Plants for Places - 2 - Any Questions?


Q.   I have a 52ft border (about 80cm wide) which spends all day in the shade. Can you recommend what plants to put there ? I am on a budget but would like something with a splash of colour if possible.

A.  If the shady part is damp rather than dry then the options are opened up enormously. First of all you can cover part of the fence with climbers, don't use self-clingers such as ivy as they keep the fence damp and decrease its life. Put up support wires and plenty of them.

Climbers

  • Clematis - particularly c. alpina (early flowering) and C. tangutica (late flowering), lots of varieties available.
  • Honeysuckle (Lonicera)- but only really if it can have a bit more room, maybe overhang the path on a (large) pergola arch? or at the end (if it's a corner) over a pergola containing a seat. There's a whole range you could use, I'm a bit wary of recommending particular ones as they are sometimes just regionally available, but Belgica, Halliana and "dropmore scarlet" would be good ones.

Shrubs

    Larger ones tend to be bushy and will spill over the path, but you could try these that will lend themselves to simple (or complex) topiary and trimming for height and not width:

  • Buxus- box, slow growing
  • Lonicera nitida (nothing to do with honeysuckles)
  • Euonymus - various types low growing, darker leaved ones will do better.
  • Prunus laurocerasus, cherry laurel "Otto luyken" is small and manageable, the normal ones too big.
  • Pieris - various kinds, but need an acid soil
  • Pyracantha - grow against a framework of wires like a climber, treat as a "wall shrub"
  • Vinca - periwinkle, various varieties

Perennials

  • Aconitum, monkshood
  • Ajuga, bugle
  • Anemone x hybrida, Japanese anemone
  • Aquilegia, columbine
  • Digitalis, foxglove
  • Lamium, variegated deadnettle, various varieties
  • Mentha, mints
  • Tolmeia, piggy back plant
  • Ferns, many types available, go for larger rather than small ones and plant them near the fence so that they spill forwards and upwards against the fence.

For seasonal colour use

  • bulbs, daffodil and crocus in particular
  • summer bedding - mimulus, monkey flower / Impatiens, busy lizzies / Nicotiana, tobacco plants

Also, you could plant a tree/s in the border, as long as you trim the branches on the pathward side, they'll grow up to the light and spill over the path above head height eventually.

That should keep you busy for a while, I suggest you look them up in a book first before going to the garden centre and make a list before you go or it'll be like going to the supermarket when you're hungry - loads of food, but nothing to make a sensible meal out of - or is that just me?


Q.  We are new to this area (Exmoor), I have looked at neighbouring gardens to see what grows. We are however in a bad frost pocket, I have lost Fuchsias, and Escallonia and a Potentilla to frosts very early in the autumn, early October. I need frost resistant plant advice please. Saw aconites in frost yesterday in Oxfordshire, they looked happy and healthy. when can I plant?

A.  First of all, don't totally give up on your "lost" plants, keep an eye on them and you may find that they start to shoot in the spring when you can cut back the dead stems to the healthy live wood. Fuchsias - many are only half-hardy anyhow. Often it's a question of size, larger plants can be more frost-resistant than are smaller specimens.

As for what to plant, most "hardy" plants available in this country are fully frost hardy, but as you've found out - to different degrees, shades of grey rather than black and white. The best strategy is the one you've identified yourself which is look around locally at what does best. If you get late frosts, it'll be as well to avoid early flowering plants though many bulbs are fine. Aconites? plant in the autumn as bulbs.


Q. We are not very good/successful gardeners and to make matters worse we are on solid clay. Hence we have had an extensive area of patio and decking in excess of 80m2 just laid and have decided to have lots of varying sizes of pots around the patio area. However, it appears that we need to be careful in what we plant as we are prone to quite a bit of wind and frost. Could you please suggest plants to put into these pots, some pots are already purchased and quite large. I like the idea of small trees and shrubs. The garden is south facing and is largely in the sun for the majority of the day.

A.  If you going to plant a lot of containers, you have to make sure that you're going to water them regularly. They are more effort than having plants in the ground as they can dry out much more quickly having a lesser root system. If you have a lot it may be worth your looking at installing an automatic watering system.

It might sound like I'm avoiding the question, but I'd recommend you buy a good container gardening book as there are literally hundreds of plants you could grow, a book should cost you the same or less than one plant and so will easily pay for itself.

