Horticultural Adviser to Richmond Borough in Bloom


December Jobs


Just like us, the garden wants to go into hibernation as the weather gets colder, but there are a number of things to do first.

Beds & Borders:
If you never got around to pruning summer flowering shrubs last month try to do this month before the colder weather sets in. Also cut down herbaceous perennials, unless they are giving good winter effect – dead seed heads etc and look to divide them up to either increase your stock or to fill in gaps in the border. Now is a good time to assess whether plants were successful last year and whether some need to go to make room for more appropriate plants that will best meet you scheme for next year.

When you have completed all your border work, which may have included planting pockets of spring flowering bulbs in any open area of the border, carefully fork the bed or border over, to relieve compaction and give a mulch of organic matter to keep weeds at bay and for the winter rains to wash nutrient into the soil form the organic matter.

Tree, Shrub and Hedge Planting:
November to March is the best time to plant bare-root trees, shrubs and hedging plants.

When selecting a tree, try to visualise what size it will be in a few years time, as often people select a tree that becomes too big for the space. Also consider the tree’s eventual root spread and its proximity to the house!

When planting, always prepare the ground well, incorporating fresh compost and a slow release fertilizer. Tree staking is a debatable subject. Some recommend a stake that supports the whole length of the stem. I prefer a much shorter stake that is only around two feet above ground so that the tree can sway naturally in the wind and trigger root growth thereby giving better support to the tree as it matures. You may consider putting an irrigation tube in with the tree’s rootball to assist water penetration to the roots, helpful in the tree’s first year, but if you can water regularly you may not need to. Plant the tree to the same depth as when it was grown in the pot or nursery – note the existing soil mark on the stem. Planting too deep can rot the stem! Always spread the tree’s roots out evenly into the hole, putting the stake in first to avoid damaging the trees roots. If containerized, loosen up the rootball carefully before placing in the hole. Add the soil and compost mix slowly, raising and lowering the tree slightly by the stem, carefully as you fill the hole, so soil gets in between the roots. Start to firm the soil around the tree with your foot only after the roots are covered with soil, then fill the remaining hole and securing to the stake if used. I would suggest mulching around the tree base after planting to help keep it weed free. If the tree is to be planted in the lawn a mulched base will help prevent bark damage, by mowers!

As with trees, always try to visualise the shrub’s size in a few years time and consider its position in the border. You don’t want to end up with tall ones at the front of the border with smaller ones at the back that will be hidden. Always prepare the ground well and incorporate new compost and a slow release fertilizer. Some nurseries offer planting compost with fertilizer already incorporated. Depending on what you are trying to achieve, I think it is good to have a selection of plants in the garden that flower at different times of year so there is always something of interest to see. Similarly it is good to have a mix of shrubs that have different leaf colours, considering autumn colour too. In the winter there is nothing nicer than a clump of red-stemmed Cornus siberica with low winter sun shining on them!

This is an ideal time to plant bare-root hedging plants. They are much cheaper to buy as whips and will usually outperform containerised hedging plants. Prepare a trench incorporating organic matter and if you have enough space plant a double staggered row to get a good thick hedge. I would recommend planting a native hedging mix of Beech, Purple Beech, Copper Beech, Field Maple and Hawthorn, which will also attract wildlife to your garden.

Tender Plants:
If you cannot bring tender plants indoors, try protecting them in situ. For tree ferns for example, tie up the fronds and add straw to the crown to protect from frost and snow. Straw can also be used to protect less hardy herbaceous plants too. Bubble wrap large pots and raise them off the ground to avoid waterlogging. You may consider putting a layer of bubble wrap in the greenhouse to give extra insulation. Give less hardy plants very little water during the winter months to minimize the risk of them rotting and ventilate the greenhouse on fine sunny days, remembering to close the vents at night!

Garden cleanliness:
To discourage slugs and snails, keep paths regularly swept, remove debris from patios and decking and keep pots clean and free of dead leaves and detritus. At this time of year slugs and snails will hide in crevices and under rims of pots etc. Seek them and remove them – I’ll leave you to decide what you do with them!

Herbs: if you have some less hardy herbs in the garden carefully lift and pot them up and bring them in to your conservatory, greenhouse, or window ledge, to extend their life and give you fresh herbs for longer.

Christmas Decorations:
Nearer to Christmas, look around the garden to see what gems there are, to use for table decorations and look for berry plants such as holly and cotoneaster to make a wreath for the front door.

Don’t forget:
• Now is a good time to plant roses too, but not in beds that have had roses in them before, to avoid rose replant disease.
• Keep collecting those leaves off the lawn and from low growing plants and alpines and compost them if you can.
• Clean and sharpen mowers and hand tools over the winter period, ready for next year.

Enjoy your garden whatever the weather or the season!

Have a wonderful festive season and get some inspiration by looking at seed catalogues during the holiday! I’ll be giving the column a break for a while, but I’ll be back in the spring.

November Jobs


Just when you thought you could sit back now that the summer is over and the Richmond in Bloom judging has been completed… Well here comes another list of tasks to do this month!

Winter/Spring bedding:
It’s still not too late to plant winter bedding, choose between Wallflowers. Bellis, Myosotis (Forget me not), Primula, Viola and Winter Pansies. Don’t forget that if you are including bulbs such as Tulips amongst your bedding, put the bulbs in after the plants to avoid them being chopped in half with the trowel! As a rough guide plant bulbs to a depth of 2 ½ times their diameter.

Beds and Borders:
Prune back summer flowering shrubs and afterwards lightly fork the beds to reduce compaction. Add a good mulch such as well-rotted manure or spent mushroom compost, to help feed the plants with the winter rains washing through the nutrients to the plants roots.

Herbaceous Plants:
Remove stakes and supports that your herbaceous and perennial plants were supported by. Cut down the old growth to ground level, unless there are seed heads beneficial to birds. If you have mature plants you can lift and divide them to increase your stock and use them to fill in gaps elsewhere in the garden or give to friends and neighbours. To do this, dig out the rootball and carefully insert two forks back to back through the middle of the rootball and slowly prise the two halves apart and then replant.

