Create a buzz

Unlike bumble bees and honey bees solitary bees do not live in a colony. They look similar to the honey bees and occur throughout the UK. Different species nest in different sizes of holes. The female stocks the nesting hole with nectar and pollen and seals it. The new solitary bees start to emerge the following March and April. Bees play an important role in the pollination of flowers and edibles in your garden. Why not install a bee and insect box in your garden? Once they nest in your garden they will return year after year.


Get the zing from growing your own citrus plant

Citrus plants are easy to grow and they are originally from humid Southeast Asia. The most commonly known are lemons, oranges, grapefruit and limes. As well as their fruits the leaves can be used for flavouring in rice, pasta and drinks. Citrus plants are typically non-hardy and in frost prone areas they need winter protection in a heated greenhouse or conservatory. There is nothing better than being able to pick your own lime for your gin and tonic fresh from the garden. If regularly fed, potted on and protected over winter they can reach a height of about 2 metres. They should be watered when the top of the soil becomes dry – however, never let the roots stand in water. They are hungry plants and need regular feeding during the growing season. A citrus will bloom in Spring but some species can bloom throughout the year. They are self-fertile and can produce fruit without fertilisation. You can grow them from seed but it can take many years to reach maturity and produce fruits. They are polyembryonic which means one seed can produce several seedlings. They require a soil type of low acid to neutral pH.

Grow juicy melons this summer

 There is nothing better than biting into a home grown melon with its succulent taste and sweet aroma.  Melons are in the Cucurbitaceae plant family which contains cucumbers, pumpkins, squashes and courgettes. Despite being closely related melons will not cross pollinate with the above. Melons prefer a hot sunny location with fertile well drained soil. They may in certain areas need glasshouse or polytunnel protection to ensure a good plentiful crop. Melon seeds are best sown in March and then transplanted to the growing area when they have 2 -3 true leaves. Be careful when transplanting as they can be sensitive to root disturbance. It is advisable to mulch plants with well-rotted manure as this will feed the plant, supress weeds, and warm the soil temperature plus retain moisture levels in the soil. Melons need regular watering so if possible use a drip feed irrigation system. Watering in the last two weeks of growth is essential. However on the other hand excessive water can cause the fruit to split. A typical Cantaloupe melon can take 35 – 45 days to mature depending on environmental temperature and growing conditions. At full ripeness and ultimate flavour the stem will break away from the melon. Many commercial growers harvest before this maturity point to avoid damage for exporting around the world. In many cases a net is used to support the fruit as it develops. It is best advised to grow powdery mildew resistant varieties. Melons have separate male and female flowers. Hand pollination can help chances of fruit setting. Poorly pollinated flowers will abort or produce misshapen fruit. Healthy high quality melons are produced by avoiding stress during the growing season. The plant will become stressed from disease, pests, weeds, poor nutrition and excessive or lack of water.

The chequered Snake Head’s Fritillary at Cricklade

The beautiful and enchanting snake head’s fritillary which emerges in April every year is one of Spring’s delights. Fritllaria meleagris is a bulbous plant that will put on a great show in your garden. In the Liliaceae family its delicate chequered blooms and its snake like markings explain how it got its name. The leaves are lance shaped with squared shaped bells for flowers that sit at the end of the elegant stems. They could be mistaken for being hand painted which supports how this flower through history has influenced art nouveau designers. William Morris used the fritillary in some of his famous fabrics and Charles Rennie Mackintosh made a painting of it in 1915. Vita Sackville West described it as ‘sullen and foreign looking, the snaky flower’ (The Land 1927).  Plant fritillaries in your garden in damp soil as typically in the wild they grow near a flood plain. Ideally always plant the bulbs in autumn or if you have not enough space why not try them in terracotta pots? If you want to see fritillaries en masse go to North Meadow at Cricklade which is an (SSSI) site in Gloucestershire.   Here you will see thousands growing in an unimproved lowland hay meadow which has been managed in the same way for the last 700 years. Due to modern farming techniques there are only 1000 hectares of unimproved lowland hay meadow remaining in the UK which makes it a very rare sight.

Garden Accessories – terracotta pots

Terracotta flower pots can be grouped on steps, garden tables, in corners or beside seats to dress the garden. Some may contain permanent plants whilst others can be non-hardy summer display only. These plants can then be exchanged throughout the year depending on the season and what is looking at its best. The simplest designs tend to be the most effective when it comes to grouping and arranging your display. If your pots stay out all year ensure they are frost proof. Plastic pots can even be used and hidden behind more attractive clay pots so that only the plants are seen.


Water feature for a small garden

DSC_0428Water in the garden can be a refreshing oasis that awakens the senses. Here an old millstone and trough have been used to create a sculptural focal point. The gentle dripping noise provides a sense of calm in the garden and masks traffic noise. It is also a great home for many small aquatic plants and wildlife. Water drips through the pebbles below and is recirculated by a hidden pump. The water reflects and enhances the colours of the pebbles and light gravel that dress the feature. When small water features like this are used in the right setting they have the ability to enhance the setting more than any other feature in the garden.

Wildflower Meadows in the Urban Environment

Urbanisation in cities over the last twenty years has been explosive and this has led to a disconnection between people and the natural world. Today almost 90% of the population live in urban areas. In the last decade there has been much focus on developing urban greenspaces to create habitats which are species-rich and provide wide-ranging benefits for people, biodiversity and reduce surface and air temperatures. It was found that 48% of people use these greenspaces at least one a week highlighting their importance in people’s lives. Many professionals believe that mental health and obesity issues particularly in the Western world could be reduced through urban greenspace.  A large number of local authorities and community groups are now planting or trialling the planting of wildflower meadows in urban greenspace. This planting is driven by a desire to increase biodiversity, educate the urban population about nature and to overcome a decline in the funding available for maintaining greenspace.


The magnificent Dumfries House and its beautifully restored Queen Elizabeth Garden

Dumfries House near Cumnock in Ayr is definitely a must see for all plant lovers. In 2007 The Prince of Wales saved the Robert and John Adam designed house and its Chippendale furniture for the nation. A trust was set up to look after the house and restore the garden to its former glory. The past two years has seen a remarkable transformation to the estate. The 5 acre Walled Garden has been redesigned by Michael Innes from Fife for visitors and locals to enjoy. He has beautifully restored the Walled Garden whilst taking on board the size and challenging levels.  There are now new terraces, greenhouses, and formal areas as well as an Education Centre used by community groups and schools to teach horticulture. As well as the Walled Garden there is the Rothesay Garden, Woodland Garden and the Formal Gardens by the front of the house to enjoy.

This is a fascinating project and is well worth visiting to see how the gardens at Dumfries House continue to evolve and mature over time.


Clematis viticella ‘Etoile Violette’

DSC_0005This variety is long flowering and typically easy to grow. It can be grown up a tree, shrub, arbour, or even in a combination with a contrasting climbing rose. The variety ‘Etoile Violette’ is fully hardy and produces wonderful displays of deep purple flowers which have a light yellow centre. It flowers from July to September and is known for being able to stand up to windy conditions. It is also resistant to clematis wilt and prefers a neutral well drained soil. The flowers are produced on the current year’s growth and belong to the horticultural group Viticella. It can be propagated by layering or semi hardwood cuttings. It falls under Clematis Pruning Group 3. This means it should be pruned in late winter or early spring when the buds show signs of growth. When this happens cut back all the old stems to the lowest part of healthy buds 15-30cm above the soil. If young clematis plants are left unpruned they will produce long stems with only flowers produced at the top. Why not try this stunning and easy to grow clematis in your garden.