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When I was about six or seven I remember adding leaves to our houseplant pots to rot down and feed the plants, hoping I could create an everlasting houseplant like all the plants out in the woods behind our garden. Obviously this plan was flawed but the principle, of gardening in a way that is…
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If there’s one plant I can guarantee you’ll see more of this year it’s Persicaria runcinata ‘Purple Fantasy’. One of the foliage Persicaria tribe – this one a cultivar of a species native to the eastern Himalayas – it’s easy to grow in full sun to part shade and creates an exciting, attention grabbing focal…
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On Sunday I had the chance for a proper sesh down the allotment and it was marvellous! The sun wasn’t shining and it was a bit chilly but all the better for some weeding. Weeding around asparagus I always pull out the weeds with a slight sense of regret because I like them, in fact…
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There are some things I feel people need to know about author and writer Alice Vincent. Crucially, Alice can tear up a dance floor like a mofo, but also she’s an excellent photographer, a dab hand at DIY and a keen gardener. Her London flat is awesome, filled with plants and rescued items of furniture,…
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I don’t know how it’s happened but I seem to have used up all of my pots and seed trays. I don’t feel I’m growing more than last year, in fact it feels like I’m not growing enough for my allotment, yet it must be the opposite. Does anyone else ever get that feeling? To…
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I’ve finally spent a good afternoon in our garden after being super busy with other people’s gardens for the last couple of months. Normally I’d have our garden looking spick and span by mid-March but with being away in California and spring being the busiest time for garden design, I’m a bit behind. In the winter I tucked our shed round the side creating more space and revealing the cement stairs to our neighbour’s flat. Some wouldn’t like these stark steps but I love their concrete wall.

Tweaks for 2019

To recap: this year I’m making our garden planting taller for more privacy, introducing more evergreen tropicals for increased structure and upping the tropical ante by removing some non-tropical plants, including many grasses. I’ve also removed the table we never used and have two chairs for Chris and I to use instead. One of the big changes seems so obvious to do now but rather than having exposed gravel down the side with pots on – as much as I like that look – I’ve decided to remove the weed suppressant matting which has been there for decades and instead plant direct into the ground and gravel. The garden feels slightly more open already and will reduce the need for watering in summer – hooray!

Spring white flowers

In the last few weeks the garden has sprung into life with everything starting to shoot (even dahlias) and many spring plants flowering, such as our above plum tree and my treasured Pulsatilla vulgaris ‘Alba’ and Narcissus ‘Thalia’.

Refreshing compost in pots

At this time of year it’s important I do some routine maintenance on our collection of pot plants, particularly replenishing with fresh peat free compost. I’ve used peat free for about five years now for everything and find it works better. As with any compost, it can run out of nutrients so for permanent plantings like shrubs and my dahlia collection I remove the top half of the compost, add some organic fertiliser and top up with new compost. Our Cannas are shooting strongly now and the dahlias all had shoots below the surface. Below are most of our larger pots which look bare now but will be lush very soon indeed.

I’m setting aside some pots for annuals I’m growing from seed. You’ll see most of our pots have always been terracotta and the few plastic pots we use are left over from bought plants and now a number of years old. How’s that for recycling.

Fern wall almost back to full health

I’m making some repairs to our fern wall by repotting some plants and nurturing others back into health, which is why half are currently on the ground. It’s already looking lusher than this time last year because in 2018 the Beast from the East killed ALL of the fronds! My fern collection is only just recovering but I’m pleased to see that it is. Even some of the rarer and more tender ferns are back.

Sweet peas

A few years ago I grew sweet peas in this pot but it was then occupied by a clematis that looked unhappy with pot life in later summer. I always grow dark purple and pink sweet peas and this year’s batch look healthy so far, I sow in January for tough plants but that hopefully keep flowering until October. They’re starting to scramble away.

