Three ways to plant a terrarium

You know the string of hearts plant that I bought last week for my sister’s birthday and then fell in love with so much I became reticent to give it away?

Well, I needn’t have worried, for she is a sister of excellent taste and – at our joint birthday celebration last weekend – she gave me this.

Copper terrarium planting ideas | Wolves in LondonA copper framed terrarium.

Isn’t it a beauty?

I’ve been lusting after a terrarium for some time now, and we both admired some excellent examples earlier this year at Grow London. Wonderful sister that she is, she remembered and bought me my very own.

But with such beauty comes great responsibility. I wanted to make sure I planted it up in a way that worked with its lovely exterior. And though I’ve been studying horticulture in one form or other for three years now, I am still fairly new to keeping houseplants. (Or at least, to keeping them alive…)

So as soon as I got home I jumped on Pinterest and started looking for the perfect planting choices to go inside this little gem.

Here are my three favourite options for terrarium plants:

  1. Succulents

Succulent terrarium
From Wit and Whistle
Succulent terrarium
From Floral Verde

Needless to say, succulents were the very first thing that sprang to mind. Most of the Pin-worthy terrariums that I’ve been lusting after have delicate little plantings of succulents on top.

This won’t work in a sealed terrarium (mine is an open version) as the succulents don’t like humidity and can start to rot, but with a bit of heat and a bit of air flow, they should stay pretty happy.

I absolutely love succulents at the moment (who doesn’t, right?), but after considering it for a while, I decided that my terrarium was too big for my favourite rosette-type  and it would be a bit of a waste of all the vertical space at the top, which could better be filled with a taller plant.

Still, I’ve been feasting on pictures of these fat-leaved delights.

  1. Tillandsia

Tillandisa terrarium
From Centro Garden
Air plant terrarium in a lightbulb
From The hipster home

AKA air plants. This is another great terrarium option, for the obvious reason that they don’t need soil to survive. And soil in a nice glass container can end up looking a bit… …mucky.

In the wild, air plants grow in jungles or deserts, the roots attached not to the soil below, but to the trunks of other trees or rocks. (This can allow them to grow high up in the tree’s canopy and get to sunlight that wouldn’t reach the jungle floor below.)

In terrariums, you can place them onto whatever looks attractive: a few pebbles, a piece of wood, sand: anything that won’t retain too much moisture and cause the plant to rot. Then you just need to spritz it with water every now and again to keep it moist.

Having read up a bit on tillandsia, I am definitely tempted to buy a few, but not, I think, for my terrarium. I think those copper edges might not work so well with the fine, feathery leaves that characterise lots of air plants. And so, on to…

  1. Pitcher plants.

Pitcher plant terrarium
From Apartment Therapy
Pitcher plant terrarium
From Lila B Design

When I came across the photos above I knew that I’d found my dream plant.

I’ve had a passion for pitchers since an old flatmate strung one from our kitchen window when I was in my early 20s, but, I have to say, I have never succeeded in growing one myself.

I bought a lovely hanging pitcher plant from Columbia Road flower market years ago, but killed it off in record time (probably because I didn’t bother to water it with rain water…) Then, when we were living in Hong Kong for six months, I strung our balcony with a variety of different pitchers, but killed them all off before we moved out (probably because I didn’t bother to water them at all, thinking they would get water as they were outside. Of course, as we were in a towerblock balcony, there was no way they were getting wet in the rain…)

Still, I’ve learnt loads more about plants in the intervening years, so, fingers crossed, I should be able to keep them alive this time round.

After a bit of internet research I’ve found the brilliant sounding Triffid Nurseries in Sussex ( who specialise in carnivorous plants. I shall be making a trip in the near future and then will get on with planting up the terrarium. Promise to let you show you pictures once it’s done…

(Oh, and, just so you know, I couldn’t resist that string of hearts either. I went back to the shop I bought my sister’s one and got another for me. It’s sitting on my bookshelves and looking rather wonderful right now.)

Food collaging: my July harvest

July harvest | Wolves in LondonI’m completely addicted to taking courses.

Photography, blogging, garden design, how to rear alpacas… …you name it, if I’m half interested and there’s a course I could possibly take, chances are I’m going to sign up.

(I often think that if I won the lottery, the best thing of all would just be to take endless courses, learning ever-more-esoteric things, until I pop my clogs and depart this earth. What a heavenly way that would be to spend my days.)

Anyway, when I discovered Skillshare recently, a repository of short (about 30 min) online classes I was immediately hooked. The first thing to catch my eye was a course on food collaging, by Julie Lee of Julie’s Kitchen. (The class is here, if you’re similarly inclined: styling food for instagram.)

