It’s easy to see why Succulents have become so popular in contemporary gardens. Many are evergreen; they’re undemanding and easy to grow – provide them with a sunny spot and the right conditions and they’re off. Best of all, with today’s climate issues, they’re drought tolerant.
There’s a huge range from tender, indoor varieties to hardy spreading types. From four-foot tall architectural Agaves to ground-hugging intricate varieties. But it’s best not to run before you can walk and a combination of hardy Sempervivums (houseleeks) and Sedums (stonecrops) is a good place to start.
They need free-draining soil – you can use a special cactus mix or make your own incorporating sand and plenty of grit. If your soil is heavy you’re better off planting them in containers. Waterlogging is fatal to succulents so water sparingly when the soil is dry. Planting against a south-facing wall will help to prevent over-watering due to the rain shadow under the eaves, and if you top-dress with gravel it will help to avoid root-rot. They require little to no feeding – remember you’re mimicking the dry conditions of the desert and savannah.
Succulents are happy container plants and can stay in the same pot for years. A shallow bowl or trough is ideal, but as they can grow successfully in crevasses and on roofs you have many options for more unusual containers.
Is it late Spring or early Summer? With our climate it’s hard to tell, but it’s that happy time in a gardener’s year when everything is bursting into life and clumps of perennials seem to double in size weekly. There’s lots to do and keep on top of, but also much to enjoy.
Wisteria is the classic early-flowering summer climber. Patience is a virtue with this one as it may take five years to flower for the first time, but it’s well worth it when it does. At 10m tall, it will need a large wall or pergola and fertile soil in sun or light shade. Wisteria Sinensis is a Chinese Wisteria with lilac-purple fragrant flowers in May.
Lilacs (Syringa Vulgaris) can be grown as small trees or large shrubs and bear trusses of sweet-scented flowers that are very attractive to butterflies and bees. Foliage is mid-green and heart-shaped. The flowering season is relatively short but a summer-flowering climber can be grown through the foliage to extend the season of interest. Lilacs require well-drained soil and a sunny spot.
Bearded Iris. These flamboyant, ruffled blooms are stunning at this time of year. Available in just about every colour and with mid-green sword-like foliage, they don’t like to be crowded or shaded by other plants and like a sunny, well-drained mediterranean environment, so team successfully with the silver-leaf colours of rosemaries, lavenders and cistus.
The perennial problem. As perennial plants mature they can start to look congested and tatty, fighting for space with their neighbours and dying out in the centre whilst all the healthy growth is around the outside. Most perennials benefit from being lifted and divided every three or four years. As well as rejuvenating the plants it’s a great way to increase your stock.
When to divide The old-fashioned rule is if it flowers before Midsummer’s Day you should divide it in autumn, and if it flowers after Midsummer’s Day you should divide in spring. There are exceptions, but generally you need to divide when there are clusters of new leaves pushing through the soil (if you wait until the leaves have opened out there’s a bigger area for water loss and your new plants are more likely to wilt and take longer to establish)
How to divide
Arm yourself with a couple of garden forks, a spade and a plastic sheet
Carefully dig out the clump you want to divide and lift it onto the plastic sheet. If the clump is too heavy to lift use the spade to slice sections out of it
Split the clump into several pieces. You might be able to pull the clump apart with your hands or with the garden forks, but woody rootstocks will require a knife or saw. Each piece needs its own shoots and roots
Replant the best bits at the same depth as they were before, after working some compost and slow-release fertiliser into the ground.Water well and remember to keep watering until the roots are well-established
Dividing bulbs Bulbs need to be divided for similar reasons. Many are excellent at multiplying themselves and, over time, clumps become overcrowded and flowering declines because of the heavy competition for nutrients. Snowdrops and Winter Aconites in particular must be divided ‘in the green’ – straight after flowering, and most other bulbs can also be dealt with whilst the leaves are still growing vigorously. Crocus, Daffodils and Grape Hyacinths will all divide well in March.
Lever the clump out and gently rock and twist the bulbs back and forth until they separate.
Don’t allow the bulbs to dry out during transplantation – cover them with wet newspaper while you work
Replant clumps into well-prepared and fertilised soil at the appropriate depth.
As the garden wakes up after its winter rest there are few more cheering sights than a display of daffodils ‘fluttering and dancing in the breeze’. Botanically known as Narcissus, daffodils are also known as jonquils and as the Lent Lily. Immortalised in myths and poems, they are synonymous with spring and symbolise new beginnings.
There are literally hundreds of varieties to choose from; some start flowering in late winter and others through into late spring. Although most are yellow, they are available in white, orange and pink, as well as two-coloured varieties, and single as well as double-flowers.
Daffodils are versatile and very easy to care for, requiring little effort after planting in autumn. Best grown in sun or light shade, they’re not fussy about the type of soil, providing it isn’t waterlogged. They should be left in the ground and will develop into large bold clumps, although they will benefit from dividing after a few years.