Begonia rex leaf cuttings

Last autumn I took some Begonia rex leaf cuttings and to my surprise had loads of baby begonias! I gave some away but kept these four which look very healthy. The plan is to grow them on and plant outside before repeating this autumn. I’m hoping the parent plant, which looks very unhappy inside, will recover too. Leaf cuttings are easy, just cut up a new leaf and rest on damp compost in a covered propagator, eventually you’ll see roots and shoots.

Window box dreaming

For the last four years I only had one of these window boxes on this window ledge until today I realised I could fit both on! What an idiot! lol I haven’t decided what to put in our window boxes here and out front yet but I’m excited about this new option. To think, I almost threw one of these out today!

Other goings on

A lot of the tasks I’ve been concentrating on this month are around propagation, from seed sowing to cuttings and divisions. Above is half my allotment to be with my brassica seedlings growing nicely. I also have a good mix of different prairie grasses here, though you wouldn’t know it yet.

Many plants I’ve managed to pot on, including my salvias, conifer collection and hardy succulents. Gradually I’m moving everything around and I’m hoping the result will be a more complete garden than in previous years.

One aspect that is really important to me is for the garden to feel semi-natural and unpredictable, with many self seeders I introduced a few years ago now popping up randomly all over the place. I love this element of surprise and lack of control, so I tend to leave most to grow where they choose to.

Many annuals tend to be perennial in our garden, including Nicotiana, one of which is now a huge beast of a plant.

Another improvement this year is that I’m doing away with pots containing mixes of plants and instead I’m planting only one type of plant per pot to give me some good splodges of colour and shape to mix together later in summer. I enjoy mixed pots but it’s more ‘me’ to have a good, visibly healthy plant per pot.

All in all, our patio might look messy and muddy now but I’ve broken the camel’s back. All I really need to do now is tidy up on a dry day, finish planting up and then do some final moves when the plants are all growing nicely.

From Clapham, London – see ya next time.

Jack

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I’m an organic gardener and avoid using chemicals, I’m particularly guarded around edible crops, such as on my allotment. However, it’s been bugging me in recent years that so many people have been calling for glyphosate, the chemical used in many weedkillers like Round Up, to be banned outright with very little research to support their reasons why.

Essentially it is believed that glyphosate is a carcinogenic substance, it is thought to potentially cause cancer. My bug bear is people calling for an outright ban before this is even proven and without even considering weed killer’s different uses. The biggest being agricultural use where weedkiller is used en masse not just to kill weeds but on crop plants to make them easier to harvest, this is pretty much the only way glyphosate would enter a normal person’s body. This is of big concern to me. Equally, councils and parks using it to spray large expanses means the person spraying is exposed to far more spray and mist than the average person.

Glyphosate in home use however, where someone might spray it once every year or two on a problem patch of bindweed or bramble is an entirely different matter. People spraying or painting glyphosate onto these rare instances are incredible unlikely to have the chemical enter their body and certainly nowhere near the levels described above. This distinction is critical and every news story and campaigner conveniently ignores this.

If I sound like I’m defending a potentially dangerous chemical I’m not, I’m defending real news in a time of fake news. I want to understand the true facts, something I find incredibly difficult to find – which is surprising given how much people claim to know everything there is about glyphosate as fact. If glyphosate is as bad as claimed we need to know, if it’s not, we need to know that too. Another bug bear of hysteria around one topic is that it ignores all of the other potentially harmful, perhaps worse, substances people aren’t talking about.

To add to the argument I’m going to start documenting actual research from credible sources below. Some will say glyphosate is bad, some will say it’s fine. But by going direct to the source, we can start to discover the real picture and draw our own accurate conclusions. If you know of a research study available online (the original research report, not a news story’s interpretation of one) please let me know and I’ll add it below.

Glyphosate research

Below is a list of research, the important thing to remember with each piece of research’s conclusion is that it isn’t actually conclusive around glyphosate as a whole! Which may sound ridiculous but research all has different methodologies and are often investigating only a limited number of variables, which in isolation can be misleading. We need lots of research and to build a wider picture.

