A reader recently asked about a lovely looking rudbeckia she came across. “I have a neighbour who has a most striking rudbeckia – which seems to fit the Readers Digest description of Rudbeckia bicolor – flower petals tipped yellow, shading to dark crimson with a brown centre. It also has lovely gold-tipped stamens surrounding the central cone.” Where can she find one of these plants? [Read more...]
A reader (Amy Wenden) recently asked me what flower might be a good substitute for peonies. Her sister is getting married in March next year and has had her heart set on these sumptuous blooms. But given that peonies flower in spring, it’s unlikely she’ll find any around at that time. So the plea was for a flower that looked similar and one that would be ripe for the picking in March.
Well, I reckon roses are their best bet. But it’s the double flowered roses they need to look out for, and one that has what’s referred to as a ‘deep cut’ shape (basically, lots and lots and lots of petals). Many of the David Austin roses have this shape, as do the centifolia roses (which are nicknamed cabbage roses). But my pick would be Rosa ‘Pierre de Ronsard’ (sometimes called the Eden rose), a climbing rose that has huge, cup-shaped flowers. It’s exquisite, and it repeat flowers, so with a bit of luck it will bloom on cue. It’s available from Tasman Bay Roses, although realistically, a first-year rose bush is unlikely to provide enough blooms for a full bouquet.
There are many other cabbage roses available, but first, compare the photos above. The top photo (from Vintage Rose Collection) features the dreamy ‘Pierre de Ronsard’ rose (top) and the peony ‘Sara Bernhart’. See how similar they look?
The middle photo showcases yellow cabbage roses (found here), and the bottom one (from Martha Stewart) features pink cabbage roses. All pretty similar in form to the peony don’t you think?
A. Blueberries don’t actually need a lot of pruning. It’s generally recommended that you remove the fruit buds on your plants in the first two years to maximise plant growth. Thereafter, remove only diseased wood or weak growth. Fruit is borne on second year wood, so if you prune regularly you won’t get any fruit. After four or five years, the oldest branches may need cutting back to encourage fresh, vigorous growth. Take softwood cuttings in early spring, about 15cm long. Strip the bottom leaves, leaving 2 or 3 at the top. Place cuttings in a pot filled with sand and peat moss and place your pot in a warm, bright spot out of direct sun. Keep moist and roots should form in about 8 weeks. Grow on in pots until plants are big enough to plant out in the garden or in a bigger container. Jane
A. Take a look first where it is planted. Rosemary likes a free-draining soil. If planted in waterlogged soils, plants may succumb to root rot. Check to see if water pools around your plant after watering or after a rainy spell. If it does, it might be best to shift it to a more free-draining spot. Incorporate grit or pumice into your soil to ensure better drainage. Rosemary also likes a slightly limy soil. If your soil is particularly acidic, add lime to make it more alkaline. An occasional liquid feed can benefit plants, but it’s not essential. However, I would recommend giving your rosemary a light prune, even just a tip prune, each year to maintain its shape and prevent legginess. Wait until after flowering to prune, and avoid cutting back into leafless wood as it won’t resprout. Jane
This gorgeous photo comes from here.
Q. Every day before getting involved with enjoying our garden we have the odious task of removing cats’ litter. We have tried just about every commercial remedy to keep these pests from digging our newly planted bedding plants and have now resorted to sections of plastic mesh, strategically placed over plants. You can imagine how spectacular that looks! How can we combat this problem? Elaine & Phil
A. Unfortunately, bare soil is an open invitation for cats to dig. As soon as you start digging over a new garden or clear your beds, cats will sniff it out. I have yet to find a commercial product (or old wives’ trick) that works better than plastic mesh – it’s what I use after planting new vegetable seedlings; the seedlings grow up between the squares, and the mesh is removed once the plants are a decent size. It’s not particularly attractive, but it’s only for a short while and you can buy brown mesh to blend in with your soil. The other thing I do is dump some soil or old potting mix in a corner of my garden that’s not on view. My cat always makes a beeline for this instead of my vegetable patch. Shannon Lush, in her excellent book Spotless, recommends slathering Vicks VapoRub over several stones and dotting these around your garden. Lay them with the Vicks side down as rain will eventually rub it off. Jane
A. I’m assuming you have Hydrangea macrophylla, either a mophead variety (as shown above) or a lacecap variety (which has flattened heads). These are the two most commonly grown hydrangeas in our backyards.
Pruning of mophead hydrangeas is often a matter of choice. Some gardeners like to prune in autumn (usually in warmer areas) to tidy their plants after flowering. Others prefer to prune in spring (best in frost-prone areas). Some just snip off the flower heads, and some don’t prune at all. In fact, macrophyllas don’t need pruning unless they’re old, large or becoming straggly. However, to keep them looking neat and tidy, [Read more...]
A. Banana skins are rich in phosphorus and potassium, which are both essential nutrients for healthy plant growth. Phosphorus aids seed germination and root development, while potassium promotes flower and fruit production. Young plants, in particular, benefit from phosphorus while their roots are developing, and root vegetables, such as carrots and turnips, guzzle phosphorus like it’s going out of fashion. Potassium is especially good for crops or trees that bear fruit, and is used in the process of building starches and sugars in fruit and veggies. Tomatoes, peppers, apples, pears, carrots and parsnips, etc, all love it. Cut your banana skins into small pieces and mix them with fresh soil or compost when planting a new flower, vegetable or shrub. Or lightly dig it into the soil around existing plants. Jane
A. The best time to transplant trees and shrubs is during winter when the plants are dormant, as this ensures minimal shock from root disturbance. For greatest success, a month before you actually shift your tree, dig a circle around the drip line to severe the surface roots. On the day of moving, dig a large planting hole that will accommodate the root ball. Then dig up your tree, keeping as much soil as possible intact around the roots to avoid further root disturbance. Plant the tree in its new home, watering deeply and regularly after planting. Do not fertilise the tree until after a burst of growth in spring, then use a special citrus fertiliser. Jane
A. You can keep on top of powdery mildews with a homemade milk spray. The natural antibiotics in milk, as well as the production of other constituents upon exposure to sunlight, act as a natural fungicide. A dilution rate of one part milk to nine parts water is generally recommended; too much milk can encourage the growth of sooty mould. The spray should be used regularly, every 7 to 10 days, and a good coverage of the leaves is required. Bear in mind that this spray won’t get rid of your existing mildew, but it helps to keep it from spreading.
The baking soda method offers another organic solution. Mix 1 tablespoon of baking soda with a litre of water and spray it over the leaves. Jane
Q. I can collect loads of stable manure (a mixture of sawdust and horse manure). Is this ok for the garden? Di
A. It is, but all animal manures need to be aged for at least six months before adding them to your garden. That’s because ‘raw’ manure releases nitrogen compounds and ammonia, which can burn plant roots and interfere with seed germination. You can dig raw manure straight into your soil, but you must leave the area for several months before planting up. Otherwise, add raw manure to your compost heap, or place it in a disused corner of the garden and let it age. Horse manure often contains weed seeds, so you may like to consider hot composting (where the pile reaches 45-65 degrees Celsius), to kill the seeds. For a hot compost heap, you need to build it all at once, instead of over several weeks. Jane