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you might recall that I used to do a monthly garden moodboard. I really loved it, but after 18 months or so I felt like I had already photographed every single plant in my garden so many times that I’d run out of ways to come up with anything new. So I stopped.

But I thought I’d resurrect these moodboards for the summer months this year, just to show off the highlights of my veg patch.

Following the tips and hints on the course, I put together my first moodboard: purples and greens from my garden in July. This is the pic I posted to my instagram account:

July food collage | Wolves in LondonI’ve got to say, I’m pretty happy with this photo. I mean, both with the photo and with the foodstuffs contained therein. Something that constantly amazes me is the absolute beauty of fruit and veg you’ve grown yourself. I’m sure it’s just the same as the way you think your own kids are the most gorgeous people ever to have walked this earth, but having sown, watered and cared for these little veggies for the past few months, I can’t help but marvel at their delicacy, the intricate patterns and beautiful colours.

Come, take a closer look with me.

Borlotti pod | Wolves in LondonBorlotti pod open | Wolves in LondonBorlotti beans | Wolves in LondonI’m a huge fan of the borlotti bean, despite the fact I fail, spectactularly, every single year to actually grow enough to make more than one single meal.

You could argue that one meal for months of tending a plant is really crappy pay off. And, I have to say, I’m inclined to agree with you. But no matter how many of these I think I’ve planted every year, I always lose hundreds of the plants to slugs and each plant only produces ten or so beans (at least the way I’m growing them…)

Every time I’ve planted them in the ground I’ve lost the entire crop to the voracious slimy beasts, so I keep them in pots now, with a line of copper tape at the top, but I still somehow managed to lose about a quarter of the crop. In fact, the beans in this photo make up the large majority of my entire yearly harvest.

Ah well, small numbers they might be, but just look at them! Surely the most beautiful bean ever to have been created?

Yin yang beans | Wolves in LondonA first for me this year was the yin yang bean (erm, you can see a pattern here, can’t you? Namely that I like a bean with a pattern…) Black and white mottling on the bean inside a green (turning to yellow) pod. It’s another glorious little thing.

Tomatillo | Wolves in LondonRipe tomatillo | Wolves in LondonTomatillo peeled | Wolves in LondonAlso new for me this year is the tomatillo. Basically, a tomato that grows inside its own casing, just like a Chinese gooseberry. Once the tomatillo inside fills the case and starts to burst out a little then you know it’s ready to eat. (Unlike a tomato, they don’t ever turn red.) You can peel back the papery case (which is covered in the most wonderful purpleish veins) and use the tomato inside. They need to be cooked before you eat them but other than that, they seem to taste pretty much the same as a tomato. Apparently, they’re a staple in Mexican cooking. I’ve got five plants growing and they seem to produce a lot of tomatillos each, so I should have a really decent harvest of these.

Garlic bulb | Wolves in LondonI’m not sure I’ve grown the garlic right — again the first year for me ever growing it. The leaves have gone yellow and started to wilt, which is the sign for pulling them up, but the garlic heads themselves are still very small. Still, I’ve been using the heads whole and they still seem to taste pretty good. I’ve been hugely fascinated by that light sheen of purple iridescence on the papery skins ever since I pulled them out of the ground last week, losing myself in the odd reverie, wondering at their beauty, in the middle of the kids’ tea, or when I’m meant to be making a sandwich. Beetroot | Wolves in London

Finally, and a little more prosaically, the humble beetroot. Root veg to end all root veg. The veg that some people claim tastes of nothing but dirt. Personally, I love it. Love, love, love the sweet taste of a roasted beetroot, the bright purple insides that bleed onto anything they touch and the green and purple veined leaves that taste a little bit overly “healthy” but bulk out a salad in times of need. Another mighty handsome vegetable in my opinion.

So there they, all photographed for posterity. A good thing, actually, since I’ve already devoured every last one: turned into a big ratatouille last week. Yum.

Next month I hope to have a huge selection of tomatoes to show you. The six different varieties I’m growing this year all seem to be coming along nicely and the first ones are turning red right now. Hoorah for homegrown.

You call this June?

June eh? I’ve got to confess, I’ve had the heating on these past two evenings. And looking out of the window, I can see that one of my tomato plants has been blown over in the winds. Sigh. Good old English summers…

Moaning aside, I dashed out of the back door the other evening, and took a few shots of the garden in between the showers. It’s been a while since I’ve taken any photos out there, but everything has been growing quite well recently, especially the veg. Anyway, come and see:

Flower bed
This is by far the worst photo in the post, so please keep reading. Why, in fact, am I even putting it at the top?!

Only one of my flower beds is even a little bit planted up. (We’re contemplating moving house this year (I know, I know! It seems a bit insane, but there we go…) and if not, then I plan to re-design the entire garden next year, once I’ve finished my garden design training. So, it seemed a bit silly to spend lots of time putting plants into beds only to either leave or have to dig them all out in a year.) This is that bed. On the left is the wallflower (Erysimum ‘Bowles mauve’) that I bought last year.