  • National Toxicology Programme for US Government: This page links to three studies that show glyphosate may and also is not a carcinogenic substance. It also outlines in detail what the US Government is doing to research the subject. Link: https://ntp.niehs.nih.gov/results/areas/glyphosate/index.html
  • Bio Med Nature: “Our results suggest that chronic exposure to a GBH in an established laboratory animal toxicity model system at an ultra-low, environmental dose can result in liver and kidney damage with potential significant health implications for animal and human populations.” However it found high doses did not. Link: https://ehjournal.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12940-015-0056-1
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The race to grow is primal in all living things. One of the challenges of planting a new border in autumn is that other plants, the unwanted, are fastest to nature’s buffet, germinating and growing in winter as though it were spring. Urtica dioica, the common stinging nettle, is a real problem on this patch and something I hope to outgrow, as is Malva sylvestris (as pretty as that is, it’s not for here). If these tough weeds think they’re alone they are mistaken however because there are now signs of life and the adventure begins. Spring bulbs planted in October have begun to poke through the soil. Slow now but with enough fuel stored to propel them upward above ground.

A lone Crocus ‘Flower Record’ does the opposite of glow, one of three cultivars I planted in Autumn, its light absorbent silk-purple flower bud about to open. Small from a distance, incredible when I crouch down and look into its deep ink up close. Petals three times larger than the plant itself. I’ve planted low creeping ground covers among the crocus to smother future unwanted plants. My hands will do most of the work keeping weeds at bay this winter but there will be no stopping my chosen plants by the end of summer.

Although I’m growing the meadow for fun now, I’ve found myself already looking forward to year two, three and beyond when all of my introduced plants will have bulked enough to fend off competitors from weeds and chomping snails. Plants I’ve been adding are thugs by nature, perhaps more so than most gardeners would want in a garden. I’ve grown all of these in significant numbers before and I love that they grow out of control. This is a persistent, long term planting.

Many of the plants like my Astrantia major ‘Ruby Star’ cuttings and Eryngium giganteum seedling are still below ground and I question to myself if they’re still there. Particularly the Eryngium, so tiny last year when planted out with the intention for it to multiply in years to come. I know it has a strong tap root and I’m hoping it was tough enough to face its first winter, beyond that it will need no help from me. Two Echinacea purpurea ‘Fatal Attraction’ plants have little red shoots at the base ready to grow. In our garden the emerging leaves of Echinacea are devoured by indiscriminate snails, here in the open ground I hope they fare better.

Rosettes of Centaurea cyanus are quite attractive things with soft downy leaves hugging the ground. They look fragile but are extremely tough plants.

Of biggest surprise are the annual volunteers, Centaurea cyanus ‘Black Boy’ pops up in greater numbers every year where I originally grew it for cut flowers. Silvery green and purple rosettes that look fragile but are tough. Originally in a neat little line, it’s now mingling more naturally with Papaver somniferum and Nigella damascena. Three different rosettes I now recognise easily and fondly. These annual plants have made themselves at home in self sustaining populations. Calendula ‘Sherbert Fizz’ is there somewhere too and an ever increasing population of Cerinthe major – both will germinate in their hundreds at some point in spring. I don’t need to do anything except weed out the odd Senecio vulgaris and Elymus repens trying to muscle in.

At home I have a Belfast sink in which last year I planted a division of Monarda didyma ‘Cambridge Scarlet’, tiny then, it has now taken over the entire sink. This week I cut out two squares, crowded snake like runners of the plant, slipped them into pots and took them to the future meadow. Without much care I firmed them into position together toward the back where they’ll benefit from some shade of other plants. Keeping them together in one big clump rather than dotting them around as I did the Rudbeckias.

I’m deliberately not creating a plan upfront for this meadow, instead making random decisions as I go, not a method I advise although it allows for some serendipitous planting combinations, or at least I hope it does. One theme emerged early on however that I’m clumping most colours together in partners I believe work well together, so it’s not totally hit and miss, whereas the bright yellows I’m doing the opposite, and spacing them all around the place to make little dots of bright here and there.

