Get flowers for twice as long with this simple trick

What is the “Chelsea Chop”, and why bother?

The “Chelsea Chop” is a QUICK and EASY technique you can copy from professional nurseries to make sure you get more summer and autumn flowers in your garden over a longer period.  It is quicker and easier than “deadheading” and costs nothing but a few minutes of your time.

How to do the Chelsea Chop

How does it work?

By cutting back some of your summer and autumn flowering “herbaceous perennials“ (cottage garden plants) in late spring, you can make them produce more flowers that will bloom later.

If you “chop” HALF of your flowering perennial plants and leave half alone, the flowering period could easily be doubled in length, and you will get more flowers in total.  If you only have one clump of a plant, cut down the front half, leaving the back half untouched. The back will flower first, and the front will flower a little later, and a little shorter in height. If you have several clumps you could cut down some but not others.

A variant of the method is to reduce ALL of certain types of plant in height by half or more, to make them flower more compactly. This works with the taller kinds of sedums and reduces the chance of them flopping. e.g. Sedum ‘Herbstfreude’ (‘Autumn Joy’) and Sedum telephium varieties.  It will also work on taller phloxes, heleniums etc – they’ll flower later and lower, and need less (or no) staking.

 

How to do ‘The Chelsea Chop’

Cut back appropriate plants by one third to one half, cutting just above a strong-looking buds (or pair of buds).  Use sharp secateurs or scissors, shears, or a sharp thumbnail if you have one!

Although not a key part of the “Chelsea Chop” process, this is also a good time to give the plants a bit of TLC if you haven’t already:

  • Check for disease and damage done by slugs, snails and insects
  • Scatter some slow release fertiliser and lightly hoe it in
  • If the soil is dry, give it one good watering
  • Cover the soil surface with composted bark or homemade compost (not peat which goes dusty, has little nutrient value and is not environmentally friendly). This will keep in moisture and improve soil.

When?

Late May, around the time of Chelsea Flower Show, hence “Chelsea Chop”. But if you’re too busy watching Chelsea on TV, a week before or after is fine too.

Later care

Do you know how much difference “deadheading” (cutting off old flowers) makes? Some plants can flower for three months instead of one, giving you three times the value!  Give it a try – take out some secateurs with your drink on a nice summer evening.  Last year my helenium sunflowers were still colourful at Christmas!

What plants respond best to the Chelsea Chop (and to deadheading)?

Summer and autumn flowering perennials like Astrantia, Campanula (Bell flower), catmint (Nepeta), Coreopsis, Day Lilies, daisy type flowers like Echinacea, Helenium, Rudbeckia and Shasta daisies, Gaillardia, Geranium, Lychnis, Monarda (bergamot), Border Phlox.

If in doubt, try it on part of a plant and see what happens!

It doesn’t work on shrubs, although some later flowering shrubs (those that flower from July onwards) can be cut back in spring and may flower later than usual as a result.Phlox Cosmopolitan

Helenium 'Double Trouble', Large 3lt (17cm) Pot

 

Why is Bedfordshire Rooting for Us?

The RHS Chelsea Flower Show is coming up and we’re Going for Gold (well, hopefully…!)

Alec has designed a very contemporary style of display as part of a special RHS scheme to encourage new, original types of display. No ‘pretend’ gardens, old logs, moss and shabby chic props for us. Just timeless elegance.

Find us in The Grand Pavilion at GPD/150, or read the article in Bedford Today

Will we get GOLD?timeless elegance at RHS Chelsea

Garden Jobs for May

A Riot of Colour is Everywhere

What to Do in Your Garden in May

Whatever the weather, higher light levels will mean that the garden is growing fast now. Enjoy all the colour, and think ahead to how your garden will develop over the coming months.  If you plan (and plant) ahead you can have colour right through to the frosts.

If you haven’t much time

  • Hoe on a warm day to keep annual weeds under control.
  • Watch out for forecast frosts and cover tender plants with horticultural fleece, removing the fleece as soon as weather warms up.
  • Ventilate greenhouses and cloches as much as possible on sunny days

 

Other jobs

Trees, Shrubs & Hedges

  • Prune spring flowering shrubs once their flowers have finished. Do it now because next year’s flowers will form on the new stems that grow this season.
  • Prune off any frost damaged shoots.
  • Carry on tying in shoots of climbers.

 

Perennials

  • Last chance to put in place supports – plastic coated wire mesh supports, canes, twigs etc. Tie in shoots is using canes.

