Making the cut

Secateurs at the ready everyone! We are now nearly half way through September and that means one thing in the garden… it’s time to start cutting back. For those wanting advice/confidence on how to start cutting back in their own garden I have included a quick guide using Veronicastrum as an example. Remember you can do this with any herbaceous perennial/ornamental grass that dies back to soil level in winter. Be careful of tender perennials with semi-woody stems e.g. Penstemmon & Artemisia; these should be cut back after winter has finished.

There are several reasons why we cut back herbaceous plants in the garden. First of all it improves growth and flowering; if done early enough after flowering, some species including Geranium, Salvia and Delphinium will produce a second flush later in the same season. For others it ensures a more vigorous, floriferous plant next year. Secondly it neatens up the garden by removing foliage before it dies or becomes diseased. Thirdly (most importantly in my opinion) it makes applying mulch to your beds much easier as there are no leaves/stems/flowers/seed heads in the way!

This lovely Veronicastrum has done its stuff for the year, all flowers are now finished, it’s the perfect time to cut back.
With a sharp pair of secateurs cut back to just above ground level (2-3 inches).
All cut back and weeded.
It’s good practice to chop up rigid stems to aid breakdown of lignin in cell walls on the compost heap.
All five plants cut back and ready for their annual dose of nutritious compost!

Pruning perennials to a novice gardener might seem quite daunting but there really isn’t anything to fear… just like a hair cut, have faith they will grow back! (and with even more vigour than before).

It is worth mentioning that those wanting to leave seed heads etc. for birds and insects should postpone this process until early spring (February) when the same process applies.

Happy chopping!

Clearing away the cobwebs: rediscovering a garden

The beauty of gardening and garden design is that no two jobs are the same. Not only is each space, location, climate and growing conditions slightly different, the origin of each garden also varies greatly. By this I mean that creating a garden isn’t always from scratch. In fact, gardens rarely start with a completely blank canvas; there is often a mature tree or hedge that needs to be sympathetically incorporated into the design.

Of course, the ultimate example of this is undertaking a full restoration project. A garden initially conceived over 100 years ago with trees that are older than any living person on this planet. With it comes a succession of people who have been inspired and contributed to its overall vision. The excitement of starting on a new project like this is thrilling and foreboding; what treasures will we find? can we unearth and improve what others have done before us? will we do justice to the vision of the garden’s creator?

A mature confier has gradually eaten away at the driveway over the years, making it difficult for vehicles to pass.
Lifting the lower branches lets in the light and shows off the curve of the drive.
What is this lovely large Magnolia hiding?
Removing lower branches reveals beautiful architecture, a statue in an alcove and some nice shrubs including Skimmia japonica and Euonymous fortunei ‘Silver Queen’.
This walkway is overgrown full of Carex pendula and suckering shrubs.
A bit of digging, pruning & tying in opens up the space and shows off the pencil Taxus baccata.

Restoration, by definition, is the “restitution of something taken away or lost” and is so important before things decay so far that they cannot ever be rediscovered. It is a long process that requires imagination, foresight and lots of resources. The best bit is that we can benefit from the imagination and foresight of its creators all those years ago and hope that in another 100 years time, new generations will appreciate what we have done too.

May in the garden

Where is this year going?! Amazingly we are already in the second half of May, spring is in full swing and summer is literally just around the corner.

The gardeners amongst us will know that there is always plenty to be doing at this time of year in the garden. For those of you who are keen to get involved but are unsure when/what/how, we thought we’d share with you some of the things we have been getting up to and why they are so important!

  • Planting- we have been finishing all of our planting jobs for the season; April/May is the best time for this as the ground in soft and warm and the nurseries have good stocks of high quality plants.
  • Weeding- now that we’ve had a bit of wet weather and sunshine the weeds are taking off! Hoeing around borders on a regular basis keeps work to a minimum. Pesky weeds growing very close to plants need carefully teasing out with a trowel or hand fork.
  • Mulching- well-rotted compost/bark chippings are a great dressing for flowerbeds. Not only does it reduce weeds, it keeps in moisture and improves soil structure over time- worth the barrowing and shoveling!
  • Hedge cutting- strictly speaking, box hedges should be cut in June but in gardens where there is a lot of box (Buxus sempervirens) we start early to make sure we can get it all done! Trimming topiary early makes life a lot easier as the perennials are yet to grow up and get in the way.
  • Constructing- putting up obelisks or other structures in the garden for climbing/trailing plants to grow up/along before they get too big.
  • Seeding- now that we are safely out of early morning frost season it is a good time to reseed/fertilise/top dress lawns where necessary.

And there you have it, plenty to be getting on with in the next couple of weeks.

Happy gardening!

Banana split: propagating tropical plants

Growing tropical plants might seem daunting to those of us that are used to cold British winters. But if you have access to a frost free greenhouse all the same growing principles apply to these alien plants .

Bananas are a great example of tropical plants to try in the garden, their large smooth leaves are a stunning contrast to any hot border or pot display in the summer.

