other on a hedge, (the one in the pictures),  which has been established for some years. This observation bears out  the information given out in Beatrice  Henricote’s  thorough and comprehensive review of the disease in  The Plantsman.  New Series Vol. 5  Part 3  Pages 153 – 157.  In the review it says the infection by the fungus is rapid in warm ( 18 – 25 C )  and humid conditions. The rapidity can be judged by the fact that the hedge in the pictures was healthy a week previous.  The most frustrating part of the  Box Blight story is that when the  disease was first  discovered in  the nursery trade, rather than destroy possibly infected stock,  they  decided to treat it with chemicals that  stopped the mycelium growth and  inhibited  the spore germination but which  did not kill the  fungus. There are no chemicals available to the   amateur that can be said to control the disease. The RHS website will give you advice as to how you can best deal with the problem.

*This may well be completely misapplied but I thought it looked good.

Dog Blight on Box usually affects corner plants or isolated specimens.

Country matters.

Most of us either live in it, work in it or at least drive through it on our travels – the countryside. It’s hard not to notice the changes that take place , changes like  fields being ploughed, crops  germinating and crops being harvested. Behind these general views there is a lot of  detail going on   and many challenges   to the farmer being played out. With this in mind I thought you  might be interested  in the occasional  insight  into   farming and  rural life. Rather than rely  on folklore,  gossip and  speculation  I have asked  an expert  in this field - tsk! tsk! -  to write  a piece now and then to let us know what is going on.

So here  are the rural musings  of our agri-advisor Ivor Field.  
‘Amazing what a bit of sun can do – everyone seems so much happier! Even being caught up behind tractors and trailers collecting belated silage cuts is not such an issue. It’s time we took advantage of a decent weather spell and attempted to make some hay. This won’t have much nutritional value as it should have been made a month ago but we haven’t seen the sun since March and not a bale of proper hay has been made in the country up to this late July sunshine.  I must see if Bill, my ninety several year old baler man is up for it again this year. I see that the Winter Barley crop has started to be cut . These fields are likely to be followed by Stubble Turnips (for winter forage for the sheep) or Winter Oilseed Rape which will sown in the next month – a feast for the huge amounts of slugs that have bred in the last three wet months. Another thing that seems to have thrived in the wet summer to date are the brambles in the hedgerows. Plenty of flowers are unfurling in this bit of sunshine and if the weather stays half decent then this should be promising – just as well as the sloes are scant and the April frosts have rendered a meagre looking plum, damson and apple crop by the looks of things. Looks like it will be Blackberry Pie only and just Gin then, for the winter months! The wet has also meant a huge breeding of midges, mozzies and Horse Flies – good news for the birds but bad news for those of us who seems to be excellent bait for the blighters. Where’s the Avon lady when we need her? Apparently Avon moisturiser repels mozzies brilliantly. I will have to do with Eau d’Oilseed Rape as I time the last of the spraying off (dessicating) of the Rape crops which is more necessary this year due to the drawn out flowering of the crop, producing pods which are at different stages of maturity and not encouraged to ripen through the past dull wet weeks – luverly!!’

Many thanks Ivor.

From our correspondents………..

I have   received an email from Miss Ann Nicra from Sunderland who says she has   moved into a new house   with a very small garden. It is 3m wide by 5m long. She   says it gets quite a lot of sunshine  and she wants to know   how to get the most out of it. Ann, you don’t say if it is fenced round so let’s say it is. The area of 2 metre fence around three sides of this garden   is 26 square metres compared to the 15 square metres of the garden itself    so make the most of the vertical surfaces by planting climbers.  A spouting water feature attached to the wall or fence would add  the extra interest of sound but bear  in mind the  sound of running water can  be a very  pleasant sound but not necessarily if it runs continually  when it  can very easily   drive you crazy – make sure you can easily turn it off for a bit of respite. You could install a   mirrored arch or similar mirror feature to  give a greater feeling of space. If you fit a mirror  try to avoid positioning it so that the first thing you see in it is yourself. Try tilting at a slight angle so it shows more of the garden than you.  Be aware that birds sometimes fly into  a mirror thinking they have a clear way through but hit the mirror  and break their necks and die.

A small  garden can look very busy  with lots of  different plants  creating  a mini jungle  and that is the way I would go. Bear in mind light is  crucial  if you want to grow  a good variety of  plants so   try not to plant anything that is going to cast  too much shadow  over your small garden . Don’t let anything grow above fence height if it can be avoided.  On the other hand  you might want to go  very modern in which case  just  spread a load  of gravel around  and chuck a few  rocks  here and there  and hey presto  a minimalist  garden.     


I am out and about over  the next few weeks  so if you  want a chat you can give me a call on BBC Radio Oxford, 95.2 fm, on the gardening  part of   Bill Buckley’s  Sunday Lunch programme every  Saturday – just kidding- Sunday, 12 to 1.00.  Don’t worry if you’re not in Oxfordshire, with the internet  you could be   gardening on the moon and still listen in and  get in touch about your gardening problems. In fact we  had a caller from the moon once  who wanted advice on her garden because no matter what  she grew  or how she designed it    just had no atmosphere.  I will  be on air Sunday 5 and 12 August then I am off to Southend,  Essex  for  the ‘All about Gardening’ show at Garon Park on the  17 , 18  and 19 August. I will be part of the Gardening Question Time Roadshow sponsored by the Daily Mail and Scotts Ltd. Barry Gayton and me will be on the panel answering gardening questions and giving away garden  prizes. Its good fun, come and have a shufty.  

Prior to that I am  at Canwell Show at Sutton Coldfield on the 11 August with the Roadshow. Canwell is one of the best and longest established one day agricultural shows.  Come along, ask some gardening   questions  and buy a tractor. 

After Southend I am off to the Royal Norfolk Show with the Gardening Question Time Roadshow. It is a three day show   on 25th , 26th  and 27th August  near Norwich.

Looking good in the garden.

The magnificent Datisca cannabina towering at three metres high.

No flowers at this time of the year just magnificent foliage on Euphorbia rigida.

Bits and Bobs.

Wheelbarrows! You can't leave them alone for a minute.

Butterflies, beetles, flies and bees all visit the hundreds of flowers on each flower head.

Eryngiums are great for attracting wildlife.

Poplar Hawkmoth on a dahlia in the horticultural marquee at Bakewell Show.