Reduce HTs by half their height to reduce wind rock. (The final prune will be done next March). For climbers, prune back this year’s growth to 2 or 3 buds of the main frame. Apply this type of pruning to most climbing plants to maintain their shape. If you want to increase the climber’s framework, tie in some of the new shoots into the spaces you want to fill.

Specie roses – take out some of the older shoots at ground level, leaving newer growth to flower next year.

Now is a good time to plant bare root deciduous trees, shrubs, roses and hedging plants. There is still a little warmth in the soil and by planting now, the plant has the maximum amount of time to get it’s roots growing before next summer, giving them the best chance of surviving through their first year. Containerised plants can of course be planted now as well and throughout the year. November to March is the best time for planting evergreens and conifers (not Leylandii though as they are too vigorous and they will not please your neighbours!).
If you have plants growing in the wrong place and they are not too mature, consider lifting them now and replant them in a better position, Always water in well after any planting.

If it’s not too wet, give your lawn its final cut. If your lawn has become compacted, spike and scarify, to open up the soil allowing air in to the roots. Remove the thatch by using a springbok rake if you don’t have a scarifier and collect the resulting thatch using a mower with a box. To spike the lawn use an ordinary garden fork. Once these tasks are completed, top-dress with a fine loam, with seed added if there are bare patches. However, if the lawn has extensive bare patches consider turfing these areas rather than seeding. Now is also a good time to give your lawn a feed. Apply an autumn feed, though not a summer feed, as that would stimulate growth, which you don’t want at this time of year.

When you have done the last mowing, clean and dry off your mower or arrange for it to be serviced and sharpened so it’s ready for action next spring.

Tender plants:
Some bulbous plants and those that have corms and tubers, such as Canna, Tuberous Begonias, Dahlias and Agapanthus can be left in their pots and allowed to dry off in the garage or shed, protecting them from the worst of the winter weather. Bring them out again next spring after the last frost and as new shoots appear at the base.

Greenhouses and those tender plants:
This is a good time if the greenhouse is empty, to thoroughly clean it using Jeyes Fluid – an old fashioned and dependable solution, or use smokes to fumigate the greenhouse to eradicate pest and diseases. Tender plants can then be put into the sterilised greenhouse, such as Pelargoniums with perhaps a little heat, but keep them as dry as possible to avoid rot. Ventilate in milder weather to keep the air fresh and circulating. Try insulating your greenhouse with bubble wrap and save on heating!

Don’t forget:
• Keep collecting those leaves off the lawn and borders and compost them.
• Pack away the hosepipe and lag the outside tap to protect from frost.
• If the weather is mild keep hoeing to remove annual weeds such as chickweed that seems to grow all year round in the London area.

October Jobs


Well, the Awards season has ended for another year! I hope you did well in Richmond Borough in Bloom and that you enjoyed the awards evening. Please ensure you enter again next year and encourage your friends and neighbours to enter too, so they can celebrate the Borough’s successes next year.

It’s been another excellent for Richmond again this year!

2014 ‘Bloom’ successes:
If you have not already heard…
The Borough has successfully achieved Gold Award status in London in Bloom again this year and was category winner. There were also awards for the Borough’s parks, cemeteries, commons, villages, town centres, and residents’ gardens and for pubs and business frontages.

Following the Borough’s previous Britain in Bloom successes on two occasions in recent years, the Borough had further success this year on the international stage. As you may have read, Richmond upon Thames has secured its place as the most ‘floral’ place in the world, at the International Communities in Bloom awards held in Canada when, in September, the borough was crowned overall winner of the ‘International Challenge (Large)’ category.
Further details are available on our News page.

These fantastic successes were achieved in no small part, by the borough’s residents, schools and businesses, entering Richmond Borough in Bloom competition, be it Front Gardens, Residential Frontages, Flats, Schools, Pubs, Hotels or Businesses, doing their part in brightening up the Borough.

Here are a few tasks for this month, now that autumn is fast approaching.

If you have not got around to doing this yet, dig out the remains if your summer bedding and empty out hanging baskets, troughs and containers. It’s a good idea to wash out containers before reusing and replanting for your winter/spring bedding displays. If your summer displays included bedding geraniums and ivy leaf geraniums consider re-potting and over-wintering, keeping the relatively dry through the winter, ready to start up again next spring.

Prior to planting winter/spring bedding try to incorporate some organic matter – from your compost bin – or buy a few bags of well-rotted horse manure and dig into the beds. When planting your winter/spring bedding, if you are including bulbs, such as Tulips into your scheme, put the bulbs in after planting the bedding. If you plant them first, you may accidently cut through them with the trowel! As a guide, plant bulbs to depth of around 2 ½ times their diameter. Taller Tulip varieties should be planted a little deeper to give them better wind resistance when they are flowering next spring.

Although many people only plant hanging baskets for the summer months, they can be planted up for the winter and will give a good splash of welcome colour. Plant up with winter pansies and include some variegated ivy so there are some trailing plants and include some small flowering daffodils. You can also plant up baskets with cyclamen or even winter flowering heather to give a bright display during the winter months.

Herbaceous and shrub borders:
Don’t be tempted to cut off dead flower heads of sunflowers or other seed-bearing flower heads, leave them for the birds. If your roses are covered in rose hips, the birds love them too. Leave on the old flower heads of Hydrangea and Sedum to give some colour to the winter garden. It’s also a good way to protect the new buds that are dormant at ground level, from frost.

Cut back perennials that have finished flowering, but leave grasses with their flower spikes, as they will give winter interest to the garden.

As mentioned last month, now is a good time to lift and divide herbaceous plants and to reorganize your border to get plants in their best places. For example shade-loving plants may be struggling in the sunnier border and taller plants may screen smaller plants behind, so lift and replant for a better border next year. Now is a good time to introduce new herbaceous plants too.