 

Fruit & Veg

  • Indoors, sow tender vegetables like courgettes, cucumbers, runner beans, French beans and sweetcorn early this month, for planting out in early June.
  • Plant tomatoes and leeks sown earlier in modules or pots.
  • Continue successional sowing of salads.
  • Earth up early potatoes so that the crop doesn’t get light on them and go green.
  • Put straw under strawberries to keep them off the ground and prevent rotting.
  • Remove sideshoots from cordon tomatoes (see photo).

 

Lawns

  • Feed and weed lawns if not already done.
  • Last chance for sowing new lawns or bare patches.

 

Containers and bedding

  • Buy summer bedding and basket plants and harden them off by taking them outside during the day, gradually increasing the length of time they stay outdoors.
  • When planting, add to the compost some controlled release fertiliser with a high potash content (‘K’) to maximise flowering and minimise work. Avoid fertilisers high in nitrogen such as Growmore and some MiracleGro, as they will encourage leaf production at the expense of flowers.
  • Plant out bedding later this month if the weather seems warm enough
  • Plant out sweet pea plants, from the beginning of this month.

 

Copyright 2016 Alexia Ballance

Why Plant Intersectional Hybrid Peonies (Itoh Peonies)

Intersectional Peony 'Hillary'

Why Plant Intersectional Hybrid Peonies (Itoh Peonies)?

Intersectional or Itoh hybrid peonies are crosses between herbaceous peonies and tree peonies, and offer the best characteristics of both.

They have glorious flowers like those of Japanese tree peonies. They are relatively compact in growth like herbaceous peonies but, unlike them, the mound of foliage stays looking good. They bloom for longer than either.  Blowsy and colourful, easy to grow and excellent as cut flowers, they are the perfect colourful plant even in small gardens.

Glorious Flowers

Peony, Paeonia 'Garden Treasure’ (Intersectional hybrid)

The flowers of intersectional peonies are similar to those of Japanese tree peonies.

Colours available include flame colours like yellow and apricot, as well as pink.  Most of them bear lightly scented, semi double flowers around June and all have beautiful long, yellow stamens. The flowers close up at night to protect themselves, and so they last longer than other types of peony.  Each flower lasts up to five days, and the total bloom period is up to four weeks.  That’s twice as long as others. They are followed by attractive, furry seedpods (which are unfortunately empty).

Compact Growth habit

They look like herbaceous peonies, but a little more upright.  The woody stems hold the flowers up well so they don’t need staking.  The leaves can be shiny or matt and are deeply divided.  After blooming has finished, the leaves continue to look great until they turn brilliant red and then fall. Most varieties grow 2-3’ high (60-90cm). This combination of attractive habit and lovely flowers makes them very useful in the garden.

Easy to Plant and Care for

They do best in full sun and a fertile, well drained soil.Peony 'Hillary', HUGE 5.5lt (22cm Square) Deep Pot

Plant them with their crown and buds about 1” (2-3cm) below soil level. Planting too deep is one of the most common reasons why peonies sometimes don’t flower. Water well at planting time, then occasionally but thoroughly as the foliage grows. All our peonies are containerised in big 5.5L pots so they can be planted at any time of year.

If planting bare root specimens, plant in winter or early spring, first cutting back any damaged roots. When you plant, make sure you jiggle some soil between the roots. Water lightly.

In autumn or winter cut down the woody stems to the base, just as you would with herbaceous peonies. Once they’ve got to a good size, they can be divided by digging up the clump, chopping it in pieces and replanting to the right depth.  Being woody, it’s hard work though!

They are highly resistant to peony wilt.

It’s all in the name

The name “Itoh hybrid peonies” is a fitting tribute to horticulturist Toichi Itoh from Tokyo.  In the 1940s, he used pollen from the yellow tree peony “Alice Harding” to fertilize the herbaceous P. lactiflora “Katoden”.  This resulted in a new category of peonies, the Itoh or intersectional cultivars.

The peony genus, Paeonia, is named after Paeon, a student of Asclepius, the Greek god of medicine and healing. Asclepius became jealous of his pupil. Zeus saved Paeon from the wrath of Asclepius by turning him into the peony flower.  According to Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peony

Buy Intersectional Peonies

To view or buy some of our favourites, please click on these images. All of them are containerised in large 5.5L pots.