On my next visit to the allotment I plan to remove one of the old structures separating the two halves of the meadow, opening up more planting space and joining the halves together. This will give me the first proper look at the space and planting I’ve created, particularly now some of the plants are starting to grow.

Alliums, of which I’ve so far planted three types, are sending their leaves up. The three types are: A. sphaerocephalon, excess bulbs from our garden, A. hollandicum ‘Purple Sensation’ because it’s still the cultivar with the best colour, and A. christophii for it’s supersize flower heads low to the ground but mainly because I think of it as Christopher’s Allium due to the name.

Making the most of the warmer weather in February, I lifted another Miscanthus from our garden, M. sinensis ‘Gracillimus’. It’s in a pot at home getting over the shock of being ripped from the ground but I’ll plant it out in late March where it will be much happier in the allotment’s greater sunlight. Our garden is too shady for it, it never grew any bigger – in fact, I’m sure it’s grown smaller over the last few years. It’s sitting alongside various other grass seedlings and divisions on our patio and I’ll only plant them when I know we’re past the frosts and I can see they’re growing strongly. Grasses are often thugs but until they’re big enough they can be out thugged by strong perennials.

The interesting thing about the meadow is that I don’t know what it will look like, it may be a big colourful mess. In someways, I hope it is. The idea being I can then see what does and doesn’t work well together this year and continue to make adjustments every year after. All of the plants will contribute to this evolution because they’ll self-seed, spread, etc. What it should create however is an interesting and fun planting for me and wildlife that not only looks after itself, but reduces the need to weed. The main criteria for success is the meadow’s survival without my involvement. Although aesthetically I will always want to move things around.

As we approach the end of winter, spring is certainly on the way and the plants know it. Verbena hastata, grown from seed last year, look totally dead but scrape away some of the sandy soil and many dark red shoots can be seen. Locked and loaded and I know full well these plants are vigorous space hoggers.

The only other thing to note from winter: at home Cirsium rivulare has grown so strongly that one growing point had been pushed above soil level by the rest of the plant’s roots. I snapped this off, put it in a pot and already it’s off and growing into a new plant. When a little bigger this too will make its way to the future meadow.

Jack

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February 2019 has shaped up to be beautiful weather wise with warm days of sunshine bringing out the bumble bees in our urban wildlife garden.

Funnily enough I’ve never once seen a bee go near our snowdrops, instead they fuss around Hellebores, Cyclamen persicum and C. coum. Yet something must like the snowdrops because they are pollinated, the tiny baby leaves of seedlings from last year around the garden are evidence. The warm weather has certainly brought out the mystery snowdrop pollinators because the flowers are already going over after only a week or so.

Although I plant various cultivars in designed gardens, I’m personally drawn to the simplicity of Galanthus nivalis. On my allotment I have the species Galanthus elwesii, often reported to be one of the best, but I find it far too bulky and heavy. Nostalgia wise G. nivalis is the one I grew up with in little clumps under trees as if put there by fairies. They flower at the time of my brother Edward’s birthday, they’re my reminder to send a card. A few years ago I blogged about the need to move snowdrops in the green being a myth – mine are all bulb grown – and I’m glad to see this opinion has carried across all media and that incorrect recommendation is going away. This year is the first I can see our clumps are bulking up with some haste.

Helleborus ‘White Single’

In our garden I have a few Hellebores, having run a test to find some good white flowered varieties a few years ago. Some I already moved on to other gardens and H. ‘Ivory Prince’ I’m going to move to my allotment. It was my first but I’ve had it in a pot for five years now and I can see it would be happier in the ground. Its flowers are also not white enough for our winter garden, as stunning as they are – H. ‘Ivory Prince’ is one of the best cultivars. Helleborus x hybridus ‘Molly’s White’ I’ve had for a few years now and its flower stems are tall and strong, though the flower sepals don’t stay white for very long. I’ve planted this one finally into a prime spot high on the raised bed directly facing our doors to view it perfectly from inside.

