Sunday February 25 , 2018

Blue Daisy Blog

Blue Daisy blog written by Nicki Jackson & Jules Clark - for news, views, garden design, gardening and plant observations and thoughts.

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Great British Garden Revival - Episode 5

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Carol Klein - Rock Gardens
RockgardenAs we know the British have been great explorers and as such we have visited all corners of the world discovering new plant treasures and bringing them back to our shores.  It was this inquisitiveness and interest in different species that helped to inspire the rock garden which allowed us to grow alpines and mountain plants from around the world in our gardens.  
Rock gardens were first built on large estates by wealthy aristocrats back in late the 19th century, it was their success that eventually led to their decline and they gradually fell out of fashion.  Rock gardens were easy to create and anyone could build one - the most successful rock gardens created the illusion of being up a mountain surrounded with flora and as such the British people took rock gardens to their hearts.   Experts believed that the rocks themselves were more important than the plants, it was vital to consider what each rock would look like and what function it would play in its natural habitat.  In other words get the rock positioning correct and then the plants would be happy.  The Japanese have always regarded rock gardens as very important as they create miniature landscapes within their own gardens.
Moss Bank Park in Bolton was a very famous rock garden in the UK and was also a huge part of the community but back in the 1990s the funding for its upkeep was lost and sadly it became a target for vandals and began to deteriorate.   In the last few years funding has been secured and together with an army of volunteers there has been an ongoing restoration project to bring it back to its former glory. 
A private 3 acre garden at Ashwood Nurseries, which has received over 50 RHS Gold Medals, is owned by John Massey who has created a beautiful plantsman’s garden which incorporates a rock garden and is open to the public on specific days.   His top tips for a successful rock garden are to remember that plant choice is important to lengthen the flowering season; Cyclamen is a must as it has a long flowering period, it is important to keep alpines flowering by constantly deadheading and weeding, the more weeding you do the less you’ll have to do in the longer term
In order to create a good rock garden there are some rules to follow, firstly it needs to be sited in the sunniest and most exposed part of the garden.  Sourcing the right rock(s) is essential (preferably from a local supplier) to ensure they don’t jar with their surroundings, consider the shapes of each rock and angle them in the same way to mirror nature, creating the maximum growing space to create your own mountain scene.  Choose your plants carefully, seek advice on which are the best plants for your space and don’t forget to incorporate some specimen trees or shrubs to add height and all year round interest.  Once it is planted up ensure a layer of course grit or fine grit is laid in order to suppress weeds and retain moisture.
If you only have a small space a small rock garden can be created in an alpine trough and a few points from Carol to create your own are: it’s essential that drainage holes are covered with crocks and filled with chunky gravel half way up the container to ensure that the roots aren’t sitting in water.  It’s a good idea to then cover the gravel with some mesh so that once the gravel is covered with compost it doesn’t wash through.  Carole recommends that the compost is half loam and half gravel chips then purchase some stone/rocks with angular shapes, tuck plants into the rocks so they look like they are growing through then apply a fine gravel to retain moisture and suppress weed seeds.
Today alpines are disappearing fast and Carol urges us to find a space for them in our garden to help keep them and our rock gardens alive.
Toby Buckland - Herb Gardens
HerbsHerbs have been used throughout history, they were fundamental to everyone’s lives and today there is a real danger that a lot of this knowledge and our connection to these plants are being lost. 
Chelsea Physic Garden, established 1673, and its apprentices studied the medicinal qualities of these plants.  The leaves, seeds, roots and flowers can provide us with a lot of life’s essentials; many years ago if you were ill you would go to your garden and find plants that would cure you instead of visiting the chemist and all this wonderful knowledge used to be second nature. 
In Tudor times herbs - including some that we call weeds today - were used for many things by both the wealthy and the poor.  In many homes it was common for herbs to be strewn across the floor to freshen up the rooms, a strewing lady would cut and scatter the herbs and those that were trod on would emit essential oils which would help to fumigate the homes!!  
The pharmacy became popular during Victorian times and it stocked both herbal and non herbal based medicines.  They eventually monopolised the market and herb growing in back gardens diminished; and as a result skill and knowledge wasn't being passed down through the generations. It is true in today’s world that medical progress has been excellent but the core use of herbs has been lost.
If you’re growing herbs in containers make sure they get lots of sun and they’ll need plenty of drainage so mix in some horticultural grit.  It’s a good idea to plant perennial herbs first such as sage and rosemary then combine with some of the shorter lived varieties such as basil and parsley.  Excess herbs can be kept for use in the winter by snipping some into ice cube trays, filling with water and freezing – fresh herbs in the thick of winter! 
Toby visited Jekka McVicar’s Herb Farm in Gloucester which has the largest collection of culinary herbs in the UK and is open to the public. Jekka says that herbs are fairly easy to grow, they can be drunk as tea, can turn a good meal in to a special one, fresh herbs are easier to digest than dried and they are really great for pollinating insects too!


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