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TREES FOR OUR FUTURE

There was certainly a buzz surrounding vast tree-planting efforts throughout the UK at the end of 2019, but how realistic is it to think we can just ‘re-wild’ to former glory?

The catastrophic effects of climate change, and the simplified understanding that in order to improve it, we must reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere, is now widely acknowledged. Creating woodland is an effective way of doing this, but what should we plant in the current climate that will perform in our uncertain future environment?

By the end of last year, significant planting efforts were documented across the nation, with 24.7 million trees planted across the UK. Labour promised to plant 2 billion trees by 2040 in their election campaign, the Woodland Trust asked for 1 million people to plant a tree in November, and any business worth its salt invested in carting employees out to the countryside with spades and wellies, with schools, institutions and councils also recording huge efforts.

It should make sense to replant species native to the UK, or ones that have thrived here for hundreds of years.  The Big Climate Fightback page certainly suggests as such. However, three of the six trees they sell; Fagus sylvatica (common beech), Quercus robur (English oak), and Betula pendula (silver birch) already have significant limitations.

Common beech:

Beech trees are sometimes susceptible to root rot from a variety of fungal pathogens, whilst others can suffer from beech bark disease, with severe infestations completely destroying affected trees. 

The common beech is also vulnerable to bark-stripping by grey squirrels.

English oak:

The oak processionary moth is a non-native pest found in London, Surrey and Berkshire. It damage the foliage and significantly increases the oak’s susceptibility to other diseases.

Acute oak decline is a combination of factors that cause oak trees to become stressed. Environmental stresses like soil conditions, drought, waterlogging and pollution can all impact the tree. Insects, fungi and bacteria then move in on the exposed tree and push it into decline.

Silver birch:

They are not heat or drought-tolerant, which given the change in climate, makes them increasingly vulnerable. 

So are these really the right species to be choosing, and if not what are the alternatives? Well, you don’t have to go far in London to find an Olea europaea (olive tree) thriving outdoors. There is an enormous Persea americana(avocado tree) near Victoria station, and an increasing number of residential gardens in the capital are showcasing flourishing Eucalyptus. Although they are not 100% hardy, they are now the UK’s fastest growing tree.

Whilst this means it is now easy to grow trees native to warmer climes, and is an ominous sign of the times, it is perhaps also a helpful indicator as to what is likely to succeed in future years. 

I understand the imperativeness of planting more trees, and whilst I wholeheartedly back any attempt to improve the current state of climate and environment, I do wonder whether informed choices are being made across the board. We simply cannot ‘rewild’ hurriedly with former species; it is critical that we choose appropriately and a with a view to the longer term. 

Rewilding has become a fashionable and highly praised term, with the welcome promise of returning nature to its former state. Melanie Sisson, of Defra, spoke recently on the UK’s reforesting effort: “we need to go further and faster than we are now”. But with this accelerated approach, are the right trees being planted in the right places? 

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PLANTS FOR SHADY SPACES

Shady woodland and wild, muddy landscapes don’t lend themselves to pristine terraces or patios, but in some north facing patches, or beds under trees in dark corners, nothing else will do!

As summer approaches, you may be considering sprucing your garden up with some bright summer plants, striking purple wallflowers or Sicilian lemon trees – for that longed-for Mediterranean space.

However, if your patch is plagued by shade, you’ll need to pick plants carefully, sourcing ones that will thrive in such environments. There’s nothing more frustrating than a wilting garden come July, after a considerable planting effort and as your focus turns to BBQs and keeping the lawn under control.

There are an abundance of plants, which flourish in shade and they don’t have to be dark, gloomy shrubbery. Use green and silver foliage to break up colour and select standout pastels shades; such as pale yellow, lavender, cream and pale pink to brighten up dappled, sheltered spaces.

Hosta (plantain lily) are a super shade-loving plant; they are easy to grow & bear bold foliage from spring all the way through to autumn. They do better in pots than in beds on the ground as can be prone to slug attacks. It can be worth decorating the bottom of the pots with copper to keep them at bay.

Digitalis purpurea (foxglove) are an essential component of any shaded woodland planting scheme. The tall flower spikes bring height and structure, and are especially loved by bumblebees.

Primula vulgaris subsp. vulgaris (common primrose) are a familiar sight in spring and the beginning of summer, and thrive in areas of damp shade. They are also a source of nectar and pollen for pollinators, which make them particularly environmentally friendly. Pick the easy-to-maintain Primula vulgaris in a pale yellow hue.

Heuchera have eye-catching foliage and offer year-round interest at the front of borders. Choose from the huge range of leaf shapes, colours and patterns, and plant in groups for impact. Partial shade is best, where they’ll bloom from June through to August.

As for foliage to break up the colour:

Hardy ferns are renowned for their ability to grow in inhospitable spots, many of these plants are evergreen, and there’s a huge range of shapes and sizes; from shiny-leaved Asplenium to tough Polystichum and the elegant, moisture-loving Osmunda regalis.

Euonymus fortunei can be grown in partial shade and is edged with white and pale pink. It makes a good specimen shrub and can be clipped into a hedge; it can also be trained up a fence, so is fairly versatile, dependent on where you want coverage.

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PLANTING SUMMER BULBS

If you’re starting to prepare your summer garden with instant bedding plants and foliage, you may want to consider adding seasonal bulbs. Plant in spring and these can flower from June right through to the end of September, maintaining an ever-changing, blossoming garden. As our British soil starts to warm up, there is no time like the present to get bulbs into the ground.

The list of bulbs and tubers to choose from to brighten borders and patio containers is endless, and can be somewhat overwhelming. As such, here are few of my easy-to-manage favourites:

Allium grow airy spheres of purple blooms followed by flamboyant seed-heads. Their upright stems add height and structure to well-drained borders or containers and can be grown in full sun or partial shade. Use large groups of Allium ‘Big Impact Mixed’ to see high summer through to late summer.

Begonia tubers can also be planted now and produce beautiful flowers over an incredibly long period, from summer all the way through to the first frosts in November. These are perfect candidates for a window box or hanging basket and are perfect for adding long lasting, vibrant colour to those tricky shady areas. Choose a fragrant variety such as Begonia ‘Lemon Fizz’ to hang close to doorways for the fresh scent of summer as customers come in and out.

Gladiolus offer exotic colour, extravagance and structure to all borders, pots and containers. For majestic, ruffled, mauve pink blooms choose Gladiolus ‘Tango’ and grow them in full-sun. They also make great cut flowers if you would like something homegrown to decorate tables with.

Crocosmia are my number one if you’re after fast growing plants, as they will multiply quickly and wander through borders all on their own. The upright, strap-like foliage, and arching stems tipped with starry flowers in red, orange or yellow are striking, have an air of the tropics and are perfect for summer.