Allium christophii going to seed
The last of the flowers just clinging on

The alliums have been amazing (Allium giganteum) but by the time we got back from holiday, they were starting to go to seed. I do love the seed heads too, so they will stay in situ as long as they don’t get too windswept.

White allium
Can anyone identify?

And I think these are white allium, just about to bloom. I remember, vaguely, planting them last Autumn, but not exactly what they were.

Erigeron karvinskianus
Undoubtedly one of my all time favourite flowers

At the bottom, are lots of wonderful Mexican fleabane, aka daisies, aka Erigeron karvinskianus. I planted it all last year and it’s doing really well now. I just adore the way they turn pink as they get older.

Stachys byzantina and raindrop
Look at the amazing fine hairs

Also at the front of the bed, I procured some lamb’s ear (Stachys byzantina) on my recent trip to Painshill Park. I say “procured” which sounds as if I stole it, but I’m not that much of a rule-breaker and I just bought it from the shop. It’s one of my favourite plants ever (so very very very soft!) so I am pleased to finally have some in the garden. Of course, I will need to divide and increase the solitary plant I’ve put in and try to make a proper little clump of them at the front.

Pink geranium
I have the name of this kicking around somewhere, but it’s not to hand

Also recently purchased (from Eltham Palace, this time), this rather delicate looking pink geranium is currently in my window box, but I’m planning on moving it into this bed eventually too.

Campanula and forget-me-nots
You can leave this well alone and it will just keep on coming up, year after year, perfectly happy

There’s also a fair bit of campanula with the odd forget-me-not still going strong. Some say these are weeds, but as far as I am concerned, any plant that produces gorgeous flowers and is just happy looking after itself is very welcome in my garden.

Raindrop on sweet pea leaves
I wish now I had an even-more-macro lens

Elsewhere, I’m hardening my sweet peas off outside and found these little rain drops sitting in the leaves. Rather lovely.

Tomato Super Marmande
Just starting to unfurl…

The tomatoes are all just starting to flower. I can’t remember if I said before, but I’m growing many different varieties this year (Super Marmande, Gardener’s Delight, Tigerella, Tumbling Tom Yellow and some tomatilloes as well…) The one above is a Super Marmande, which I’ve not grown before. The flowers appear in the most amazing way: what seems to be a gigantic flower bud comes out at the very top of the stem, then slowly, it peels back and separates to reveal several individual flowers all on tiny stalks. Rather fascinating to watch.

No longer such a beast

And finally, do you remember how, last year, I planned to spruce up my greenhouse? It’s not yet a finished result (I plan to artfully string some more bits and pieces from the outside, and hopefully give it a paint job as well) but here’s a little “in progress” shot for you. It’s definitely improving from the monstrosity it was before. Maybe next week I’ll take you a little tour inside…

Grow, forage, cook: stickyweed salsa verde

I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: I am just absolutely bloody loving this good weather. Oh, the sun! Oh, the warm temperatures! Oh, the chance to potter around the garden, smelling the fabulous springtime smells of new growth out there!

Actually, though, not a huge amount of pottering has been done in the garden as much of the new growth is in the form of weeds. While I turned my back for a week or so, the weeds took over, until our main flower bed was basically one mass of weeds with the odd desultory flower poking through.

Cleavers weed botanical imageSo, rather than potter, I have been weeding at every spare second I get.

I say this in no way as form of complaint. I rather enjoy weeding. There is something quite pleasing about crouching down in the grass, in front of the flower bed, carefully tracing a weed flower back to its roots and plucking them out of the ground, taking care not to disturb all the bulb foliage alongside.

It’s quite therapeutic, weeding away in 15 minute stints, while the sproglets are sleeping, or happily engaged playing with their water table. (That is, a table filled with water, not the water table below ground. I’m not such a lax parent that I let them dig deep holes and leave them to flounder around in the underground water… Though I have no doubt that is exactly the sort of way they would both deeply enjoy spending a sunny afternoon.)

Of all the weeds in the garden, it’s cleavers, or stickyweed, sticky willy, goosegrass (Latin name: Galium aparine) (botanical illustration above) of which we have by far the most. It spreads and spreads and spreads. In fact, in the time it’s taken me to write this, it’s almost certainly taken over a good square metre of garden.

And while I knew that there were certain weeds you could eat (nettles spring to mind as one of the better known), it never occurred to me in a million years that I could actually put cleavers to use by, shock, consuming them.

But, reading a recent post on the wonderful Seeds and Stitches blog, by  Fore Adventure, I discovered you can do exactly that. I know! I nearly fell off my chair too.

