How to get a carpet of snowdrops


… or indeed, a mini-carpet in a pot

Snowdrops. Photo by Jill Mead

Do you have a carpet of snowdrops luring you outside right now?

I say this explicitly, because one or two snowdrops just aren’t going to do it are they? So while it’s very easy to get caught up in galanthophilia, spending precious hours and money on special varieties, none of that obsessiveness is going to get you a carpet without plenty of planting, lifting and dividing at this end of the year, and that carpet is going to look glorious, no matter how expensive the variety. With that in mind, make sure you have the essential conditions (shade and damp) – if you don’t have trees then between shrubs in the border is good, and volume is the important thing here, so buy as if you were a Russian oligarch on a binge. To this end (and because I’m presuming you’re no such thing) go for ordinary good old favourites that are large and sumptuous. G. ‘Magnet’ is my number one choice, followed closely by G. ‘S. Arnott’ and G. ‘Atkinsii’, and begin with just a few… Or a simple, much cheaper job lot of nivalis (you can see these three types in my shopping list post here). They’ll arrive by the beginning of March, looking worse for wear; this is what’s called ‘in the green’ and it’s the best time to plant. Add lots of humus-rich compost or soil improver and plant six inches deep. Existing large clumps that are looking congested can be lifted out of the ground and gently teased apart once the flowers begin to go over. Replant as before and keep things random by putting some closer together than others.

This is certainly a labour of love rather than a five minute fling, but I’ll tell you what… I’ve been growing snowdrops in containers since my balcony days and I think they are JUST as heart-stopping. You just need good multi-purpose compost, and the addition of some lovely leaf mould every year.

I’ll be planting the beauties I’ve ordered in my lawn (will they love it? I don’t know!) as soon as they arrive, in the knowledge that I’ll have to be patient and let them take their own sweet time to spread.



x Laetitia

ps if you want a much more personal run-down of all my five minute forays, I write a newsletter every week which drops on a Saturday or Sunday. It’s full of the rather messier, more real, and, let’s face it, rather less pin-worthy stuff that life throws at me, and it’s the thing I enjoy writing most of all. Hit the button below if you want to have a go…and know that you can unsubscribe any time if it’s not for you!


How I'm pruning my apple tree this winter

If you follow me on Instagram you’ll know that I’ve been doing a little pruning project on my apple tree. 

Gorgeous looking…not so gorgeous eating!

Gorgeous looking…not so gorgeous eating!

 The tree was pruned last year, very badly (my own fault… I didn’t use a professional and I left him to it). When I returned, he had given my tree a general ‘haircut’ – i.e. cut about a third of the crown off from the outside. This has resulted in a squillion small upright shoots (or ‘water shoots’) rocketing skyward, both ruining the look of what was once a lovely gnarly old tree, and crowding the crown out, which has the effects of increasing the likelihood of disease and an over-production of small fruit. 

 

Personally I couldn’t care less about the fruit here – the apples are cookers and not very good ones at that…but I do love the tree, and its blossom and I want it back to its best, so the other day I took my secateurs and began pruning. It’s a bit of an endeavour that’ll have me doing small amounts over a sustained period of time, but here are the rules I’ll be following, which I found on the PTES website.

 

1.    I’ll be removing any dead wood, and any wood that looks diseased. Just as I would do with any pruning job.

2.    I’ll be looking for any branches that are crossing together and rubbing. This rubbing damages the bark and again, allows disease to get in and take hold. 

3.    I’ll be looking at the general shape of my tree, and removing any branches that don’t contribute to the shape that I want. With fruit trees the general rule of thumb is that you want an open shape – a ‘goblet’ really, so that there’s really great air circulation, and you don’t have lots of branches shading out those below. This means that branches growing towards the middle of the crown should generally be removed. There’s an old saying that you should be able to throw your hat through the crown, and it’s a useful image for the shape I’m after.

4.    Once I’ve done the above, I’ll tackle my water shoots. This is something I’ll be doing cautiously, because I don’t want to shock my tree by removing the whole lot in one go. I’ll start in the centre of the crown and remove a third of the total number of shoots. This will, I hope allow air and light into the centre of the tree. I’ll repeat the process next year, and in 2021, with a little summer pruning thrown in, to deal with any new shoots produced by each winter’s cuts.