If you want to plant containerized plants, now is the time to do this while there is some warmth in the soil. Leave bare root plants until a little later. Bare root deciduous trees should only be planted after they have dropped their leaves.

If you haven’t done so yet, trim back lavender and rosemary to keep them within their allocated space in the garden, but don’t trim them too hard or into the old wood, as they will not regenerate.

Vigorous climbers such as Wisteria will have become unruly. Cut back this year’s growth to two or three buds of the old wood to keep them in check and to retain the old framework. If you want to increase the framework of the plant, select appropriate shoots and tie them in to the area you want to cover. Treat climbing roses the same way.

Less hardy plants:
If you have plants in pots such as Agapanthus, Canna and Dahlia that are not frost hardy, once the leaves have turned yellow, cut them off and put them in the shed or garage and allow them to dry out. That way they are protected from frost and can be brought out next spring to start all over again. If such plants have become too cramped in their containers, lift, divide and replant, keeping dry until next spring.

As mentioned last month, now is the time to renovate your lawn or prepare and lay a new one. To renovate, aerate using a fork, rake out the dead thatch and dead moss and if you can, mow using a box mower to remove all the loosened material, then top-dress with a fine loam which has had grass seed incorporated and rake or brush across the lawn, filling in the holes made by the fork.

Autumn Leaves:
As the autumn leaves are now starting to fall, collect them off your beds, borders, containers and lawn if they become too thick and if you’re able to, compost them. Make sure you regularly collect the leaves, particularly the morning after a hard frost, as they will drop much more readily the following morning.
If you are not overlooked by too many trees so the leaf fall in your garden is light, any leaves that do fall could be put onto your borders, so the worms can work them into the soil over the winter.

As the longer evenings are fast approaching, order a few seed catalogues so you can develop your bedding schemes for next summer.

September Jobs


Those of you who were successful in the Bloom competition this year will soon be receiving your invitation to the Merit Awards Ceremony to be held on the 30th September. Thank you for entering and for brightening up your street scene. We hope you will enter again next year and perhaps encourage your friends, neighbours and relatives to enter their own garden or frontage too.

As September progresses the garden will start to look a bit tired with plants having expended a lot of energy to give a good showing during the summer months. Here are a few things to do in the garden this month.

If your summer bedding is still looking good, don’t be tempted to take it out too soon – we may have an Indian summer! Keep deadheading to encourage more flowering. Towards the end of the month your bedding will probably have passed its best so consider removing and preparing the soil for winter/spring bedding. If you have some good humus from your compost bin add this to your soil before replanting or buy some well-rotted horse manure and incorporate into the soil. If earlier in the year you sowed seeds of Wallflower, Bellis, Polyanthus etc. now is the time to plant them out into their flowering position.

If your containers and hanging baskets are past their best, empty out and replenish with new compost and plant up with winter pansies and include some variegated ivy or winter flowering heather to give a bright display during the winter months.

Continue deadheading to encourage more flowering, but leave old flowering heads on Hydrangeas to give winter interest and to protect the new buds beneath. Leave the faded sunflower heads on, as they will continue to feed the birds and leave some of the architectural heads on too, such as grass seed heads to give winter interest.

Climbing plants such as Wisteria will now have become straggly. Cut back this year’s growth to two or three buds of the old wood to keep them in check and to retain the old framework. If you want to increase the framework of the plant, select appropriate shoots and tie them in to the area you want to cover. Prune climbing and rambling roses the same way.

Prune back late summer flowering shrubs, to allow new growth to be produced for next year’s flowers. Prune back shrubs that are taking up too much space and reshape. Alternatively if they are not too large, consider replanting into a more appropriate position elsewhere in the garden. Once your HT roses have had their last flush of flower, prune to half their height to stop wind rock, leaving the final prune until next March.

Increasing plant numbers:
Consider taking cuttings of less hardy bedding plants such as geranium, (Pelargonium) and later on bring into the house on to a windowsill or put into the greenhouse during the winter months. Towards the end of the month and into October while there is still warmth in the soil, lift and divide herbaceous plants that are becoming too large and dominating. Dig up and divide using two forks back-to-back to gently prise apart the roots. Replant into gaps you have in the border, soaking and firming in well.

Once there has been some significant rainfall to soften the lawn’s surface, which will have hardened during the dry summer weather, scarify the lawn to remove dead thatch and aerate, by using a fork at regular intervals across the lawn. Then top dress with a loam and grass seed mix. Now is a good time to apply an autumn feed to strengthen root growth.
If you are considering a new lawn, now is the time to create it, using either seed or turf.

Weed Control:
Continue spraying perennial weeds so they have been eradicated while the weather is still warm and before the winter sets in. Weedkillers are less effective in colder weather.

Plants attracting butterflies and bees into your garden:
As promised last month, here is a small selection of wildlife-attracting plants. Arguably most flowering plants are attractive to bees and butterflies.
Two of the most attractive shrubs for bees are of course Rosemary and Lavender of which there are many varieties these days. Buddleia is another well-known favourite; instead of planting the common flowering buddleia consider B. globosa with orange ball like flowers with a great scent or B. alternifolia with smaller more delicate flowers. Honeysuckle – Lonicera, attracts bees and butterflies and also night flying moths.

Most herbs attract bees too if left and allowed to flower, particularly oregano and thyme which is also great for a rock garden.

There are many herbaceous perennials and prairie style plants that attract bees and butterflies, such as the perennial wallflower – Erysimum, which has a long flowering period, Rudbeckia, Echinacea, Agastache – Anise Hyssop, Eupatorium – Hemp agrimony, Aster, Echium, Verbena including the self-seeding V. venosa, Nepeta – cat mint that is also a great ground cover plant, Helenium, Borage, Helianthemum – Sunflower, Digitalis – Foxglove, Verbascum, Stachys – Lambs ears, Heathers, Lavatera and Sedum. Summer flowering bulbs are also a useful source for bees and butterflies, particularly Alliums.

Of course the list is endless, but I hope the above suggestions will inspire you when you are considering introducing new plants into your garden.