This recipe for salsa verde uses whatever green herbs you can get your hands on. Including nettles and cleavers.

So on Sunday, I decided to do a bit of weeding and make myself my own salsa verde.

Stickyweed salsa verde | Wolves in LondonI adjusted the recipe a bit, to use what I had on hand. My greens of choice were a big old bunch of cleavers, fresh from the flower bed, along with some carrot, beetroot and radish thinnings.

Rather than the cornichons in the recipe, I used some pickled cucamelon that I made last year (never blogged, because I wasn’t really convinced that it was a particularly good way of eating cucamelons once I’d made it). I also omitted the anchovies as the hubby has had a recent fish allergy develop, which means he vomits whenever he eats any. Not the response I want to anything I’ve cooked, really…

salsa verde ingredients | Wolves in LondonAlong with a few capers, as in the original recipe, and some olive oil, I roughly chopped the greens and then just blitzed the whole lot in my hand held blender. In fact, the only thing about the recipe that took any time was washing all the greens in the first place.

I have to say, I was rather sceptical about just how tasty cleavers was going to be to eat. It’s so dratted sticky I could imagine it being rather unpleasant to swallow. But I was more than pleasantly surprised to discover that the salsa verde I made was actually bloody delicious. I’m not sure you really taste much of anything beyond the vinegar and pickled vegetables, but there is a definite spring freshness to it, provided by the cleavers, though I couldn’t give you any specific identifiable flavour they have.

I only made a small jar, in case it hadn’t turned out too nice, but I will definitely be making it again.

I might even experiment with a few other weeds this time. Now, if only bindweed was truly palatable, my garden would be a place of great productivity at all times.

P.S. On finding the rather lovely botanic illustration above on Wikipedia, I then read the article and discovered that it’s not just the leaves that are edible, but that:

“Cleavers are in the same family as coffee. The fruits of cleavers have often been dried and roasted, and then used as a coffee substitute which contains less caffeine.”

Astonishing, no! And there was I thinking it was just a pesky weed all this time…

Plant it now: lavender

I thought it might be nice to start up a(nother) little gardening series, taking a look at some of my favourite plants at the perfect time for planting them in the garden (or sowing seeds).

Too often, when I read about plants that I decide I simply must have in my little patch, it’s at a time when they’re in full bloom and by the time it’s the perfect occasion to plant or grow them, I’ve completely forgotten about all my wonderful plans…

Lavender lined path
© Ashridge Nurseries

First up then, a plant that I would argue is an absolute essential in any garden, the quintessential cottage garden stalwart: lavender.

I adore lavender. I love the look of the silvery foliage; I love it clipped into neat balls (so much more interesting than the ubiquitous box!), I love the fluffy purple and blue flowers and, of course, I love the gorgeous scent, redolent of lazy summer days spent lounging on picnic blankets and watching clouds drifting overhead in blue skies.

Possibly the only thing to love lavender more than I do is bees, and, hey, waddya know, I also love a wildlife garden too, so this is pretty perfect.

Lavender spikeEvery year, I also cut some stalks, to dry, use in craft projects, put in pots and just generally festoon wherever possible. Actually, now I think of it, I even used lavender in the buttonholes we made for our wedding party.

I’m working on putting more lavender plants into my own garden. At the moment, I’ve got a very old, leggy, woody shrub in the back garden that we inherited when we moved in (you can see it here from last summer) and which really needs replacing. And I’ve got about, hmmm, 25 small plug plants in the greenhouse that I grew from seed last year.

My plan is to replace the old shrub with a healthy new one and also to plant a row of lavender balls running down the pathway to the front door. (Incidentally, please don’t imagine I have a gigantic front path – it will take approximately five balls to fill that space adequately. The rest will have to find a home elsewhere.)

And now is the perfect time to plant lavender: get it in the right situation for the glorious blue haze of flowers in the summer. Incidentally, spring and autumn are generally the best times to plant any shrubs, so they can get their roots nice and settled into the ground at a time when they’re not also concentrating energy into making flowers.

If you’re tempted to plant some in your garden, after all this rhapsodising, do take a look at Ashridge Nurseries, a really excellent online seller of trees, shrubs and hedging. They’ve got my two favourite varieties of lavender for sale: Munstead and Hidcote. (Named after Gertrude Jekyll’s garden at Munstead and Hidcote Manor, respectively…)

Lavender from Ashridge

Plugs start at £2.95 and you can also find loads more information about using lavender in the garden along with advice on planting and pruning. (Plus a little selection of lavender trivia; what’s not to love?!)