 

Not a five minute project, by any means, but one that can definitely be done in five minute bursts, and it’s something that excites me tremendously, because I get to watch and learn.

Watershoots of doom

Watershoots of doom

As for the prunings, I’ll be using them for staking, kindling, and I’ll also be creating several small piles of them in different areas of the garden, for insects.

 

A note on tools.

I lost my pruning saw a while back (something I mean to rectify soon!). Secateurs are very good for the small water shoots where I can reach them. For larger branches, and for chopping the resulting wood, I’ll been using a little battery-powered chainsaw, and a telescopic lopper, both kindly gifted by Stihl. Reviews of these tools (and an update on the pruning) coming soon.

 

In the meantime, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the above. Any tips and tricks I should know about? Please let me know! I’m a novice at this and, as the loving custodian of a beautiful apple tree I want to do the best I can for it!


x Laetitia

Winter container garden hacks

As you might expect, Petersham Nurseries does winter rather well, seamlessly sailing through the bleak season without any of the bald patches from which we mere mortals seem to suffer.

Of course, this is partly to do with their gorgeous stock and legions of staff to make things gorgeous, but that’s not the whole story. There are some very simple hacks they’ve employed to keep things lovely with minimum upkeep. Here are their tricks:

  1. Go big or go home

fullsizeoutput_4fb0.jpeg

Everything here is on a grand scale. It’s a very good idea, especially if you are time-poor, as it creates instant impact with very little work over the summer months in terms of watering. Paperwhite narcissi here are crammed into a gigantic urn; the bulb fibre covered with moss and sticks plunged around the edge to keep things from flopping. It’s a classic idea but on a big scale, and it would work even in a small room. Use an urn, and you have an instant layering effect, with the added bonus of not having sacrificed any table space.

Paperwhite narcissi in an urn at Petersham

Paperwhite narcissi in an urn at Petersham

2. Use erigeron everywhere.

fullsizeoutput_4fb5.jpeg

You’ll have heard me go on about this plant enough, but seriously, let me tell you one more time about the wonders of this Erigeron Karvinskianus. Not only does it soften and relax every hard corner or line, and self-sow itself politely around into the tiniest cracks and crevices, it will also cover up a multitude of sins (bareness really) at the base of any permanent planting. But most of all, it will continue flowering pretty much all year round, so whilst your deciduous shrub languishes in its twiggy bareness over the winter, this little darling will give you something lovely to look at.

3. Use muehlenbeckia everywhere else

Bare deciduous shrubs in pots? No problem with cascading muehlenbeckia

Bare deciduous shrubs in pots? No problem with cascading muehlenbeckia

Rather lesser-known (and unfairly vilified as something which can be invasive), this gorgeous thing is an absolute blessing as long as you keep it in a container, doing very much what the erigeron does - softening and beautifying, only with a trailing effect rather than a flower. Put it in a pot with absolutely anything; it will make your bare viburnum gorgeous and it will even make plants that don’t look so lovely on their own, like heather (see below) unspeakably chic.

Muehlenbeckia on its own is great too.

Muehlenbeckia on its own is great too.

Suddenly heather is sexy…because muehlenbeckia (and also an URN)

Suddenly heather is sexy…because muehlenbeckia (and also an URN)

4. Put ferns in a gigantic pot

fullsizeoutput_4fb4.jpeg

…an urn, or other GINORMOUS container. Whatever it is, it must have height, to elevate the fronds…it’s something to do with balance. This is also an illustration of the Go Big or Go Home trick, but also, ferns are the great unsung container plant hero and we should all be using much more of them on our patios and terraces. This one above is an indoor affair, but there are plenty of excellent evergreen ferns which, given the right treatment will flourish in containers outside. Blog post on which ones to use coming soon.

