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  • Why Do I Need A Pond?

    If you have to ask that question, you really really need to read this. Of all the vital features that should be incorporated into a garden, the pond is top of the list. You will benefit, trust me on this, I'll explain more as we go on. But also the creatures around you will enjoy the pond as well. A pond increases the range of plants you can grow in your garden. Sweet! A pond reduces the amount of lawn you have to mow every week. Bonus!! A pond attracts birds without the expense and mess of putting up feeders. Boom!!! A pond creates habitat for a range of invertebrates and amphibians. Nailed it !!!! As I've mentioned in some of my Youtube videos, as well as in other pages on this site, all our houses are built on what used to be valuable habitat for wildlife. Maybe yours was built on an old brownfield site or an over grazed horse paddock. Perhaps some scrubbed over waste land was cleared to make way for your estate. Maybe (like they've done for HS2) an ancient woodland or wildlife trust reserve was ploughed up so that some greedy developer could squeeze in as many shoddily built houses as possible. OK, now that we all feel really guilty about the roof that's over our heads, I'll elaborate on why a pond is incredibly important for wildlife and ourselves. I briefly listed the benefits to wildlife up above and we've established that our homes are built where once was a paradise. As least a paradise to a select variety of species. Yes, even a scrubbed up wasteland provides a place to live for a range of insects, birds, small mammals and possibly reptiles and amphibians. So as a wildlife friendly gardener, like what I am, we all need to think about repaying those species with a space they can share with us. Ponds have been declining across the globe, not just in the UK. Ponds and wetlands have been lost to development in building, agriculture, infrastructure and drainage schemes over the last one hundred years with a noticeable rapid increase in the last twenty years. All this human activity puts pressure on the natural world. Gardens need to be reimagined as the next nature reserves. Let's face it, they're in no short supply. So how does this help you? From my own experience and the testimonies of many of my customers over the years, having a pond or two in your garden makes the space so much more relaxing. The water need not be moving either. None of my own ponds have pumps or filters in them, moving the water round. Just the sunlight shining on the water can transfix our gaze and take our minds away from the stresses of daily life. I have three ponds at home and one sits right next to my decking. I have spent hours swinging in the hammock on the edge of the deck, staring into this shallow pond watching the numerous newts, courting and feeding during the Spring months. Frogs will bask on the pond edge in the grass chilling out with me during the summer. Dragon and damsel flies drift about on sunny days looking for other insects to hunt and places to lay their eggs. I have even had a water shrew come through on occasion, investigating the ponds for food in the form of tadpoles and invertebrates. Birds enjoy bathing in the ponds and I do have a heron visits in the early spring. It does take a few frogs but to be honest I haven't noticed a massive decline in population. The larger pond hosts about sixty to seventy adult frogs per year. This is a purely natural part of the food web and so the heron is left to it's own devises. If it were a cat however (Not native to the UK) I'd be out giving chase. Being next to water is something even the most street hardened cynic can enjoy. We naturally gravitate to water in all it's forms. The sea, rivers and streams, ponds and lakes. Who doesn't enjoy a picnic by a rivers edge or overlooking a lake. Watching the sunset over the ocean with a drink in our hands. So having even a small water feature in our garden can help massively with calming our souls. Watch this short film of a pair of palmate newts courting in my pond and tell me you haven't found it enchanting. Especially the bit where the second male comes barging in. Much like the ponds out in the countryside don't have pumps and filters, your garden pond needn't either. Yet naturally occurring ponds seem to be able to remain clear and look healthy and filled with life. How do they manage that without a filter system? As mentioned before in other videos and lessons, balance is the key. A good mix of plant and animal life will contribute to keeping a pond crystal clear. Plant roots are a natural filter. Their roots guzzling up nutrients that would otherwise build up to unhealthy levels in the water. Invertebrates help keep the pond clear and tidy of leaf debris by munching away at rotting vegetation. Water fleas (Daphnia) feed on single cells of algae to prevent blanket weed choking the pond. Look again at the video above and notice how many daphnia are drifting about in the water......There's thousands of 'em! So the key trick to having a very low maintenance pond is balance. Having a good selection of different plants, invertebrates and amphibians is essential. The video below shows an adult frog and tadpoles enjoying the clear, warm shallows of one of my garden ponds. The margins are densely planted with a range of native plants. DO NOT INTRODUCE FISH. Fish will create more mess than they clear up, require a filtration system fed by a pump, needing electricity to run it, increasing maintenance and they will also eat most of the plants and other wildlife in the pond. Even the little sticklebacks we fished for as kids in our local streams and ponds will cause havoc in a small garden pond. Steer clear.