Disclaimer: this is a collaborative post with, hey you guessed it, Ashridge Nurseries. Regular and wildly attentive readers might notice this is the first collaborative piece I’ve run on Wolves in London. Though I’m approached fairly frequently, I tend to know nothing about the companies or don’t think they’re a great fit for the blog. Ashridge, on the other hand, is a website I’ve been using myself for about eight years now whenever I want to buy any trees or shrubs. I’ve always found them to provide an absolutely excellent service, amazing value, brilliant trees, as well as a fantastically informative website. If you remember the rosa rugosa hedge I put in last year, that was bought from Ashridge. So, I’m happy to sing their praises to you all! (And, of course, I’m always happy to sing the praises of lovely old lavender…)


All quiet on the blogging front

I’ve been a little quieter than normal on the blog recently. But don’t worry, I’m not stuck in the same lethargic funk as I was all over the winter

In fact, quite the opposite. Chez Wolves in London has been a crazy hive of activity recently.

The littlest is going to be one in just over a week, which has meant (yet another) renewed effort to get the house finally finally finished before his birthday. (Spoiler alert: we won’t manage to get it finished before then. I’ve been setting deadlines for us for the past two years and we’re still trucking on…)

But there has been lots of wall and door-painting going on, and even a bit of, shock, putting-up-of-pictures on newly painted walls. This is a pretty huge step, I have to say, to actually have something hanging on the walls (instead of tatters of ancient wallpaper…)

Botanical wall artThat’s a pretty shabby photo, but I am very pleased with my botanical wall art in real life. The frames, of course, aren’t actually warped, as they seem in the photo. I used a Cavallini calendar and then framed my favourite pictures in some of Ikea’s bog standard (but rather nice) RIBBA white frames. They’re sitting on a chimney breast, but I couldn’t get far enough back with my camera to show you any more of the view…

Everywhere you turn, there are various parts of the house waiting for another coat of paint:

Doors being paintedThis morning, scaffolding was set up against the front of the house so the pebble dash can be removed (we’re not trying to do that ourselves) and a handyman has been in all day putting on door knobs, hanging doors in different directions and re-wiring our doorbell back into the mains, a mere 1.5 years after it was first unwired.

I’ve also been spending loads of time outside in the garden, sowing endless successions of seeds with the sproglet and admiring all the new growth.

Cherry blossomForget-me-notsApple blossom
Borlotti beanTulipsI’ve got carrots in pots, beans rearing their heads above the soil, apple and cherry blossom on the trees, a rather delightful bed of tulip bulbs and some lovely perennials and about 75 tomato plants, at last count. I’m not quite sure what I’ll be doing with 75 tomato plants, but at least it means I won’t worry too much if a few of them die.

I’ve also been thinning the radish and carrot seedlings and decided to eat the mini leaves as a salad, rather than throw them into the compost. Oh, I felt very Masterchef, I can tell you, eating my microgreens. (And also, rather amused by the whole concept of microgreens being a modern way of eating, having also recently grown loads of cress with the sprolgets, which I remember doing in my childhood and is, surely, the origin of the whole microgreen craze?)

Radish microgreensA great find from the weekend was a Birds of Britain book, left outside for collection on someone’s front wall. The sproglet adores bird watching, peering out from the kitchen and saying to me, “oh Mummy, yook, a robin! Yook a blackbird!” so a happy time has already been spent poring through the pages.

Bird bookbird book insidebird bookIt’s incredibly beautiful, I think, with a map in the front cover of the locations of various birds and some lovely illustrations.

Finally, I’ve been beavering away industriously at my garden design diploma. We had two major deadlines just before Easter. One was to design a border for a shady courtyard attached to a bookshop; thinking about year-round interest. Bliss. I loved doing this.

The other, was to draw five different plant associations (eg, groups of plants that look nice together…) Five different drawings! I am terrible at drawing, so this was some sort of special hell for me. Not only am I terrible at drawing, but I really ever so very desperately want to be good at drawing, so every time my pen makes things look weird and not how I imagine them, I get very frustrated and cross. Ah, the rage of a wannabe artist…

Anyway, these were the two I was most pleased with (or, rather, least displeased with). After weeks of getting fed up and stressed out and thinking I would be failed, I managed to pass the assignment. The main feedback from my teacher? “Interesting style.” I’m not entirely sure whether that’s a good thing or not, ha ha.

Plant associations

So, in all, just the right sort of fever of redecorating and gardening to perfectly accompany the Spring weather… As each last job gets completed, I’m starting to believe that at some point we might, we just might actually live in a house that is fully painted and fully functioning. Exciting stuff!

A few flowers

Magnolia stellata | Wolves in LondonChionodoxa | Wolves in LondonPrimrose | Wolves in LondonWe continued with Operation Sort-out-the-garden this weekend.

It’s an ongoing attempt, that’s been running for about, oooh, the 2.5 years we’ve lived in this house.