5. Plant the pants off all the hellebores you can afford

Hellebores in pots

Hellebores in pots

Deadly pretty, perfect container plants that you can put into the ground if you get bored with them. I’ve been making a large container up with one, the recipe for which I’ll be sharing on my newsletter which drops at the weekend….It contains a rather more personal run-down of all my five minute forays in the garden during the week - sign up here if you’d like it, and never fear, if you don’t like it…(and it’s not for everyone I admit) then you can unsubscribe any time.

xx Laetitia

Bulbs and plugs I'm ordering this month

I don’t do much gardening in January…a bit of nonchalant weed-pulling, some chopping of gone-over things, and some deadheading if I’ve got winter bedding (cyclamen, pansies) on the go. More time is spent spring cleaning…getting the shed tidy and in order, sluicing out the bins (yuck) and clearing any gutters low enough not to induce vertigo.

My favourite gardening endeavours then, take the form of dreaming, and leafing through catalogues. Getting in early and ordering the things you want is always a good idea.

Here is my January shopping list.

Snowdrops.

Galanthus S. Arnott - a classic I want in my lawn

Galanthus S. Arnott - a classic I want in my lawn

Having decided to put snowdrops (Galanthus) in my lawn last year, I then went and forgot to order any. The best way to plant them is not as bulbs, but in flower, or having flowered (or ‘in the green’) as gardeners say. I shall be ordering three each of G. Magnet and G. S. Arnott to start off what I very much hope will become a carpet of snowdrops. For these particularly tall varieties I’m prepared to wait, as I’m also mindful that I don’t want to spend lots of time and money planting hundreds of snowdrops only to have them turn their noses up at the conditions they’ve been given. Slow gardening then, and I’ll be buying them from Avon Bulbs, who always deliver good quality specimens, and whose packaging is completely plastic-free. If I had a large space and wanted an instant carpet though, I’d probably go for this deal. They are simple G. Nivalis, and very gorgeous, and good value to boot.

Gladiolus callianthus murielae

Gladiolus Callianthus - which I can’t live without

Gladiolus Callianthus - which I can’t live without

These are the stunners I plant in containers ever year, successionally and they give me a continuous, scented display from midsummer right through to the first frosts. I love them unconditionally and if I had more space, I’d fill it with them. I actually planted some in the ground last year, and left them there over winter to see if they come back, an experiment I’m not holding out much hope for, but hey, it’s good to try! I’ll be buying 80 bulbs from Farmer Gracy who I bought from last year. Their bulbs were cheaper than I could find elsewhere, great quality, grew really well and their packaging was plastic-free.




Argyranthemum frutescens

Argyranthemum is a must-have

Argyranthemum is a must-have

These daisies are the hardest-working container plant in my garden over the summer months. I buy them as plug plants, grow them on and plant them in my big pots once my bulbs have left the building. I water and feed the living daylights out of them, and they reward me with continual flowering until well in to November and beyond. I used to buy them from Sarah Raven but was disappointed by last year’s plants - the colour was so much duller than before. So this year I’m going to get them from Brookside Nursery and I’m changing my colour choice and going for a variety called ‘Halo Pink’ - not just because I love the rather outré colour, but also because they’re selling a tray of 42 plants for £30 and I love the idea of having them EVERYWHERE. The safe option is to go for the gorgeous white one…which is never not charming and gorgeous. Over to you.


That’s it (for now).

x Laetitia

ps if you want a much more personal run-down of all my five minute forays, I write a newsletter every week which drops on a Saturday or Sunday. It’s full of the rather messier, more real, and, let’s face it, rather less pin-worthy stuff that life throws at me, and it’s the thing I enjoy writing most of all. Hit the button below if you want to have a go…and know that you can unsubscribe any time if it’s not for you!

Monstera love

Ubiquitous they may be, but that doesn’t stop them being fabulous; Monstera deliciosa have shed their dusty, corner-of-the-room triffid image and are now elevated to superstar status. Basically, if you haven’t got one, then who actually ARE you?

Here’s a little vid that I did with the RHS explaining how to care for them, and if you’re thinking of getting one, I would urge you to go for something small and let it grow, rather than haemorrhaging money on a great big beast. Buying a small plant means that if you DO make a mistake and lose it, all is not lost, and if you don’t then it will actually grow better, because it has been acclimatised to your space from babyhood.