Aspidistra elatior

Last year I brutally divided my congested Aspidistra elatior into various new divisions. They were of course all fine, this is a tough plant that can handle anything. I’m very pleased with the largest clump (above) now in a little spot in the living room. As they’re slow growing I can understand why some people find them uninteresting but I like the tropical lushness they offer for little effort. I have one clump in the bedroom and I plan to put another outside (they’re hardy).

Calamagrostis brachytricha

I’ve been moving the majority of our beautiful ornamental grasses out of the garden and down to my prairie and meadow on the allotment. Most of these I’ve grown from seed over the years as part of an extensive five year study into grasses (on going). It’s easy to see how much happier Calamagrostis brachytricha will be out in the wild, talk about pot bound! I’ve been moving multiple Miscanthus too, a genus of grass that was once extremely popular but that popularity seems to be slowing down. Personally this is the genus of grass I’m now most focussed on. I love grasses making it sad not having them close to the house but I need the space and removing them will bring a change in feel to the garden.

Leucadendron argenteum

With the warmer weather and March around the corner I decided to get stuck into organising the garden for the year ahead. I’ve been planning tweaks to the planting this year with some big moves and took the opportunity of the warmer soils to dig out, divide and plant out a bunch of things. Cannas are now in their final positions, many plants in pots I’ve planted into the ground to help minimise watering. Some areas I can’t figure out why I didn’t do this before… you live and learn.

I’ve begun sowing seeds of Ricinus communis and took cuttings of Tradescantia pallida ‘Purpurea’, two key plants of our garden since it was created in 2015. I’ve also sown seeds of Rudbeckia, tomatoes, chillis and aubergine. Over the coming weeks in March I’ll have sown most of my ornamental seeds.

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Everyone can grow a beautiful window box. Even if you’re renting or in full shade, it’s easy to plant up a snazzy box of planty lushness. So to celebrate window boxes it’s time for the Window Box of the Year awards!  Winter – spring window box

I love window boxes and I want to encourage EVERYONE to have a go at growing a window box this year. They brighten up not just our own homes but our streets for the community around us as well as giving wildlife a little extra home and source of food.

So please, take up the challenge, even if it’s just for fun, and take part in the great Window Box of the Year 2019 competition! Enter at any time in spring or summer with your creation by adding a photo on Twitter or Instagram with the hashtag #windowboxoftheyear and a little info about the plants and why you chose them. It’s free, it’s easy and your photo will give others inspiration to grow!

Window boxes will be judged on a variety of merits and not just how extravagant they are. The judges will be looking for creativity, care and a display built to last – one of the rules is that the display must last for at least one season (e.g. three months of summer).

There will be “celebrity gardening judges” *, there will be “an award ceremony” **, there will be “real awards” *** and there will be window box glory ****!

* To be confirmed
** Probably in a pub
*** They’ll be cheap as chips but they will be real
**** There definitely will be glory

How to enter

Entering is easy, simply post a photo on Twitter or Instagram at some point between now and 1st September 2019 of your window box front on, like this:

Dem Rules
  • Must be your own window box planted up by you.
  • Photo must be face on like the above pic, and your own photo.
  • Post the photo on Instagram or Twitter with a bit of info about it, why you chose the plants and the hashtag #windowboxoftheyear
  • Must have been planted between 1 Jan 2019 and 15 Sept 2019.
  • Must be planted to last for at least one whole season, e.g. the three months of spring.
  • Closing date 31 Sept 2019.
  • Judge’s decision is final.
Award categories up for grabs
  • First time lucky – your first ever window box!
  • Stylista – something so sleek it belongs in Vogue.
  • Shades out – a window box in shade.
  • Lights fantastic – brighter than a unicorn.
  • Nibble me – an edible window box.
  • Long distance – planted to last for at least 12 months.
  • Boxtastic – forget the plants, best actual window box ‘box’.
  • Outside the box – best window display using pots instead of a window box (but must be on the window ledge, not around)
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