It’s not that I’m not crazy on gardening or that I’m not actually really quite desperate to have a garden that’s nice to sit in… it’s just that we’re also simultaneously running Operation Finish-decorating-the-darned-house and Operation Look-after-two-small-kids.

Anyway, I’m really starting to see progress now. I might even share some whole garden photos with you soon… (The suspense! I know!)

Yesterday was spent shoveling a big pile of soil into buckets to put onto a new bed. The soil pile has been sitting in front of the greenhouse for more than a year now (intended time of habitation in that location: about one month). There is something wildly satisfying about a bit of physical labour, especially the repetitive thrust of the spade into a big fat pile of earth.

On Saturday, with the sproglet’s help, I sowed a few more seeds, removed the duckweed from the pond and peered at a huge ball of frogspawn, did a bit of weeding around the rhubarb, checked on the new bed that’s been dug out for veg, and went on a snail hunt.

In between all the gardening, I spent lots of time admiring the new flowers that are appearing.

Oh and the hubby got in on the act too, cutting down the gigantic wooden post that was in front of our greenhouse (you can see it in the picture here) that once led a visitor to comment that it was always nice to have some gallows in the garden…

Next weekend, we’re putting up an arch in the same location, planting some honeysuckle and evergreen jasmine round the base, sowing the seeds into the veg bed and doing whatever else I can add to the list in the meantime.

Nowt like Spring, is there?

Gardening jargon buster: deadheading

Gardening jargon buster: deadheading plants | Wolves in LondonNow, it’s highly possible I was alone in this one, but before I started on my horticulture course the principle of deadheading eluded me somewhat.

Yes, I grasped the basics: deadheading meant removing old flower heads from a plant. But I never managed to find more information than that. How should I remove them? What should I use to remove them? At what point on the stem did I remove them? I wondered for a while if I was literally just meant to pull the old petals off and that was that…

Once I understood what the whole purpose of deadheading was, it suddenly all became clear.

Why deadhead plants?

The aim of deadheading is both to tidy up the plant (and prevent pests and diseases entering through old plant material) but also to keep the plant producing more flowers.

But it’s how it does that I found illuminating. The whole point of a flower on a plant is to help that plant reproduce. The flower attracts pollinators (bees and the like) who bring pollen to the plant’s sexy parts which (hopefully) then germinates. Once the pollen has germinated, the flower will die, and the plant will then start to produce seeds. The seeds in turn are dispersed and the plant reproduces and grows new plants elsewhere.

So, by cutting off the flower, but also, crucially, the emerging seed pod before the seeds have a chance to grow, you stop the plant achieving its desired reproduction aims and therefore instead of putting its energy into the seeds, it puts its energy into producing more flowers (to tempt the pollinators, to make more seeds etc etc.).

How (and where) to do deadhead

Once you know this, it becomes apparent where and how to deadhead: below the point of the seed. So, on an apple tree, for example (not that you would ever be likely to deadhead an apple tree!) the fruit of the apple contains the seeds, so you would chop it off just below this. The apple actually forms below the flower, so you’d be making sure to cut below this point.

In most flowering plants, the seeds form within the flower itself, so you just need to cut below the base of the flower.

My suggested idea of pulling off the petals, therefore, would have achieved absolutely nothing, since I would have left the developing seed pod in place and the plant would stop putting out flowers…

As to what to use to deadhead; this all depends on the size of the plant. As a general rule of thumb for all deadheading (and, indeed, all pruning) use a tool just sharp enough to cut the plant without exertion. This isn’t just to save yourself hard work, but also because a swift sharp cut is a clean cut for the plant. Labouring away making endless attempts to cut through a stem with the wrong tools can actually cause damage to the plant as you will have most likely damaged the parts of the stem you’re leaving behind – and this is when infection and pests love to come in and have a little party…

So, if you were deadheading a small, green-stemmed flower, then you could just pinch the flower heads off, or use a pair of floral scissors, for example. If you were deadheading a woody shrub, then you’re more likely to want secateurs or even loppers on a very old plant.

Which plants can you deadhead?

Of course, you can’t just willy nilly cut the flowers off every plant and assume they will grow hundreds more in their place. Sadly, it doesn’t work like that.

Lots of shrubs grown to produce attractive flowers will respond well to deadheading. Roses, camellias, rhododendrons and lilacs will all produce more flowers if you’re regularly removing the spent heads.

All plants that are grown as “cutting flowers” will produce more if you deadhead them, as essentially, cutting the flowers is doing exactly that. So if you’re growing sweet peas, for example, if you miss cutting any flowers that then turn into seed pods, do make sure you cut off the seed pods once you spot them.