Don’t forget:
• Continue to hoe beds and borders to prevent annual weeds from flowering and seeding.
• Remove dead leaves from the lawn and the borders that will start to multiply as the autumn progresses, and clear away.
• Hedges will need a last trim for this year.
• Carry out final checks for aphids and blackfly and on your roses – black spot and mildew. Spray as necessary.
• Keep the slugs and snail patrol going, to keep the numbers down for next year!
• Whenever you use chemicals in the garden always read the label before applying.

Enjoy your garden whatever the weather or the season!

August Jobs


Those of you who entered the Bloom competition will be pleased to know that a letter giving you the results is in the post, together with an invitation to attend the Awards Ceremony on September 30th. I hope you have done as well as you were aiming for!

August is about spending time in the garden relaxing and enjoying it with friends and relatives. However you need to make sure you keep everything fed and watered in the garden along with a few other things you need to keep doing.

Keep beds and borders weeded. By this time of year most annual weeds you will have kept on top of and your plants will probably have grown well and smothered them, but perennial weeds may still be lurking so treat as appropriate.

If you have been away and the lawn on your return has grown tall, reduce the height of cut gradually as you did at the start of the year. The spring vigour of the lawn tends to slow down at this time of year, so you’ll probably need to mow it less often, but the weeds will still grow. Be careful of using selective weed killers this time of year as it could scorch the lawn, so hold off until the weather is less warm.

Pests & Diseases:
Keep checking roses for black spot and mildew and keep a look out for aphids. Spraying regularly helps to keep them in check.

Keep up with regular feeding of bedding plants, particularly those in pots, containers and hanging baskets which will now be pot bound and the plants will rely heavily on any extra nutrients you can give them.

Dead heading:
Keep on top of dead heading, not just your roses but bedding plants too, to keep them flowering well.

Now is a good time to cut back Rosemary and Lavender, (if they have finished flowering) – but don’t cut back too hard into the old wood as they are not good at regenerating. Cutting back after flowering will help keep the size of the plants in check and encourage new growth. Cut back new straggly growth of Wisteria, back to about 2 or 3 buds of the main framework.

Drought resistant plants:
Following on from last month’s tips for looking after your plants when you are away on holiday, here as promised are some drought resistant plants that, once established, are good at withstanding short drought conditions:

There are a number of drought tolerant Mediterranean plants available that are hardy in the London area in most – unless severe – winters. Some of these plants are well known such as Lavender, Santolina, Buddleia and Rosemary, but there are many more that need little water during the summer months, once they are established. Here is a small selection for your consideration:
Cistus (Rock Rose) that can be found in many flower colours.
Potentilla, yellow flowers but there are some red varieties too.
Ceratostigma with blue flowers.
Tamarix, with its feathery leaves and pale pink flowers, as a shrub or trained as a small tree.
Ceonothus, evergreen with blue flowers that remind me of liquorice all sorts!
Phlomis fruticosa – Jerusalem sage, with yellow flowers.
Caryopteris, with grey/green leaves and delicate blue flower spikes.
Perovskia atriplicifolia, with its pale blue spires of flower.
Teucrium, good for ground cover with its pale blue flowers and great for bees.
Escallonia, evergreen and a favourite of mine for hedging with its red flowers. There are white flowering varieties too but I don’t think they are as showy.
Cytisus – Broom, having yellow flowers – both ground cover and small tree varieties.
Clerodendron, great against a west or south-facing wall, with its fragrant flowers, followed by red/blue berries.
Artemisia, grown for its fern like leaves.
Sage is a good drought tolerant herb as are many other herbs such as thyme and with all herbs; the flowers are great for bees too.

Other plants that can be rewarding, but may need a little protection if we have a hard winter are Callistemon (Bottle Brush); Olive and Eucalyptus – but keep these in check as once established they could romp away. Another one that will romp away once established, but it is very attractive is Acacia dealbata with feathery leaves and pompom yellow flowers, but it needs a good space to grow into a tree.

If you have a south or west-facing wall the above plants and many more will survive the colder winter as they will benefit from the heat of the wall overnight creating a microclimate that benefits those less hardy plants.

Don’t forget:
• Continue to hoe beds and borders regularly to prevent emerging weeds from flowering.
• Check those tucked away corners of the garden for dead leaves and clear away.
• Trim hedges as required to keep them looking neat and check for weeds underneath.
• Keep checking for aphids and blackfly and on your roses – black spot and mildew and spray as necessary.
• Continue looking out for slugs and snails, they will still reappear when it rains!
• Keep paths clear of weeds, moss and algae.
• With any chemicals, always read the label before applying.
• As always, remember to find time to enjoy your garden, making the most of it during the summer weather.

In the September column I’ll provide a list of plants attracting birds, butterflies and bees into your garden…

July Jobs


By the time you read this month’s column, the judges will be about to appear or may have been already been, as the judging period is between the 4th and 11th July 2014.

Even if the judges have been, keep your garden or frontage looking its best. You may be selected by Richmond Borough in Bloom as the best in category and could therefore be included on the London in Bloom judge’s tour of the Borough in mid July.

Future Planning:
While it’s looking its best, now is a good time to review your garden. Look to see what is doing well and what is not doing so well and consider what improvements you can make for next year. For example you may find you have some taller plants in front of smaller ones that are lost at the back of the border; you may have colour clashes that do not work; there may be a dominating shrub that swamps everything else out; or you may have a tree that casts heavy shadow over plants beneath that need full sun so are struggling.

Draw up a list of improvements that can be tackled this autumn / winter and also review your summer bedding scheme and consider changes and improvements for next year.

Take photos of your garden to use as a reminder later in the year when finalising next year’s scheme.

Going on Holiday?
If you are going away this summer ask a friend, neighbour or relative to look after your garden. If you can’t do this, move containers and pots if possible to a shadier spot while you’re away. Dunk pots into water so the roots at the centre of the pot are wetted – giving the maximum period before they dry out. You can also sit pots into saucers to catch any rain to help them last until your return.