Let me know if you think I’ve missed anything out here - care tips that work for you.

x Laetitia

Indoor salad, for dark days

Indoor salad for darker days

fullsizeoutput_1bba.jpg

We still have a way to go before Spring does its thing. This is an easy way of banishing the blues, and far healthier than gin. 

 

Microgreens are a great favourite with me as they satisfy my yearning for sophistication whilst valiantly accommodating my slapdash sowing skills. No thinning out is needed here, as I snip the leaves off in their baby stage. All you need is a plastic seed tray or pot set within another larger tray for watering, some multi-purpose compost and some seeds; I adore radish, rocket, basil and mizuna, or you can buy a mixture of seeds specially packaged as microgreens - this is a great starter pack.

Or, if you can’t be doing with compost, then I recommend this kit, which has everything included, and you just use kitchen roll, (or loo paper if you’re us!)

 

Fill your tray or pot with compost, removing any big bits and tapping it firmly on a hard surface to remove any pockets of air. Now sprinkle your seeds liberally over the top, aiming for an even coverage. You don’t need to worry about spacing here because you’ll be harvesting the greenery before it has a chance to need any space. Cover the seeds very thinly with a bit more compost, sieving it over the top, and fill up the bottom tray with water for a few hours until the surface of the compost is damp. Given the warmth of your kitchen, the seeds with germinate fast, and in a couple of weeks you’ll be snipping and sprinkling just like all the posh chefs.

x Laetitia

Planting Hippeastrum (amaryllis)

Hey! I know it’s after Christmas and you are feeling all mince pie’d out and cobwebby but I have the answer! Go out as soon as you can and find some hippeastrum bulbs (they’ll be on sale…BONUS!). Get yourself a pot or two and some compost and try this… I promise you will NOT be disappointed.

My love for these bulbs will never wane. I adore them to the moon and back, mostly because they are so very massive and otherworldly and make me feel accomplished and smug and happy that I had a hand in growing something so amazing.

Here’s a little video showing you how to plant them….couldn’t be easier…do have a go!

Are you a hippeastrum aficionado? What’s your favourite one to grow, and what are your tips to get them flowering again the following year?

x Laetitia

My tiny front garden - planting phase 3

At last the tree is in!

coB%2BhZopT1OWmx%2BFh4ad7g.jpg

This is the last of this series on my minuscule front garden..I totally PROMISE. There will be no more chatter about this space until it has filled out and throughly deserving of some more attention.

The final touch to the planting here, was the multi-stemmed crabapple tree, which I agonised over for far too long. I got several quotes for multi-stemmed specimen trees (not just crabapples) and each of them would have looked totally glorious, but I had to rein myself in, because I didn’t have the money for any of it.

MtzI0wA9RSOnpl%25OAIldcQ.jpg

Accordingly I went for a small crabapple from Ornamental Trees Ltd, which cost me a grand total of £71.93 (including delivery). I want to big up this company, because the tree arrived in perfect condition, in a huge card-board box.

The only plastic was the pot it was grown in (which I will re-use) and a black bin bag which was attached to the base of the tree in such a way that I could re-use that as well.

7nYi34SVR7OTdcecf2WbYQ.jpg

The variety is called ‘Red Sentinel’ - very well-known to be a ‘good doer’ and disease-resistant.

Being small-ish, it went in easily (another expense avoided) and as with all plants, a younger specimen will in the end, grow to be stronger and better in its environment. Worth the wait I think.

If you’re planning on transforming a space, and desperately want that ‘finished’ look immediately, know that you are not alone! Also know, though, that if they’re well looked after and planted properly, plants grow faster than you think, and you have the added benefit of watching this happen, which is always a joy.

%2BHKKfkVoQlKFAhhj0QOOfg.jpg


Here then, for what they’re worth, are my tips for filling a new space on a budget:

  1. Choose bare-root hedging (see this post) The cost is minuscule compared with shelling out for ‘the finished product’ and they grow faster than you think!