Alstroemeria | Wolves in London

Lots of herbaceous perennials (plants that come back year after year, but don’t have woody stems and die down in winter) will also work well with deadheading. I was astonished last year to see my alstroemerias (the ridiculously red plants above) put out a whole second batch of flowers late in the autumn, after I had just given them a good prune once I thought all the flowering was over.

Geraniums are another classic example of a plant that will flower for months on end, as long as you prevent it setting to seed.

Of course, there are so many plants, this is a really brief overview. If you’re adding a new plant to the garden, or just curious about what you have in there, it’s always worth taking a look either on the label or on the RHS website to see specific care instructions.

Don’t cut here…

Rosehip | Wolves in LondonAlso, there are some plants that you certainly wouldn’t want to deadhead.

Obviously, if you want to collect seeds from a plant then you’d leave them to create the seeds in the first place.

Similarly, lots of plants have striking seed heads that you might want to keep out for the winter, so they can catch the frosts and twinkle away in the low sunlight. Grasses, alliums and so on can all look pretty stunning if left to their own devices.

Also remember, if you’re growing roses for hips (the stunning Rosa rugosa in my front garden produces glorious fat red rose hips, for example) then don’t deadhead these – or make sure you at least leave some flowers in place – otherwise you won’t get any lovely hips in the autumn.

Don’t worry!

Above all, don’t worry too much about deadheading. Sometimes the ins and outs of the ways to treat all the different plants there are can feel a bit overwhelming and it’s easy to do nothing for fear of getting it wrong…

It really only takes a few seconds to check a plant online and find out whether or not to deadhead it. But if you’re not sure what the plant is, or you’re out in the garden wielding the secateurs and feeling snip-happy, well, you might as well just go for it. As long as you’re only removing the flowers, it’s pretty hard to damage the plant itself. If they don’t end up putting out any more flowers this year, they’ll almost certainly be fine before next year. And if it turns out they were an annual that won’t grow again, then it’ll be super quick to grow them from seed another time. Just stick the flowers you’ve chopped off into a nice vase and admire them on your kitchen table…

I do hope this helps! As ever, please feel free to ask any questions by leaving a comment below and I’ll do my best to answer.

Related articles:

  • This is the latest (and rather late) article in my Gardening jargon buster series, where I take a look at an A-Z of gardening jargon and try to put it into normal language. Do take a look at my other articles if you’re interested.

The garden of my dreams

The sprogs have both been ill, with various bits and pieces, these past few weeks, which means that my days have disappeared in a blur of antibiotics administering, snotty nose wiping, eyedrop dispensing, multiple night-time wakings soothing and generally feeling pretty knackered myself.

There’s not been much time for blogging. Or thinking. Or brushing my hair.

French country cottage gardenAlso taking up a fair bit more time than I anticipated is my garden design course. Yup, that same garden design course I was so excited about starting and which is now feeling a little bit more like a chore in my life because of the mountains upon mountains of homework that come with it. Still, I am learning lots of nice and interesting new things, so I’m not complaining too much. Even if I am suddenly plummeted back into my English Lit student days where you always, but always had an essay due in in a week’s time and consequently any other event that was going on* had a shadow hanging over it whispering to you: “You really should be writing that essay you know…”

So when I stumbled across photos of a beautiful garden when doing some research for my course, I was immediately tempted to go and visit it and have a nice day off.

Garden des JoetsThen I realised that it was in France. Hey! Even better!

A quick Google later and I’ve discovered you can get the ferry to Dunkirk and then drive for 30 minutes and be in Eecke, the home of Le jardin des Joets. Ferry timetables are being consulted, cars are being booked, the surrounding neighbourhoods examined for friendly looking B&Bs.

Meanwhile, I just had to share some of these photos with you as they are, in essence, my absolute dream garden. In these still rather cold and dreary early March days, I find it deeply cheering to look at a garden in full bloom and dream of the drowsy bee-filled summer months.

Summer flowersAll photos from a rather brilliant French website, Le jardin de Sophie. Do head over and take a look, there are lots more wonderful pictures to tempt you to book your place on a ferry too: Le jardin des joets.

*Events going on in my student days could probably be summarised with: making supper, smoking a cigarette, going out in Bristol and getting steamingly drunk.

Gardening jargon buster: calcifuges

All about the acid lovers of the plant world…

All about calcifuges: acid-loving plants

Hello lovely gardening readers. It’s Wednesday again and here I am cracking on through the alphabet at a rate of knots, now turning my attention to the letter C and with it, the fussy old calcifuges.

My aim with my gardening jargon buster series is to try and demystify some of the copious amounts of jargon that spring up around what are (usually) fairly straightforward gardening ideas.

And, boy oh boy, does the calcifuge come jargon laden!