Another option is to set up an irrigation system – a hosepipe that trails around the garden with holes in the pipe that can direct water through individual drip feeds into individual pots or around plants. You can also automate the system with a battery-operated timer.

If you have pot plants such as Coleus why not plunge them into the borders in any gaps you may have. They will survive better while you are away on holiday, as their roots can expand out of the pot into the soil beneath. The plants can then be lifted at the end of the season and put back into the greenhouse.

Feed regularly to keep a green sward and water well afterwards. If we are experiencing hot, dry weather this month hold off feeding as the lawn may get scorched.

If you are struggling with a mossy lawn, it’s likely to be compacted and therefore not draining well, or the lawn is in too much heavy shade. Make a note for the autumn to de-compact using a hand fork to allow air in and top up with a good fine loam. Alternatively reduce area of the lawn that is in shade where the worst of the moss is and create or extend the patio, or create a shade border using plants that survive well without too much sun – a collection of Hostas for example.

If you want to chemically control moss in the lawn it can still be treated, but if your garden is still to be judged, wait until the judges have been, as the treatment will make the moss go black as it dies off and the lawn will not look good!

Roses and Shrubs:
Cut out rose suckers coming from the base, as they will weaken the plant. Regularly deadhead all roses to keep them flowering throughout the summer. Feed roses regularly to help flowering and to maintain strong, healthy plants which will be more resistant to pest and disease.

Cut out the more vigorous green shoots from variegated shrubs that are reverting, e.g. Spiraea; Eleagnus; Euonymus. Prune back shrubs after flowering to encourage new growth for next year’s flowers and this will also keep the shrub’s size in check.

Beds & Borders:
Regularly check herbaceous plants, summer flowering bulbs and standard bedding plants for staking and tying to avoid wind damage. Deadhead on a regular basis to keep them flowering and take out old flowering stems of Delphinium and Lupin, as they can often have a second flowering period.

It is very important to feed plants regularly, particularly those in baskets and containers. As the season progresses the containers will be become increasingly pot bound and the plants will starve themselves if not fed regularly. Some containerised plants could be re-potted into larger pots; that will benefit the plants giving their roots more room to grow into the new compost.

For the best hedges trim lightly and regularly and not too hard, to avoid the older brown wood showing through. Check underneath for weeds and litter.

Winter Spring Bedding:
If you sowed Polyanthus, Bellis, and Wallflowers etc earlier in the season, they will need thinning out now to allow them to grow to a good size before planting out later in the year, once the summer bedding has been removed, usually around early October.

If you didn’t do a review last spring, now is also a good time to start thinking about the winter/spring display – looking back at the best and the not so good of last spring and adjusting accordingly.

Don’t forget:
• Continue to hoe beds and borders regularly to prevent emerging weeds from flowering.
• Check those tucked away corners of the garden for dead leaves and clear away.
• Keep checking for aphids and blackfly and on your roses – black spot and mildew and spray as necessary.
• Continue looking out for slugs and snails.
• Keep paths clear of weeds, moss and algae.
• With any chemicals, always read the label before applying.
• Remember to find time to enjoy your garden, making the most of the summer weather.

In the August column I will provide a list of drought tolerant plants that you can consider as part of your garden review, which will save on water once they are established.

June Jobs


Get ready for the judges!

The Richmond Borough in Bloom judges will be around the Borough between the 4th and 11th July 2014.

Make sure you have entered into one of the following categories and that it’s looking its best by the end of June: Front Garden; Residential Frontage; Park & Bloom Garden; Block of Flats; Community Building; Pub or Hotel Exterior; Shop Frontage or Business Frontage; Commercial Centre or Best Environmental Garden.

If you don’t have your entry form yet, make sure you get one soon, as the closing date for receipt of your entry is Friday 27th June. Find one in the local library or download from here.

Planting out bedding plants:
If you are yet to plant out your bedding plants do so early this month. If you are buying your bedding plants, check they are not pot-bound before buying and prior to planting dunk the pots into water to ensure the roots are wet before planting. If your bed or border is dry it’s a good idea to water it well the day before planting.

If you sowed annuals earlier in the year in trays plant them out now as above. If you sowed annuals directly into the bed you may need to thin them out, perhaps planting those you have lifted into another area of the garden, plant in pots and containers, or swap with a friend or neighbour.

Beds & Borders:
Hoe regularly to keep weeds down, especially those quick growing annuals. In dry warm weather hoe off the weeds, leaving them on the soil, and let the sun dry them off.

A little tip: When weeding beds and borders, work your way along and then at the far end turn around and work back the other way. It’s surprising how many weeds you miss if you don’t work in both directions! If you have a problem with pernicious weeds such as bindweed and ground elder carefully use a systemic weed killer.

Deadhead early flowering herbaceous and perennial plants as this can help them produce a second flush of flowers later on.

Fill in gaps between shrubs with annual bedding plants or sow annuals directly into the soil once prepared as a seedbed.

As suggested last month, try sowing some old favourites in the gaps such as Clarkia, Godetia, Cornflower and Nasturtiums and don’t forget this year’s 1914 anniversary so try sowing some poppy seed too.

Cut back early flowering shrubs such as Weigela and Deutzia to encourage new growth for next year’s flowers, cut out the oldest wood to ground level to encourage new growth from the base. Pruning shrubs after flowering also helps to control their size, particularly as many of us have small gardens, it’s easy to let a few shrubs take over the whole garden if they’re not kept in check! Cut back the early flowering clematis too if you never got around to it last month.

Climbing and rambling roses need new shoots to be tied in regularly and other rampant growers like Honeysuckle kept under control. Deadhead roses regularly, to encourage further blooms.

Hanging Baskets:
Put out now if you’ve not already done so, making sure they are watered and fed regularly. To keep bedding plants flowering well and long into the season, deadhead frequently as soon as the flowers start to fade. When hanging up your baskets make sure the brackets and chains are safe and secure and not positioned where someone can knock their head! Also keep a check on the ground beneath the basket, as this is where weeds will thrive, from the dripping basket. Judges will notice those weeds if you don’t regularly remove them!