Bartzella

Peony 'Cora Louise', HUGE 5.5lt (22cm Square) Deep Pot

'Julia Rose'

Intersectional Peony 'Hillary'

 

Peony, Paeonia 'Garden Treasure’ (Intersectional hybrid)

 

 

Planting Combinations

Alstroemeria ‘Barace’

Campanula ‘Loddon Anna’

Geranium ‘Rozanne’

Lupin Gallery ‘White’, ‘Pink’, ‘Yellow’

 

This week in the greenhouse…

Welcome to our greenhouse…

This week we are keeping a close eye on the temperature we have many plants that have recently been potted on and are vulnerable to the frost if it gets too cold even the fleece will not protect them. For the majority of our crops we try not to use artificial methods in our growing processes meaning that our plants are acclimatised to British growing conditions. This is great for our customers as our plants are less likely to go into shock when exposed to our rather varied weather conditions!

You can almost hear the peonies shooting

Thousands of potted peonies are now shooting up, sending out their delicate looking red shoots. Now’s the time to give them a little water – too much and they won’t root well, too little and the new leaves will dry out the roots. I love this time of year!

Peony Charles Burgess shooting ASB Primrose Hall Nursery  Alex watering peonies 090216

 

But I can’t wait until they look like this in a few months!

 

Peony 'Bowl of Beauty'

Peony ‘Bowl of Beauty’

Peony 'Catharina Fontijn'

Peony ‘Catharina Fontijn’

Garden Diary – Jobs To Do In Late Winter

Garden Diary – Jobs To Do In Late Winter

Isn’t it tempting at this time of year to stay indoors and dream of spring? To read your gardening magazines and plan the changes you want to make this year? That’s a very reasonable and enjoyable thing to do, but there’s also work to do outside. Here’s a reminder of some jobs that, if done now, will improve your garden no end once growth starts again.

Improving your soil through mulching

Whether you have the local heavy, sticky clay or the easier light sand, adding rotted down plant material of some sort will improve your soil and make your plants grow and flower better. It may seem contradictory, but clay soil will become better drained, and light, dry soils will retain water better. Both soil types will be able to provide a better range of nutrients (food) for your plants.

The easiest way to get this improvement is to add a mulch of material to the surface of the soil and let the worms take it down into the soil for you. If, like many people, you don’t make much of your own garden compost, then you can buy composted, shredded bark green waste, or well rotted farmyard manure. Spread compost 2” (5cm) deep between the plants, or manure 1” deep. Make sure it doesn’t pile up against plant stems. Spiking the surface of the soil with a fork to a depth of a few inches will help the worms to mix the material into the soil.

Ideally this should be done every year, but every other year will be much better than nothing. This will make more difference in your garden than almost any other winter gardening job!

Clean your empty pots

Herb pots

It’s worth washing and even disinfecting your empty pots before you use them again in spring. Soak in warm water with a little washing up liquid and some mild disinfectant if you have some (not bleach). Then scrub them clean. You might like to look on Pinterest or elsewhere online for fun ideas for labelling your pots.

Plant ties

Check that stakes and plant ties are still doing their job after the winter storms, replacing those that have broken or are worn.  Make sure they’re not rubbing through the bark, which can lead to infection and death or branches or even whole plants.

Ponds

Clear out any leaves that have fallen into the pond.  If ice forms and you have fish, make a breathing hole by pouring a little boiling water onto the ice.  Hitting the ice can kill the fish.

Alpines

If you have any true alpine plants (that is, the kind that don’t like waterlogged crowns or roots), protect them from water by covering them with a well ventilated cloche or by propping a sheet of Perspex or polycarbonate over them.  Winters seem to be getting wetter, so if you don’t want to have to do this every year, you may need to replace them in spring with plants more suited to the conditions.

Hedges

If the weather isn’t freezing, it’s a good time to prune evergreens such as laurel, Euonymus and Viburnum, while they’re dormant.

Dahlias

If you store dahlia tubers in a frost-free place over the winter, check them on a dry day to see if there’s any mould. If there is, remove badly affected parts with a sharp knife and, if you have any, dust with fungicide before replacing.

Christmas pot plants

If at Christmas you had some flowering plants like cyclamen, violets or azaleas, they can continue flowering for months if regularly deadheaded and fed.  Just pick or cut off the dead flowers, as low down their stems as you can reach.  A plant’s job is to reproduce itself by producing seed – by removing dead flowers before it can do this, you fool the plant into producing more flowers!  Water in some tomato food to give them a burst of energy.