Its name, for a start, would be massively off-putting if you’ve not come across it before.

As I mentioned in my first post on acidity and alkalinity (aka soil pH), certain plants prefer to grow in certain alkaline or acidic soil conditions.

And that is all that calcifuge means: a plant that prefers to grow in acidic soil.

The name literally means “chalk fleeing” – eg a plant that does not like chalky (otherwise described as limey) soil conditions

But the jargon doesn’t end there! You might also come across these plants referred to as ericaceous, which is just another way of saying the same thing. I only just found this out myself this second by checking Wikipedia, but the “ericaceous” name comes from the Erica family of plants (heathers) which are, as you would expect, chalk haters (or lime haters, or acid lovers, or calcifuges. Pick your moniker as you so choose…)

Now that’s out the way, there isn’t actually a huge amount more you need to know about calcifuges.

Obviously, as they require acidic soil conditions, you need to make sure you give that to the plant.

You can do that in a number of different ways. First of all, check the pH of the soil in your garden. If it’s 6.5 or below (eg, ranging down towards 4 which is the most acidic soil you’re likely to come across) then calcifuges are going to be pretty happy.

You might want to “top up” the acidity levels by adding some sort of acidic mulch to the top of the soil, such as pine needle mulch or pine bark mulch.

(Also recommended as an ericaceous mulch is sphagnum peat moss, but I’m not going to suggest you use that because of all the peat issues.)

If your soil is too alkaline, however, or if you want to grow a plant that requires even more acidic soil, then – my advice would be – just grow it in a pot. Fill the post with an ericaceous compost and top up every now and again. Simple. Certainly far more simply than trying to alter your soil pH.

And if you really fancy growing a certain plant actually within a bed or border and not in a pot, then you could sink a pot into the ground and just fill that with the right compost.

You can also use a range of acidic fertilisers, which will ensure the plants receive exactly the right nutrients they need. (Their problem with alkaline soils is actually that they are unable to take up the correct amount of iron from the soil, which becomes “locked up” in soils with higher lime content.)

One final note: tap water has lots of calcium in it (eg chalk) so it’s always best to water calcifuges with collected rain water instead.

Growing in the wrong conditions

So what will happen to all these calcifuges if they’re grown in soil that’s too acidic? In short, they will most likely die.

First of all, expect to see yellowing leaves (the scientific term for this is lime-induced chlorosis), the plant will grow more slowly, might fail to flower and, eventually, will just give up the ghost.

If you’re growing any of the plants in the list below and they’re showing any of those symptoms, it might be a good idea to check whether the soil they’re in ic acidic enough.

Calcifuge plants

Finally, a quick overview of some of the most common calcifuges and their preferred pH.

I would definitely recommend with any plant, however, checking the RHS online plant finder and getting all the info you need on what the plant likes to grow, from soil pH to soil type, exposure, sunlight etc etc.

RhododendronRhododendrons / azaleas: If you’ve read my blog for a while you might remember that my garden was full, absolutely stuffed full, with rhododendrons. (I think there were 40 plants originally…) One of the reasons I wasn’t that keen to keep them is that the soil isn’t very acidic, only about 6.6. So without constant pampering, the rhododendrons would soon get unhealthy. They prefer a soil pH of 5-6

Blueberries: I’ve been meaning to grow blueberries for years and I think this year will be the year! (Though, I almost certainly said that last year.) They are some of the most acid-loving of all, requiring a soil pH of 4.5-5.5

Camellias: Personally, I am not a camellia fan, but I know I’m really rather alone in this opinion. Irrespective of my views of them, camellias like an acidic soil of around pH 5-6.

Acer | Wolves in LondonAcers: All acers (maples) prefer a slightly acidic soil. The ever popular (and ever beautiful) Japanese maple, Acer palmatum, tends to do best in a soil pH of 4.5 to 5.5.

Blue hydrangeas: this one is especially crazy. Pink hydrangeas will turn blue if the soil pH is below 5.5.

Heathers: there are a few heathers that will survive in soils with a pH higher than 6.5, but most prefer acidic conditions, ranging from 4.5 to 6.5.

Pieris: A lovely plant this, in my opinion, and one that I hadn’t come across until a few years ago. They prefer a pH of 5 to 6.

Magnolia stellata | Wolves in LondonMagnolias: most magnolias require acidic conditions, with the exception of Magnolia stellata (ahem, which is the magnolia in this photo, since this is the one in my front garden…)

And that’s about it. There are many others, of course, but these are some of the more commonly grown calcifuges.

So, I hope that was vaguely helpful. Was there anything I’ve missed out, or do you have any other tips on growing these acid-loving plants? (Or any questions about something I’ve not covered?) If so, please do leave a comment below.

Til next time then, when I’m going to be talking about deadheading…