  2. If you need to make an impact straight away, then large specimen trees really are worth the money, but if your budget can’t stretch to this don’t despair; you’ll certainly be able to find something sufficiently imposing in the form you want. Search the internet using your form keyword (eg. full standard, half standard, multi-stem etc) and be open to changing your mind on species and variety. Bear in mind also that these companies know their plants; the ones that do well and are popular are also usually the cheapest so don’t get hung up having something that ‘everybody else’ has…Everyone has one because it’s a great plant!

  3. Give yourself time, and plant in stages. If you can, plant specimen trees and shrubs first, and then add your herbaceous perennials and bulbs etc. As you can see, I did my space entirely the wrong way round and very awkward it was too! Once larger plants are in, you may easily find that your other plant requirements change as you may have more and less space than you initially thought. So slow down already!




x Laetitia

Keeping containers cosy in the winter

Getting caught out (or short) is THE WORST; it leads to lots of swearing and self-flagellation, not to mention DEAD PLANTS and CRACKED POTS so be your future friend and get this kit ready now!

Cold weather essentials for your containers

Group your pots together in a sheltered spot and, if you fear a prolonged cold snap, wrap them with old bubble wrap to prevent them getting frozen. I know, it’s such a boring thing – all the books tell you to do this but you never do it, until one day your expensive, large terracotta pot that you saved up for and adore, cracks. Gather up all your old bubble wrap and tie it around each large pot with string. If it looks too revolting for words, then you can cover the hideousness with sacking.

It’s also VERY much worth investing in some horticultural fleece, which you can wrap around precious plants during prolonged cold snaps. Get a few packs of it now, before the new year brings beasts from the East, and put them in a safe place. Then make a note of where you’ve put them and stick it on your fridge (or perhaps it’s just me needing to do that).

amazon Block
Search for an Amazon product to display. Learn more



Winter scented beauty

Scented winter wonders are not only great structural additions but also thoroughly better-making; if anything is going to get you outside, then it’ll be these.

Sarcococca confusa

First up is Sarcococca confusa (above)– glossy green, smart, clippable, dry-shade tolerant and smelling of sweet-shops. You will never regret having it. Next, Daphne odora ‘aureomarginata’

IMG_7236.JPG

with absolutely stunning pale-margined green leaves and waxy pink flowers that smell like you’ve died and gone to heaven. You have to be nice to it, and give it a sheltered spot with well-drained but fertile soil, but if it likes you then glory will be yours. My tip is to get small plants (I’ve linked to a set of three above) so that you can plant in different parts of the garden and if one doesn’t like its spot, then you won’t lose out too much. Last but not least, is Viburnum tinus Don’t turn your nose up and tell me it’s only for a car park…this is a true beauty – loves being clipped and preened, into lolly pops (linked above, which I heartily recommend) and hedges and all manner of things, and has scented flowers from December onwards. And one more thing; if you don’t mind a bit of messy, then Lonicera x purpusii ‘Winter Beauty’, has the gorgeousest scent of all.

Chimonanthus praecox

How to feed the birds but not the squirrels, mice or rats

As the weather becomes more hostile, now is the time to start feeding the birds.

3%F2S4g2ThODlwt87STrIQ.jpg

You can begin with something as simple as a fat ball, (mix lard with bird seed) hung from a tree, or a bird seed feeder, filled with one of the many bird seed mixes available from most large supermarkets. Rodents though, are unbelievably agile and can climb almost anything in order to get to a good food source. Keeping raids to a minimum requires you to do a few things –annoying, but rather less so than the sight of a revolting rat stealing your bird food. Hygiene is a priority; keep the ground below the feeder clear of detritus. Next, site your feeder in the open, so that squirrels can’t jump from neighbouring trees. A pole system, such as the Garden Pole from Birdfood.co.uk, particularly if it is greased with Vaseline, and fitted with a ‘baffle’ (see the RSPB website) is harder to navigate than a typical bird table. Surround the food with a cage, such as the RSPB’s Bird Feeder Guardian, so that it can only be accessed by the little birds you want to see, rather than the big ones (and rodents) that you don’t. Lastly, vermin detest chilli, so put a generous amount of powder into your fat balls, or coat your bird seed with it by adding powder and shaking it about in the bag. It doesn’t bother the birds one bit.