As with hanging baskets, remove fading flowers and water and feed frequently. Containers will always dry out quicker than the soil in beds and borders so check regularly. Check for vine weevil larvae.

Mow frequently, at least once a week if you can, as lawns respond well to frequent mowing.

Feed with a high nitrogen fertiliser to keep the lawn looking green and if there is a weed problem use a selective weed killer. Check your local garden centre for a combined weed killer and fertiliser. If you are still suffering from moss in the lawn it can still be treated, but as the moss dies it will go black and the lawn will look worse before it gets better, so leave any treatment until after the judges have been! Trim up the edges to the lawn at the same time and frequency as mowing.

If you have a wildflower meadow for a lawn – great for butterflies and other beneficial insects – don’t feed the meadow as wildflowers prefer poor soil and don’t of course use any weed killer on the meadow!

Water conservation:
If you don’t already do so, consider collecting rainwater from your house and outbuildings such as garages and sheds into water butts. Other ways to conserve water is to line out trickle irrigation hosepipes around the garden. You could also add a timer so that the water only comes on at night – when less water is lost through evaporation, as it would if watering during the day. You can also use ‘grey water’ that you have used in the house, for plants BUT don’t use water that has cleaning chemicals in it. However you water, make sure you do it often in the hottest weather, best after sundown and remember that with baskets in particular, the wind will dry them out too.

Bird Feeders:
Invite birds into your garden by hanging up feeders in trees and other high spots out of the way of cats. Encouraging birds into your garden brings an added interest and of course they can provide other benefits – pest control – that may result in less use of chemicals to control aphid and snails.

Don’t forget:
• Hoe beds and borders regularly to prevent emerging weeds from flowering and seeding, especially chickweed, shepherds purse and groundsel.
• Check those tucked away corners of the garden for dead leaves and clear away. The judges will be looking for cleanliness.
• Keep hedges in check.
• Regularly check for aphids and blackfly and on your roses – black spot and mildew. Spray as necessary.
• Also keep looking out for slugs and snails, giving extra protection to the most susceptible plants such as Hostas.
• Keep paths clear of weeds, moss and algae.
• When ever you use chemicals in the garden always read the label before applying.
• Take time out to relax in the garden and admire all your hard work. Good luck at judging time!

Enjoy your garden whatever the weather or the season!

May Jobs


Welcome to the May column and to warmer sunnier days!

May is a very important month for preparing and planting our gardens with summer flowering plants, sowing hardy annual flower seeds and planting up baskets and troughs, ready for judging by Richmond Borough in Bloom. One of the main themes this month is hanging baskets.

Bedding Plants:
Now is the time to remove winter bedding plants from beds, borders and containers and prepare the beds for summer bedding. If you have polyanthus, they can be lifted, divided and planted in a corner of the back garden for the summer and replanted in the border again next autumn.
Prepare the beds you have cleared, ready for summer bedding by digging them over and top with new compost, adding a slow release fertilizer. Check out your local garden centre for bedding plants, or if you sowed your own earlier in the year, harden them off ready to plant out.

Seed sowing:
Sow half-hardy annuals directly in beds and borders or into troughs and containers. Try sowing some of the old favourites such as: Nasturtium, Godetia, Clarkia, and Cornflower or in commemoration of 1914, Poppy. If you want to raise your own bedding plants for this autumn/winter sow seed of Polyanthus, Bellis, Pansy and Wallflower now in an empty patch, at the end of the garden, so they can be lifted and planted next autumn.

Now is the time to plant summer flowering bulbs and if all risk of frost has passed, plant out Dahlias, Agapanthus and Cannas. You can still plant trees and shrubs but only potted ones and make sure they are well watered in.

Hanging Baskets:
Rather than buy a pre-planted hanging basket this year, why not make up your own. When buying a basket, try to get one with a water reservoir bowl at the base. I prefer open-sided baskets, lined with moss as you can plant the sides as well as the top, but it’s your choice. As an alternative you can line a basket with plastic and punch holes into it, then gently push small bedding plants through from the outside.

The Bloom judges like to see fully planted baskets that cover the sides and the underside of the basket’s frame with plants. When selecting plants for your basket you’ll need some height on the top, but more importantly trailing plants for the sides. You may consider one type of plant, such as impatiens (Busy Lizzie) to create a ball of colour. You also need to consider the flowering period too, selecting plants that flower from June through to the first frost to get the best value from your basket.

Here are a few favourites: Petunia – trailing surfinia types; Ivy leaf geraniums; Bidens; Trailing Begonias; Trailing Fuchsias; Brachycombe and Busy Lizzie. Include foliage plants too, such as Helichrysum to set off the flowers.

If you decide on an open sided basket, line the outside edge with moss and add the compost gradually, planting through the sides, as you work your way up the basket from the bottom to the top.

It is better to use compost that contains a slow release fertilizer and you can also add a gel that holds water and releases it during times of drought, helping the plants survive if you are away for a few days. Peat free compost is preferable, as peat can dry out quickly and is difficult to wet again. As with any planted container, water regularly and add a liquid feed throughout the summer to keep the basket flowering well and regularly deadhead.

Before hanging your basket, check the bracket is safe and secure and that the chains are in good order. Make sure they are high enough so nobody can walk into them!

Continue to tie in climbing roses as the new growth lengthens to increase the framework and regularly dead-head all roses to encourage further flowers

Cut down flower spikes as they finish flowering. Keep up with regular hoeing to keep annual weeds from flowering and seeding. Check herbaceous and perennial plants are well supported as they become taller.

Pest control:
Continue inspecting plants for aphid attack, black spot on roses and control with pesticide and fungicide and control slugs and snails as appropriate.

Hard prune those early flowering climbers, such as clematis, now they have finished flowering. Also hard prune shrubs that flowered earlier in the year such as Forsythia, Ribes (Flowering current) Winter Jasmine and Osmanthus.

