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Now is the time to weed and tidy up in the garden, before the weeds get too big.  Composting is the easy way to get rid of the resulting piles of unwanted greenery.  If you haven’t done it before, here is the low-down.

Why compost?
  • You get a fabulous soil conditioner to help make your soil more healthy and to feed your plants
  • Save watering by using the compost as a mulch round your plants
  • Stop council tax increasing by sending less to their recycling
  • Reduce global warming by preventing the release of methane. This gas is released when organic matter in landfills reacts with other materials

Not bad for something so easy to do! And it’s very satisfying to see the result – a sweet-smelling earthy crumbly mixture.

How to compost
  • Find a container. Four pallets wired together or a roll of chicken wire will suffice. Many councils sell good plastic composters at half price
  • Let your bin allow worms in through the base (though even without it you’ll get compost eventually) – plastic ones usually have holes for this
  • Add materials in a rough ratio 2:1 or 3:2 ‘Browns’:’Greens’ (though there are many ‘recipes’). ‘Brown’ materials are dry brown things like straw, dry leaves, paper, cardboard, dried weeds and sawdust; they give carbon. ‘Greens’ are wet, fresh things like vegetable peelings, grass cuttings and fresh weeds; they give nitrogen. Soak dry materials and cut up things like cardboard.
  • If you have time, put in layers of greens and browns. If not, put in as you go and stir and turn the heap from time to time. It should be damp but not wringing wet.
  • Cover (use old quilt or carpet for lidless heaps) and leave 3-6 months or more.
The process
  • Aerobic and anaerobic organisms eat the waste. The first need air, the second do not. So a mixture of containment and aeration works – in any case, it’s a natural process that will happen anyway. You can speed it up, however, with the method above
Problems?
  • Smell: Add ‘browns’
  • Flies: Turn and add ‘greens’
  • Damp: Add ‘browns’. Especially important with grass cuttings, and in winter
The result
  • Soil-like crumbly brown material which smells nice, made of decomposed plant and animal material
What next
  • Leave on top of the soil as a mulch and feed.  The worms will do the work of taking it into the soil for you
  • For more ideas, ‘Bob’s Basics: Composting’ by Bob Flowerdew, panellist on Radio 4’s Gardener’s Question Time, will give you more details and even a history of composting.  I read ‘Backyard Composting’ by John Roulac (£2.49) and ‘Organic Gardening’ (RHS encyclopaedias, Pears and Strickland).
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Photo by Vernon Raineil Cenzon on Unsplash

Here is a guest post from author and garden designer Karoline Gore, in time for the planting season.

Building your own garden is one of the most soothing and enjoyable activities you can do, but why not make it beneficial for wildlife too? Bees account for ?400 million of the U.K. economy through pollination alone. Bees are a staple of the ecosystem and necessary for dozens of fruits and vegetables, including strawberries and tomatoes, and are a wonderful addition to gardens for these reasons. So when you’re looking for new ideas for your garden, consider adding bees to the familiar ecosystem.

Why Bees?

Over 25 species of bees live in the U.K. alone, but that number can be misleading. Three species of bee have already gone extinct, two are critically endangered, and many more are rapidly declining in numbers. Yet, bees account for 80% of crop yields! It’s not all bad news, though. Honeybees, in general, are very passive and gentle as well, and many home gardeners are taking the initiative and building gardens that attract bees. Creating a haven in your own garden is only one of the ways to help protect the bee population. With everyone working together, we can build beautiful gardens and help a species in need at the same time

Bringing Bees To Your Garden

There are a variety of ways to bring bees into your garden. Keep in mind when planting that bees love the colours blue, purple, and yellow, and are attracted to beautiful plants like dandelions, lilacs, and gaillardia. Provide a fresh water source that doubles as decoration such as a birdbath or water feature. And of course, don’t use any pesticides or chemicals in your garden – you don’t want to harm them, and most of these are harmful to plants as well.

You’ll also want to hold off on tearing weeds out of your gardens. Weeds have natural beauty in themselves, but they’re also great food for honeybees.

Bee-friendly flower colours

That’s it! Making a bee friendly garden is as easy as adding a few colourful plants, giving them some water to sip, and giving them some weeds their young can munch on. You can successfully create a stunning and vibrant garden while also helping keep the bee population alive and well. At that point, your garden stops just being about you but becomes about helping the ecosystem at large. And we can all feel good about that.

PS from Jane: Here are some good pictures of the different bees in British gardens so you can identify them.

https://friendsoftheearth.uk/bee-count/great-british-bee-count-bee-identification-guide

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Many of the shrubs that flower in winter and early spring have strongly-scented flowers, so they can attract any lone bee that is out there this time of year. And their scent also draws me outside to appreciate these hardy plants. I’ve planted 3 winter-flowering shrubs together near the house, together with a seat, so I can sit and breathe in the scent. 

The wintersweet, or chimonanthus praecox ‘Grandiflora’, is a big, rather messy shrub that I have to hack back in the summer to tidy.  But it’s worth growing for the delicate waxy yellow flowers appearing on the bare branches in January.  It took a few years to get going properly, but now it flowers in abundance and smells wonderful.