  • Buying and Growing Clematis

    A guide to choosing the right plant. Where to grow them and how to prune them. The trick to choosing clematis is simple. The more stems the better, growing from the base and branching strongly and evenly. Ignore single stemmed specimens with clumps of growth on the top third or half of the plant. They have not been well trained in the nursery and unless you prune them hard back to start afresh then they will never develope into anything special. The Good The Bad and the Ugly Below left we see a fresh looking multi stemmed young clematis in a 5 litre pot grown on a 90cm cane. It hasn't yet reached the top of the cane, but that doesn't matter it means it's been nipped out several times while growing. This is how it has so many stems from the base. Next to it is a vigorous single stemmed montana which is heading off the top of the cane. Plenty of signs of fast growth, but I wouldn't buy it because in order to turn this one into a decent plant you'd have to lop most of that off. The plant below is a hopeless mess. If you see this in a garden centre walk past it. It isn't worthy of the compost heap. It shows signs of neglect and it has obviously been left over from the previous year as the lower growth is woody. Now this is a splendid looking group 1 clematis. Plenty of stems coming from the base and branching growth coming off those stems at varying points up the stems. This will turn into a strong, full plant. This little chap is a late flowering group 3 specimen. Again don't worry that it hasn't yet reached the giddy heights of the 90cm cane. In fact to be honest after buying this and getting it home I'd pinch out the top node on each stem to get it to bud out even more. This delays the flowering to later in the year, but no problem, it also means you'll get twice or three times as many flowers then you would if you'd not pinched it out. Training and Growing clematis The classic way the British public grow clematis is throught a trellis on a wall or fence. This of course bares no resemblance to how they grow in their native habitats of South East Europe and the Far East. They are found as ground cover or scrambling through other shrubs and trees. Let's be totally honest, the foliage and stems are not particularly interesting to look at except for the Armandii and Cartmanii. So why parade them on a trellis? Most people allow them to grow straight to the top of a narrow vertical or fan trellis. The result, like the one in the picture below, is a straggly bare stem with a bunch of tangled growth on top with a few flowers. Now these chaps, I trained up a tripod of canes. There are three plants per pot and the canes are 2 metres high. Admittedly not very natural but they were used as examples of how to train them. These are both group 3 clematis. "Madame Julia Correvon" on the left and "Romantika" on the right. These are the late summer flowering ones that you cut hard back in spring. As each new stem reached it's second pair of leaves I nipped out the leading bud. The result, two buds from each joint. Once these attain the same stage I nip out again. Do this at least four times as the plants grow. You can see the results. Flowers all the way up the stem, bundles of growth and virtually no visible canes. Training on wires horizontally is probably the best way to grow clematis against a wall if you really do have to. Watch this video to see what I'm on about. Then come straight back here... Clematis Polish Spirit growing through a Philadelphus. The supporting shrub flowers in May June and is followed by the late flowering clematis which belongs to the group 3's. This group offers an abundance of flowers late into Autumn. Clematis "Madam Julia Correvon" growing through Berberis Juliannae. Again late flowers adding interest to an otherwise dull shrub. Planting and Growing Conditions This is one of the bits of the job that many people stumble on. It is often said that clematis like their roots shaded and cool with their tops in the sun. While this is true to some extent, in order to shade the roots I have seen people using slabs of slate, flat stones and cobbles. What loves to live under these things? What loves to chew new clematis shoots? Yup, slugs. So if you want to shade the roots because you've insisted on growing your clematis unnaturally up against a wall, then use a thick layer of sharp alpine grit. This will create the damp, cool conditions beneath which the roots will enjoy, but will deter slugs and snails. Clematis are greedy feeders when grown in pots or tubs and require regular liquid or slow release granules applying. Not so in the ground, unless your soil is pure sand and all nutrients are leached into the bedrock several feet below by the slightest shower. There will be enough nutrients in the soil to fulfill their needs. Plus the roots will be encouraged to grow deeper and wider in search of them. If you are going to plant against a wall make sure the root ball is at least 45cms away from the wall itself to reduce the drying action of the stone/brick. Being porous, moisture will be leached out from the soil into the wall and clematis will suffer from lack of water. When done correctly a clematis grown against a wall can be quite spectacular, like this Perle D'Azure growing in the Helmsley Walled Garden. The Pruning Groups 1 Flower early in the year like Macropetalla, Alpina and Montana. Prune as much as required as soon as flowering is finished. 2 Flower Early Summer and often again in late summer. Large flowers like Nelly Moser, Lasurstern and the hybridised double flowering Multi Blue. Prune lightly in March. They produce flower buds after only 4 to 6 pairs of leaves. (Personally I think they're a bit of a faff and wouldn't have one given) 3 Flower mid to late Summer. Produce a mass of flowers like Viticellas, Texensis and Tanguticas. Prune hard down in March almost to 3 to 4 buds above ground level, (except Tanguticas. Just prune them lightly to keep them in check). The group 3's produce flower buds after a dozen or more pairs of leaves. (Really easy to prune and give the best value for money) Where did I learn all of this? I worked for 2 years in a specialist Clematis nursery in County Durham. While there I worked predominantly in the tunnel where the group 1 & 3 clematis were grown. They seldom sold due to previous neglect and lack of pruning. I took them under my wing and began a regime of nipping out young growth to encourage multiple stems. Sales improved dramatically after a bit of care and attention.