You now need to mow your lawn regularly and maintain a defined edge to borders and paths by edging up each time you mow. A regular liquid feed will help maintain a good green sward. Use a selective weedkiller if weeds persist.

Don’t forget:
• Hoe beds and borders regularly to prevent emerging weeds from flowering and seeding, especially chickweed, shepherd’s purse and groundsel.
• Trim hedges regularly.
• If you have tight bunches of snowdrops in the garden, lift, thin and replant while they are ‘in the green’ – still have their green leaves – and plant out in other parts of the garden.
• Keep control of those ever-increasing numbers of slugs and snails and regularly check plants for aphid attack.
• If you have hanging baskets, the water that drips from them will create the perfect environment for weeds to flourish, so weed underneath regularly. The judges will notice those weeds!
• Keep paths clean of weeds, moss and algae.
• And, most important of all – give yourself time to sit in the garden and admire your handy work!

Enjoy your garden whatever the weather or the season!

April Jobs


Spring is now coming on apace, so start to put your garden plans into action. Richmond Borough in Bloom judges will be out and about at the beginning of July.

If you haven’t already done so, decide on your colour scheme for your front garden. Consider the flowering time of bedding plants so they are at their best in late June/early July. Think about colours that complement each other and if you are using perennials and herbaceous plants, think of colour combinations. Make sure, too, you are aware of their ultimate heights so that smaller plants don’t become hidden at the back of the border by the time they are flowering.

With warmer days and crucially warmer nights, those less hardy plants that you have in pots are at less risk of frost. However, if you have brought out those less hardy subjects, keep an eye on the weather forecast and take them indoors at night if there is a risk of frost.

Some of those half-hardy subjects you sowed under cover last month can be brought out at the end of the month – protecting them at night if necessary. Continue to sow hardy annuals direct into the ground where they are to flower.

Now is a good time to apply a general-purpose fertilizer to beds and borders as most plants are coming out of dormancy.

Prune back those early flowering shrubs that have now finished, such as forsythia and ribes (ornamental current), giving them maximum time for new growth to establish that will bear next Spring’s flowers

Now is the time to plant new herbaceous plants, which are now appearing in garden centres. If you already have herbaceous plants in your garden, new shoots will be emerging, so if you want to increase your stock, take cuttings from these new shoots. There may be a lot of last year’s leaves at the base of your herbaceous plants, so carefully remove them and you will have new shoots beneath!

When buying any potted plants from nurseries only select healthy looking plants and make sure they are not pot bound – too much root and very little compost showing. When selecting plants always consider their ultimate height, how colours will work with your existing plants and where in the border they will go based on their height and colour. If you have a period during the year in the garden where there is little colour in the garden, select flowering plants to fill that void. After planting make sure plants are well watered in.

It’s not too late to repair worn areas of the lawn either by seed or turf. If you decide on turf don’t allow it to dry out once laid, as there is a risk of shrinkage until it has rooted in. Apply a high nitrogen feed to the lawn to help achieve a good green sward. Now the weather is warming up you can use a selective weed killer and a moss killer if required. Don’t forget, a really good lawn sets off the rest of the garden well and the judges will appreciate a good lawn at judging time.

If using a moss killer make sure the dead thatch is raked out after the moss has been killed off and mow the remaining thatch off with a box mower if you can. A box mower is always preferable for mowing the lawn as the clippings are collected and there will be less thatch build up in the lawn, allowing the grass to breathe better at the surface.

Now is a good time to start applying a fungicide to deter mildew and black spot. Re-treat regularly thorough the Spring and summer season to keep attacks under control. If you never managed to carry out the final winter prune of your Hybrid T roses, do so now. Reduce their height, removing any crossing-over or weak growth and open up the middle of the plant. Remember to regularly deadhead roses through the year to encourage continuous flowering through the summer.

Baskets & troughs:
If you have space in the glasshouse or conservatory and you have either grown bedding plants from seed or purchased them from the garden centre, plant up baskets and troughs at the end of the month, so they begin to get established and will look good when ready to hang up or place outdoors in late May or early June.

Don’t forget:
• Hoe beds and borders regularly to prevent emerging weeds from flowering and seeding, especially chickweed, shepherds purse and groundsel.
• If you have Spring bulbs in the lawn allow them to die down and the leaves go brown before mowing them off, as they need the leaves to build up a food store for next spring. The same applies to bulbs in beds and borders too.
• Keep control of those ever-increasing numbers of slugs and snails and watch out for earlier signs of aphid attack!
• While Spring is on its way, we are still at risk of frost and even snow, so keep less hardy plants protected at night.

Enjoy your garden whatever the weather or the season!

March Jobs


Beds and Borders:
Lightly fork beds and borders and add FYM (Farm yard manure) or other organic matter. Be careful not to disturb emerging bulbs or perennial shoots. Edge up beds and borders around the lawn to define edges and repair lawn edges with either seed or turf, where they have broken away or have died off due to over hanging plants and shrubs.
Cut down any herbaceous plants that were left for winter effect and similarly cut down hydrangeas. If you have not already done so, you can still lift and divide herbaceous plants, using two forks back to back to prise the roots apart, discarding the old woody central root and replant the divided outer roots back into gaps within the borders. Protect newly emerging shoots from slugs and snails that will be starting to appear. As new shoots emerge of taller herbaceous and perennial plants, they will soon need supporting. Try twigs such as birch to do this, as they will blend in well as the plants grow.
If you want to create a new bed, perhaps in the lawn, now is the best time to do it. To create a circular bed use a cane and string, placing the cane in the middle of the bed you want to create and keeping the string taut, scratch the outer edge lightly, or if you want an irregular shaped bed use dry sand to create the shape you want. Once you are happy with the shape cut out using a half moon edger and lift off the turf, reuse it on worn areas of the lawn or place upside down to compost. Perhaps use it to create a soil wall elsewhere in the garden.