I have just read in a good article by Ursula Buchan that this is a dome-shaped shrub – so now I know what shape to cut it in this summer!  NB Don’t prune it until it is a few years old, or you will delay its flowering even later.  You can also train it against a wall.  A warm, sheltered position is best, both for flowering and for ensuring it makes it through the winter (it’s frost resistant down to 14F/-10C).

Below this is sweet box or sarcococca confusa, a neater evergreen with small dark green shiny leaves, which now is sporting rows of little white trumpet-shaped flowers with long stamens – and another scent to enjoy.

Beside this is a wildly sprouting winter honeysuckle Lonicera fragrantissima, with small white honey-scented flowers along long branches. It flowers better against a warm wall.  Mine faces south-west, so despite a little shade in the morning, it fits the bill.  I may move this so I can appreciate winter scent somewhere else, but for now I just stand and sniff each plant in turn.  The wintersweet’s perfume is strongest but each is good.

There is also a deep purple-pink hellebore, offspring of one bought in Coton Manor Garden, below all this.

(NB: Coton Manor is open 16th Feb-3rd March 2019 to view snowdrops and hellebores – it’s in Northamptonshire, worth visiting all year.)

The corner has taken a few years to develop but is well worth it now, something to appreciate and tempt me to venture into the garden when there’s little else to see.  NB: the yuccas are back in this space too.. see my previous post about this!

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In the hot days of summer, I was lucky enough to be one of 35 garden designers spending the day with Tom Stuart Smith. As a garden designer Tom has Chelsea Gold medals and Best in Show for his designs. The event was organised by Gillian Goodson in aid of Horatio’s Garden, which creates and cares for gardens at NHS spinal injury centres.

Tom spent the whole visit with us, which we weren’t expecting, so we found out a lot about how he created his garden and why he did what he did, as well as what he’d do if he were to start over again – very useful for all of us.  He also took us to his sister’s garden across the road at Serge Hill and let us use the natural swimming pond at the end of a hot day, much obliged!!

The first part we saw was where the farmyard used to be, surrounded by barns.  It was a stunning beginning, as parts of Tom’s Chelsea garden from 2005 have been transposed into the space.  It is sheltered by lovely feathery Etna Broom trees (Genista aetnensis):

The plants suit the hot and dry space here.  Euphorbia mellifera grows in some places to 2m and in others is cut back, mixing in with other plants:

Other sun-loving drought tolerant plants filled the space with the euphorbia, such as grasses and eryngium (with enthusiastic designers in the background):

The tanks of Corten steel have inky still water making the place relaxing and contemplative.

The house looks on to the main back garden, which is filled with the tall herbaceous plants that Tom loves, cut through with grass paths:

Looking back to the house:

Then there were beds of perennials punctuated by tall conifers:

A large wildflower meadow had just been cut, next to the back of the house.  We perched on straw bales to eat our lunch.

Not only is there a meadow, but a prairie, with no grasses, and many tightly packed flowering plants, some must have been 3m high:

And another meadow-like area behind it:

Beyond the meadow is a wood, and beyond that, a natural swimming pond, where we enjoyed a post-visit plunge.  Thank you, Tom!

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For any faithful followers of my blog, sorry to be away so long – I have been busy working and travelling.  I’ve just visited a great botanic garden with a fresh modern design: the ‘Australian Garden’ of the Royal Victoria Botanic Gardens, near Melbourne, Australia.  The garden manages to display plants in meaningful groups – families, or habitat, or interest – in ways that can intrigue and interest everyone, and become a great exploratory day out – as evidenced by the many families I saw there.

It’s set in a larger park of native bushland, and it’s free to enter. 

The traditional custodians of this land are the Boon Wurrung people of the Koolin Nation, and they are acknowledged as such by the Royal Botanic Gardens.

The garden is split up by expanses of water, navigated by paths of varying materials – I enjoyed my mobility scooter ride round ‘Howson Hill’  and across a wooden bridge to ‘Melaleuca Spits’,  where plants growing where rivers meet the sea are showcased in a shoreline of sweeping curves:

Nearby is another small hill with a dramatic rock face descending to the water and great slices of rock protruding at intervals.

On this is the Weird and Wonderful garden, with unusual plants such as the Queensland Bottle Tree, a baobab-like tree which stores water in its trunk, a great tactic in a dry environment:

The tree above came from a front garden, after floods caused the tree to swell so much it became too big.

The gardens could not be without the most common tree species in Australia, and there is a garden of Eucalypts.  Brits may not be familiar with the pretty flowers and cones they produce:

Grass trees can be hundreds of years old:…

Lastly, the garden’s centrepiece is the Red Sand Garden, with the vibrant deep red sand of the Australian desert, dotted with planting of acacia and spinifex, and flat curving sculpture.

If you’re in the area, I recommend this garden as a way of finding out more about Australian native plants as well as an enjoyable outing.

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