 

 

Copyright Alexia Ballance 2016

Our Plant of the Month

Dicentra spectabilis

Our plant of the month is a real favourite and is looking great on our nursery at the moment, selling well at RHS Cardiff Flower Show a few weeks ago we thought we would feature it here. Dicentra spectabilis (Lamprocapnos spectabilis AGM) is also commonly known as ‘Bleeding-heart’ and flowers throughout the Spring. The flowers are heart-shaped in pink and white, hanging on arching stems. It truly is a lovely flower. The foliage is attractive being light green and divided. It is a herbaceous clump-forming perennial, returning every year and loves a shady position in the garden and will tolerate pretty much any soil conditions once established. It is pretty resistant to pests and diseases and requires little pruning or staking. It’s really easy! The plant will grow to about 60cm high and spread to about 60cm wide. Dicentra is a plant that has been around for a while (it came to the UK in the mid 1800’s) and it is an old favourite. Another common name is ‘Lady-in-the-bath’ which seems daft until you take a flower and turn it upside down – fascinating! The plant is highly regarded and has been awarded the prestigious RHS Award of Garden Merit. We love it and we think you will love it too!

Look out for Dicentra spectabilis ‘Alba’ which has white pendant shaped flowers, Dicentra spectabilis ‘Valentine’ which has red and white heart-shaped flowers and Dicentra spectabilis ‘Gold Heart’ which has gorgeous golden leaves and pink/white heart-shaped flowers that will really brighten up your garden.

Buy this plant NOW!

Planning a Garden for Retirement

Planning a Garden for Retirement

As you grow older it makes sense to plan a garden that will cope with the downsides of aging so that you can continue to enjoy it and not have to work quite so hard to keep it up to scratch.  At the same time, one of the pluses of retirement means that more time can be devoted to creating the garden you’ve always wanted.

Look for plants that are easy to look after and that stimulate the senses.  Bright colours, strong scents such as herbs and different foliage in dramatic shapes and sizes provide a contrast for failing eyesight and a weakening sense of smell.   Contrast the planting between light and dark as your eyes start to fail so you can see where the edge of the border and path is and use strong colours such as hot yellows and reds to help with this.  In particular look for vibrant Crocosmia George Davison, or Liatris spicata, even marigolds and the long-flowering and colourful Coreopsis grandiflora ‘Sunray’ and, of course, lilies.

Raised flowerbeds give character to the garden, are kinder to aching backs and can be used for vegetables or flowers. View your garden in retirement as a journey.  You may start with vegetables in these beds but, in time, they can also be turned over to less intensive usage such as shrub borders which will supply regular flowering all year round.

Wider paved paths – not gravel – with gentle curves are low maintenance and easy to get around.  Gravel requires raking regularly to keep it weed-free which can be time-consuming.

Adding seating areas in different locations is not just kinder on the eyes they also enhance your enjoyment of the garden and provide regular resting spots. Include wider edging of raised beds or ponds so that you can take a break and perch there to enjoy your plants or fish more closely without having to bend down.

Ponds and water features are also excellent in retirement, providing interest and variety. Add flowers that attract wildlife too such as Lavender and Sedum matrona for bees and Buddleja ‘blue chip’ for butterflies.

As you age, it is wise to reduce the amount of lawn in the garden and increase paving areas, adopting gently sloping paths as they are easier to maintain and better for mobility.  That said, if viewing a verdant green lawn is your pleasure, then stick with it.  A lawn is still a great economic and forgiving surface – even in drought – but edge it with paviours or natural stone so that the mower can go straight over the top and you avoid the need to clip the edges.  Locate these seating areas so that they have a clear view of the wildlife and then create activity areas with bird tables and bird baths, feeders or coconuts.

Lighting is not just an aesthetic but an essential feature, especially as you age making it easier to get around. It also extends the garden’s use allowing it to be admired from within the house at night-time and even highlighting the wildlife in the garden at night.

It’s important to make sure that there’s plenty of shade as well as sunny areas in the garden as we are less tolerant of heat as we age.  Cultivate trees and bushes add a pergola or create a shady cool area for hot uncomfortable days with the use of plants in cool blues, purples and whites to sit and read and do the crossword.  Bushes and tree requiring little attention include viburnum bodnantense Dawn, box and Lonicera lemon beauty and great small trees such Amelanchier canadensis or Prunus subhirtella Autumnalis rosea

Drought tolerant plants will also make the garden easier to maintain. Look out for the almost totally green Euphorbias, grassy santolinas or hydrangea petiolaris.  Don’t forget alpine and low growing plants which often don’t grow too big and which will flower for ages providing they have plenty of sun and well drained soil. Look out for Erodium bishops form, Primula auricula or sedum voodoo.

If one of the joys of retirement will be time spent with grandchildren, you may wish to create special areas for them. Open spaces whether paved or lawned are perfect for outdoor games or for erecting climbing frames or trampolines.