Pots and Containers:
Now is a good time to repot containerised plants into larger containers with fresh compost, which includes a slow release fertilizer. Alternatively if the pots are very large with established plants in them, carefully remove as much soil at the top of the pot as possible without damaging the roots and top-dress with fresh compost. It’s a good idea to sterilise pots and containers that you have emptied, before replanting, using an appropriate sterilant such as Jeys Fluid.

Many of us will have started to cut our lawns by now, but if you haven’t yet done so, set the mower to a higher setting for the first cut, reducing the height of cut with each mowing until you have the height of cut down to where you want it to be for the season. Don’t attempt to mow the lawn if it is very wet!
Remember, if you have bulbs in your lawn, leave grass cutting until they have fully died down.
As the air and ground temperatures are improving consider using a selective weed killer, particularly on perennial weeds. They may well need more than one application to dispatch them!

There is still time to plant evergreen trees, shrubs and also perennials, which will now be appearing in Garden Centre’s. Water them in well after planting, and again if the weather becomes warm and sunny.
If you lifted and stored Dahlias and Cannas last Autumn (to protect them from frost), pot them up to get them back into growth. You can bring them out during the day if the weather is warm and return under cover at night should temperatures fall. Similarly start off Gladioli and other summer flowering bulbs.

Seed Sowing:
Try sowing hardy annuals now, direct into the ground and half-hardy annuals in pots and containers under glass or cloches.
If you sowed sweet peas earlier under cover, bring them out now and plant in the border, but protect from slugs and snails!

Don’t forget:
• Hoe beds and borders regularly to keep weeds under control.
• If you still haven’t done so, clean and repair garden tools and furniture
• While Spring is on its way, we are still at risk of frost and snow, so keep less hardy plants protected at night.


February Jobs


This month’s main topic is lawn care.

Provided you lawn is still not too soggy after the heavy and persistent rain of the last couple of months and there is no threat of frost, it’s good idea to plan the necessary works to your lawn. Whether you need to repair small worn patches, replace your existing lawn, or create a new one from scratch. February and March is a good time to do this.

Basically there are two options to repair or replace your lawn and these are of course seed and turf.

The advantage of turf over seed is that it is immediate and the new lawn becomes usable sooner, but it can be expensive if you are creating a new lawn or if there are lots of worn areas that need repairing.

The benefit of seed is that it is far cheaper, but you will also have the birds to contend with, particularly pigeons and the germinating seed will have to compete with annual weeds wanting to grow in the same space. A seeded lawn will also take longer to establish than turf before it is usable. Before starting, check what your lawn needs to get it back into shape, as you may not need to replace it.

If the main problem is drainage, insert a garden fork to a reasonable depth at 12” intervals across the lawn (known as solid tining) this will improve drainage, introduce air into the soil and relieve compaction.

Once this is done, it is a good idea to brush in a good fine loam across the whole lawn filling up the holes made by the fork tines. If the lawn also needs a better grass sward, mix grass seed into the loam before brushing in.

Repairing worn areas in the lawn: These can be repaired by seed or by turf. To do this use a half-moon edger to cut out a bigger area than the worn patch, cutting back to a good sward and remove any remnants of grass. Very lightly rake the area and either add a loam and seed mix or turf the area. Firm well making sure that the finished level is the same as the surrounding lawn – not too high or too low.

If you cultivate too deeply before seeding or laying turf, the area is likely to sink if not firmed properly first, as the mower will later in the season, scalp the grass or give an uneven cut!

Creating a new lawn: The area needs to be prepared well before seeding or laying turf. Dig out any perennial weeds and remove any dead tree or shrub roots. The area needs to be level and firmed well (using the heel of your shoes) across the area and in two directions. Rake level and firm several times until you are happy with the levels. Use a straight-edged piece of wood and a spirit level if you are unsure. If you are seeding don’t cultivate too deeply as there is a risk not only of sinkage, but also for stones to be brought to the surface. These will cause problems when mowing later on. If stones do appear rake them off as best you can. If you are turfing don’t worry about small stones, as the turf will keep them below the surface. Once the levels are correct you are ready to sow the seed or lay the turf. With seeding it is a good idea to rake some of the seed in below the soil surface, but also sow on the surface too, then lightly rake the whole area. Always sow at a thicker rate than the manufacturer suggests, as pigeons will have their fill!

If you are using turf, lay it in a ‘brick fashion’ so the joins are staggered. Standing and kneeling on a board (scaffolding board for example), whilst laying the turf, will prevent your feet sinking into the newly laid turf! Avoid laying thin strips of turf; lay the turf from the outside edges into the middle, ensuring each section of turf abuts the previous one securely. Walking and kneeling on the board as you lay will give a gentle firming as you work. Then leave the lawn to settle without walking on it. If there are dry spells ensure the turf is kept moist, as you don’t want the turf drying out and shrinking.

Once the turf has started to root into the soil – test by carefully lifting a corner of a piece of turf. Once rooted you can start to mow it. However if you have used grass seed it is best to wait until you have a good sward of germinated grass before attempting to mow it. When you carry out your first mowing (of a seeded lawn) just give a very light trim with the mower set at its highest setting, preferably using a mower that has a roller attached rather than a rotary mower, or use a separate roller to give a firmness to the surface before mowing. Gradually reduce the height of cut with each mowing. Any annual weeds that have germinated will eventually die out as you mow through the season.

Another task for your lawn at this time of year is to redefine its edges, using a half-moon edger, whether the lawn edge is onto a planted border or a footpath. Any lawn looks so much better if it has clear well-defined edges and the ‘Bloom’ judges like a good lawn!

However, wait until the weather is warmer before applying moss killer or a selective weed killer to your lawn as cold air and ground temperatures reduce their effectiveness.

Don’t forget:
• There is still time to plant trees and shrubs
• Continue to protect less hardy plants such as Tree ferns
• Collect up any remaining leaves from the garden and compost them.
• Fork over beds and incorporate FYM
• Clean and repair garden furniture
• Plant bare root plants and trees
• Try sowing sweet peas under cloches or on the window ledge

Enjoy your garden whatever the weather or the season!