Daffodils naturalise well, planted in drifts in the lawn, in borders or grown under trees or shrubs. Shorter-stemmed varieties look great grown in containers or hanging baskets.
You can start deadheading as soon as the flowers have faded, but leave the flower stems and leaves to die down naturally as the bulbs need the leaves to feed them.
Narcissus ‘Replete’ is a peachy-pink double-flowered daffodil with eye-catching ruffles, which grows up to 45cm tall.
Narcissus Papyraceus (Paper-white) are primarily grown for their pure-white flowers with yellow stamens and sweet scent for indoor arrangements but will survive outdoors in mild areas and sheltered spots (40cm tall). Narcissus ‘Jetfire’ is shorter-stemmed at 20cm, and has bright yellow petals with a bright orange trumpet.
Whichever variety is chosen they should provide you with many years of enjoyment.
January brings heavy frosts and snow, or at least it used to do before our climate became so unpredictable. With winters wetter than they used to be, these days it seems we’re just as likely to get a cold and soggy start to the year. Whichever way it goes, there’s no denying the garden is looking rather bare, and we have to look harder to find something interesting to admire.
This is where plants with attractive bark come into their own. The main attraction of the Tibetan Cherry Tree (Prunus serrula) is its smooth and shiny conker-coloured bark that starts to peel away in winter revealing the new lighter bark beneath. As a bonus, it also bears white flowers in spring followed by small oval fruits. It’s a slow-grower, and not for a small garden as it will eventually reach 6 x 5m, but given enough space, it’s glorious.
The silver birch family is large and the one thing they all have in common is outstanding bark. Betula utilis var. jacquemontii has exceptionally white and luminous bark which lights up a dark corner. All birches have leaves that turn golden in autumn, and a light canopy of leaves that offers dappled shade. Again, a substantial tree that can reach 10 x 5m.
On a smaller scale the stems of Dogwoods are brightest in winter, ranging in colour from bright red through to orange and pink. These easy to grow shrubs have a spreading habit, are tolerant of wet conditions and come in at a manageable 1.2 x 1.2m. Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’ has orange-red and yellow young shoots, and small white flowers in summer. The most important thing to remember with Dogwoods is to cut out the oldest stems at the end of winter.
Depending on which way you look at it, November is either approaching the end of the gardening year or the start of the new one. Once the autumn leaves have fallen the evergreens come into their own; having been the backbone of the garden all year round, in November they make a colourful backdrop to seasonal flowers, frosted grasses bare branches, and the coloured stems of shrubs.
This is peak season for easy-to-grow evergreens such as Arbutus unedo (Strawberry Tree) which at this time of year displays white flowers and pink fruit both at the same time (the fruits are from last year’s flowers). A compact shrub or small tree, it’s undemanding, thriving in sun or light shade, and will tolerate pollution.
Fatsia Japonica (False Castor Oil Plant) looks exotic but is equally unfussy. Left unpruned it will grow slowly to a large shrub but it’s not difficult to prune to the desired size. At this time of year the glossy dark green leaves are joined by clusters of fluffy cream flowers followed by black berries. Best in light shade.
Eleagnus ebbingei (Silverberry), is another garden stalwart. It’s silvered mid-green leaves are completely silver coloured on the undersides. It bears fragrant creamy-white flowers. A large shrub which is useful for hedging, it will grow in any soil (except boggy) in sun or light shade.
The season of mists and mellow fruitfulness is upon us and there’s a nip in the air. There’s a wealth of rich autumn leaf colour to enjoy as well as berries and fruits. Late flowers inject a welcome flash of colour on dull days.
Every garden deserves a Japanese Maple. They have autumn colour all sewn up as they change from the greens or subdued reds of summer to spectacular shades of flame-red and oranges. Acer Palmatum Osakazuki is one of the best. It’s maple-shaped leaves graduate through every shade of glorious reds and oranges for several weeks before falling. Ideally grown in a sheltered spot in light shade, it will eventually grow to a height of 5m.
Euonymus europaeus ‘Red Cascade’(Spindle Tree) is really a large shrub that won’t set hearts alight in summer with its dark green leaves and small flowers, but more than makes up for it in autumn and winter, when it sets the garden ablaze with its strong leaf colour, and after the leaves fall there’s the bonus of orange-pink winged fruit to provide a winter feast for birds. The best leaf colour is in full sun, but it will also grow in partial shade. 2.5m tall.
Nerine bowdenii’s (Guernsey Lily) bright pink funnel-shaped flowers bloom ahead of its leaves. Best planted in full sun against a south-facing wall, a good baking in summer will reward you with a glamorous show in autumn. 45cm tall.