These will be ok in the conditions you describe:

  • There are a good number of small, slow growing conifers
  • Buxus sempervivens - box
  • Hebes
  • Lavender
  • Herbs in summer at least
  • Rhododendrons (make sure you buy ericaceous compost),
  • Roses

Q.  I have moved into a house that sits approx 50m from a busy road. I'm looking to plant something that will suppress some of the traffic noise. I have been advised to plant Cupressus x Lleylandii or Laurel. Can you suggest any alternatives or are these the best defence for all year round protection?

A.  It depends on the length of the barrier, your budget and also how high you want the barrier to be.

For noise suppression a fence works best, the noise bounces back off it. This can be planted in front or behind with a hedge to hide the fence and also help soak more noise up. The hedge will also help to reduce dust and pollution from the road.

You need a thick dense hedge to suppress noise and the two plants suggested are ideal, evergreen, dense and quick growing (though slower than a fence!). Of the two I'd go for laurel, it's less unruly than Lleylandii and looks better too (it also flowers in spring). You could use Lawson Cypress if you don't like laurel, it's not as quick as Lleylandii which has advantages and disadvantages.

Another trick you could try is to have a small water feature in your garden. It's surprising how a fairly quiet feature with running water can help to disguise background noise.


Q.  I am moving to a house which only has a walled paved courtyard. I would like to grow climbers up the wall, but I am unsure of the best way. Can climbers be grown in containers and how should they be cared for?

A.  There's no reason that climbers can't be grown in containers like any other plants. Pick the largest containers you can afford, I'd recommend ceramic or terra cotta for perennials as plastic ones do deteriorate in time.

You have to be careful in choosing the climbers themselves as many are very vigorous indeed and so you want to use smaller, more restrained varieties. There's nothing special that you need to do, just make sure the containers are kept moist and not allowed to dry out as they won't receive enough water directly from rain, this will be a year-round comittment. Also, you need to think carefully about positioning the containers as once a climbers is attached to a trellis or other support it's going to stay that way without either some drastic cutting back or a very complicated and fiddly extrication task.


Q. What kind of shrub could I buy for a dear friends 55th wedding anniversary (emerald)

A.  There are no really spectacular shrubs that are called or associated with "Emerald" there's a couple of Euonymus called "Emerald and Gold" and "Emerald and Silver" which are low-growing foliage shrubs that are variegated green and yellow and green and cream/white respectively, but they're both more supporting cast than main event.

You don't say when the anniversary is but if it's shortly I'd get them a large flowering shrub such as a Rhododendron that does it's stuff each year at the time of the anniversary. You could also get them a large container to put it in (with ericaceous compost for the Rhododendron) anywhere from budget (plastic) to as large and expensive terracotta or ceramic as you want. The larger the container you can afford the better, the plant will always grow into it, but could only grow out of it if it was too small.


Q.  I have been growing Acers in containers for the past 9 years. We went on holiday and asked our neighbour to water them for us. He very proudly explained to us that he has been giving them a good helping of Miracle Grow (which is a liquid feed) each day for the past 3 weeks.

They are now all dying, is there anything I can do to save them it breaks my heart to watch them dying, after so many years of loving tender care.

A.  Flush them through with lots of plain water, stand the pots in water (need something big) for a couple of hours, take it out, let it drain, leave overnight repeat 3 or 4 times, don't immerse the roots in water for more than about 2 hours at a time, use as large a volume as possible. It's all about getting rid of the excess of fertiliser in the soil.


Q.  I have a small conifer in a pot which for the last four years has done really well. In the last year it has started to die in patches and go brown. What is the cause of this, would it be its location as moved just over a year ago and now in south facing garden.

A.  I'd say the move is the cause, but indirectly. Conifers are sensitive to a lack of water when in containers and are easily killed or suffer as yours seems to be by a lack of water. Being south facing means more sunshine and water loss than before which will probably be the cause. Conifers are particularly difficult in this regard as they don't wilt like broad-leaved plants as a warning to top them up. They sail through the drought phase looking fine and only start to show the signs of the drought when they're being watered again and when it's too late.

Alternatively, and this is probably an equally likely alternative depending on what is around you. Your conifer could be suffering the effects of vine weevil larvae feeding on the roots - a particular problem for containerised plants. Dig into the compost or upend the plant and remove the pot, whichever is easiest, and look for small cream coloured c-shaped grubs 5-10mm long.

What to do about it? Re-pot your plant is appropriate (if it's too big for its pot), top dress the soil by replacing the top 2 inches with fresh soil / compost if you don't want to repot and give it a feed. If you've vine weevils, they can be killed chemically though I'd just empty out the compost, use it as a mulch around the garden, they don't survive in the soil like they do in containers, then scrub the container with a disinfectant before refilling it again.


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