Learning from our Gardeners' Question Time

Learning from our gardeners question time

Naturally enough, considering the wet weather we have had during the winter of 2013/14 the first question asked at our Gardeners' Question Time was how the adverse weather conditions had affected our panel’s professional lives.

For Tony Kirkham, of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, he lamented the fact we haven’t had a real winter – with only one frost recently to speak of. As a consequence everything is coming into flower earlier and will no doubt be causing problems for Chelsea preparations. He also noted that the trees which had come down over the storms tended to be the ones covered in ivy – an implicit word of caution!

Ann-Marie Powell explained how the nurseries are struggling with their stock – bare root trees need to go in now, but because of the weather lots of projects which have hard landscaping requirements have been delayed. Gardeners and designers are struggling to stay in budget and on schedule, as the optimum time for planting out comes and goes.

John Wood from Hinton Ampner  cancelled his holidays over Christmas to make sure he was able to tidy up storm damage – adverse weather really does have far reaching consequences! The idea of “storm tourism”, was discussed – people who came out to see the damage, but Tony assured us Kew had managed to clear up before visitors came.

Questions from the audience jumped from potential damage to trees as a result of cutting limbs that seemed to threaten the Alitex greenhouse (Ans: don’t worry it is still early spring, and a “bleeding,” tree is the sign of good health) to taming invasive plant species.

The intrusive high tides which had flooded a Bosham garden were advised to irrigate with fresh water after the sea water had dried – in order to neutralise any salt damage. Also, you should keep off the ground so as not to stamp in the various seeds which have been swept in on the tide.

We had a wonderful demonstration from a visiting (neighbouring) head gardener’s 30 year old rose bushes. The challenge was whether to hard prune the 3 foot high shrubs, temporarily losing height but probably gaining blooms - or simply to leave well alone. A good pruning session later, our guest had one option clarified – that of pruning. Any rose should have no more than three years growth in it – roses compete for space and food, so make sure you feed them and always aim for a framework which allows light and air through the middle.

Wood based charcoal is good for the plants, hoeing into the compost to create a carbon layer. The more steam we can generate in our composts the more bacteria we will have working away breaking the plants down – municipal composts end up being like furnaces.

Suffering from an invasion of moss after all the wet weather? Aerate, getting rid of any compaction in the soil, then use a lawn feed and sharp sand to encourage regrowth. If you choose to re-lay with turf, or even if you are using a new grass seed – spread it out over the rest of the lawn so that it doesn’t look odd, when finished. An integrated look is what you are after.

As ever, my notes from the evening could populate a large book – such is the nature of the evening. It is all useful advice and as one of our guests commented – being in the company of such horticultural excellence and having the panel on hand to answer our questions was amazing.

A big thanks to all our panel and to Andy Lewis from Uppark who steered the evening well.

Tags: alitex, gardeners question time, annmarie powell, tony Kirkham, Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, national trust, john wood