Even the smallest garden has room for a tree or two. A single tree can bring a garden to life, adding height, structure, and a sense of permanence. Trees provides shade, a habitat and food for birds, colour for autumn, spring blossoms and fruit. Careful consideration should be given to which tree, and its eventual height and position – it will be there for a long time!
Unless you have a large garden it makes sense to choose trees which have more than one season of interest. Malus Golden Hornet (Crab Apple) grows to 10m and has magnificent pink spring flowers, followed by decorative yellow fruits. Acer Palmatum Dissectum ‘Garnet’ grows to around 2m with red leaves throughout spring and summer changing to vivid scarlet in autumn. Another multi-tasker from the Acer family is Acer Griseum (Paper Bark Maple), which has attractive peeling bark all the year round and scarlet foliage in autumn.
Tree planting season is from October to March while they are dormant, and although you can plant container-grown trees all year round, autumn is the best time of all as the ground is still warm from the summer but moist thanks to seasonal rainfall. Instead of having to worry about watering you can leave autumn planted trees to look after themselves and they should be well-established by next summer. However, if you garden on heavy clay that stays very wet in winter you may be better-off waiting until spring.
Bare-rooted trees can be planted towards the end of October, provided the ground is ready and the leaves have fallen off.
Good soil preparation is key to how well the tree takes off. For container-grown specimens, loosen some of the roots at the edges of the rootball and dig a planting hole three times the size of the pot, deep enough for the bottom of the trunk to be level with the top of the hole. For bare-rooted trees, dig a large but shallow hole. In both cases drive in a support stake at an angle before placing the tree in the hole. Mix the soil you removed from the hole with plenty of well-rotted organic matter and bonemeal, and add to the bottom of the hole and around the roots. Tie-in to the stake and water well.
Check tree ties and stakes after a spell of windy weather. Ties need to be loosened as the girth of the trunk expands so it doesn’t throttle the plant. Trees are expensive, so don’t risk your investment for the sake of the right soil and a few minutes extra to do the job properly!
Bulbs are amongst the easiest and most rewarding garden plants to grow. Get them in the ground or in pots now so you can enjoy a cheerful parade of flowers going through from January to late spring.
Most bulbs can be planted now – Snowdrops, Daffodils, Hyacinths, Crocuses, Fritillaries, Iris, Muscari, Anemones, Scillas, Lillies, Alliums and Crocosmias, – but leave tulips until November. Hardy bulbs can be left undisturbed in the ground and will multiply over time. Only plant non-frost-hardy types if you can face the bother of lifting and storing them, or you’re happy to risk some losses.
The main rule with bulbs is to think big and plant for impact – if you think you need 20, plant 40! And in pots squeeze as many as you can get in without them touching. Plant in groups rather than in straight rows, and if planting a small number of bulbs choose an odd number for a more natural look. You’re unlikely to spend much time sitting out in the garden in February, so make sure you site them where you can see them from your window.
Try planting drifts in the border, or under deciduous trees for a carpet of colour in spring before the trees comes into leaf. Bulbs grown in the lawn will have to be mown around until 6 weeks after flowering. Bulbs in large containers can be planted in layers for a succession of blooms – Snowdrops in January give way to Daffodils and Tulips in March and April, followed by purple Alliums in May.
It’s important to bury them deeply enough – if you aim for three times their own depth you won’t go far wrong. Too shallow and they’re more likely to get eaten by pests. Too deep and they may not reach the surface. A bulb-planting tool and a good garden kneeler are worth their weight in gold if you have lots to plant.
It used to be assumed the arrival of autumn heralded the end of the growing season, but not anymore. Mild autumns have extended the growing season so we can expect another month or two of colour to enjoy. There may be an autumnal nip in the air, but September looks likely to be a relatively dry month with temperatures above average, so its back into the garden with the aim of keeping the summer garden going as long as possible.
There’s an abundance of autumn-flowering climbing plants that will add interest and rich colour into your garden and we’ve chosen three of our favourites.
Parthenocissus tricuspidata’Veitchii’ (Boston Ivy). One of the best of the large climbers for stunning foliage colour, its large maple-like leaves turn from bright green to dramatic shades of crimson and scarlet. Very vigorous and easy to grow, it can reach up to 15m so is perfect for a large tree or for growing against the house. It’s self-clinging and will thrive in any situation from full sun to deep shade.
Clematis tibetana‘Bill MacKenzie’. Attractive golden-yellow nodding flowers are followed by large, wispy seedheads. The flowers and seedheads overlap for a while creating a stunning display. It’s vigorous, growing up to 5-6m, so is suitable for growing up a tree and it will also cope with a north wall. Full sun or partial shade.
Fuchsia ‘Lady Boothby’. This vigorous hardy fuchsia gives an abundant display of red and blue flowers through summer and well into autumn. Growing to 2.5m, it’s great for covering a trellis, arch or fence and could be grown in a container. The shoots may need to be tied in. Requires partial shade and well-drained soil.