Tropical border at RHS Wisley 2016 featuring bananas, cannas and palms.

Like all hardy shrubs we are used to in the UK, tropical plants also need routine maintenance and care. Obviously there is the usual watering, feeding and removal of dead matter but every now and then, the bigger plants need potting on to give their roots room to grow.

Here in one of our regular client’s gardens we have a banana plant that is perhaps 4 or 5 years old and has produced 2 “babies” in the last couple of years.

Banana plant with 2 suckers ready to be propagated

This is a great task for a wet wintry day in March in the warm and dry of the greenhouse: first job is to ease the whole thing gently out of the pot.

Root bound banana plant eased out of it’s pot

Next, using a sharp knife cut off one of the babies at the base where it joins the main stem. Then tease apart the roots with a big fork..

A sharp blade is best for creating a clean wound where the baby plants meet the main trunk

Repeat this step for any other babies in the pot and ta da! Brand new banana plants ready for their very own homes!

Some healthy roots on these baby bananas

Now for the repotting: first put broken crocks in the bottom of the new pot, followed by horticultural potting grit for drainage. Now a layer of John Innes No. 3 compost, next put in the plant and firm in with more compost with your fists or heel up to the original soil level.

Potting grit

John Innes No. 3

Now give it a good soak and make sure it doesn’t dry out. You can top dress the pot with more horticultural grit if you wish… this will reduce water loss through evaporation and also suppress the weeds!

And here you have it!

3 for the price of 1!

January jobs

I’m often asked: “what is the best time of year to makeover my garden?” and the answer is anytime you like.. there is no time like the present!

And what better time than January, it’s a new year, a new start and there’s still plenty of time to prepare the garden for summer glory.

Having recently embarked upon a new maintenance/rejuvenation project with one of our clients I thought I’d share with you some of the tasks we are undertaking. Anyone can have a go at these jobs and start transforming their garden. We believe that by starting early in the year, you can kickstart your 2019 garden maintenance routine and fall in love with your garden again.

Firstly cut back all that dead foliage and clear up all those leaves, it might be back breaking but it’s very satisfying and a good way to make visual progress at this time of year. Remember to compost herbaceous waste, it’ll make great mulch next year!

Mixed border before annual clearance

Mixed border after a cut back & weed. Note: Penstemon don’t get cut back until winter frosts are over.

If you have Hellebores start cutting back (and disposing of) the leaves, this not only reveals a gorgeous army of flowers underneath, it also prevents fungal leaf spot, which Hellebores are particularly susceptible to. My advice would be to burn the foliage to make sure the fungus isn’t introduced into your compost

Hellebore flowers revealed

By now, Wisterias should have dropped all of their leaves so you can easily see the buds. Prune back stems to the second or third bud and remove any dead, damaged or diseased wood.

Wisteria before winter prune

Wisteria after winter prune

Now get some heavy duty gloves and prune those roses, the harsher the better. Trust me, they’ll thank you for it. Don’t be frightened, just remember to make an angled cut above an outward-facing bud and you’ll do no harm.

Shrub maintenance is also a lot easier at this time of year, less foliage means you can see what you’re working with. I always start with the three d’s: dead, damaged, diseased. If any of the above apply, get rid. Then take out a third of old stems at the base if the plant is becoming overcrowded. I find the best tools for dealing with shrubs are extendable loppers and a pruning saw.

Viburnum x bodnantense getting some attention

You’ll be amazed at how much rubbish even the smallest of gardens produces. My favourite methods of waste disposal are composting (anything soft/herbaceous) and burning (anything woody/pernicious) but if you don’t have the space or means for this there’s always green waste collection or a good old trip to the tip!

Happy gardening!

Gardens Restore our Wellbeing

Happy New Year to you all, and a massive thank you to everyone who follows Applewhite Garden Design on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

We are doing something a bit different this year…

At the beginning of 2018, We explored the idea of creating a garden in Grantham Hospital. I’m sure you will agree, our hospital grounds are gloomy, depressing and uninviting and in much need of some TLC.

Naively we thought we could draw up a design, employ a contractor and hey presto! Ward 6 would have a garden…

It didn’t quite work like that. Understandably the NHS has a ton of protocol and red tape to wade through, with health and safety issues at the forefront. However, after a lot of perseverance we should have the go-ahead to start the project within a few months.

Having received so much positive feedback about the concept we decided to roll the idea out to all Lincolnshire hospitals. In order to facilitate this we need to raise substantial funds. Consequently we have set up the charity G.R.O.W. Gardens Restore Our Wellbeing.

Applewhite Garden Design has completed the pioneering design, but we need to raise money to pay for the groundworks, landscaping and materials.

The bank account should be set up by the end of February so we can start raising funds after that.

If any of you have groups, clubs or gatherings that you would like us to talk to, we would very much welcome the opportunity to explain the charity and the progress we are making.

Visit and follow @GROW_charity to keep up to date with the latest developments. Join us in helping to make a difference.