  • Lawns, Borders and Low Maintenance.

    I hear people ask for low maintenance gardens with big lawns and few beds and borders. It can take some convincing to make them think that actually, the reverse would be much less work for them. Or me come to that. Lets think seriously about how much time is spent on keeping a formal lawn looking good. Then think about how much time is spent on a shrub or perennial border. The grass will require mowing at least once a week during the summer months. How often do perennials need cutting back? That’s right, once a year. What about shrubs? Well maybe once a year. Some of the slower growing shrubs perhaps less often. Now I know you’re going to say the time spent weeding borders adds up as well. True, weeds in a border are a problem. But what about when the border is well established and brimming with colour from the plants you actually want? Less room for weeds. The pros and cons of hoeing and digging weeds against mulching or using organic herbicides will fill another article. I will slip in the extra lawn care tasks at this point. Aerating, scarifying, top dressing and seasonal weed and feed routines. I would hope that after some careful thought and reflection, plus some calculations, you can see how much more work a formal lawn is. Not only should we take the hours spent on lawn maintenance into account, but also the cost. Fuel for mowers and strimmers. Servicing of these machines. Oil and spares. Even electric grass cutters are using fuel, and let’s be honest, they are such a faff to get out and get switched on. Even while mowing you are constantly trying to avoid the cable. Can we cut down our reliance on machinery to carry out simple tasks like cutting grass? I use a scythe with a meter long meadow blade to get a fine cut, on several of the lawns I manage. I also prefer scything long grass, weeds and rough vegetation. This picture shows a lawn that was neglected through the Spring Lockdown of 2020 during the Covid outbreak. After so many weeks of growth, the only way to get it back under control was with the trusty, none polluting scythe. Some of the newer breeds of push along mowers from Fiskars, Brill and Al-Ko are excellent, easy to use and efficient. Not to mention all the benefits to the environment and your health. This picture below, shows a lawn kept in tip top condition with a Fiskars momentum lawn mower. The clippings are not collected, but allowed to drop back into the grass to feed the soil. This is called 'mulch mowing.' Now what about the weeding of lawns? Where do I start? Moss, daisies, clover, dandelions, creeping buttercup, and black medic the list is endless. So many of the lawns I see are moss havens. And you know, to be honest it doesn’t worry me. The Japanese embrace moss in all it’s many and varied forms. Why cant we? The reason moss and other so-called lawn weeds thrive is because the majority of British gardeners cut their grass far too short. Scalping the grass down to the base reveals yellow, chlorophyll free culm. Not only that but they remove the cut material. Yup! that's a bad thing. 'Cut and remove' is how you manage a wild flower meadow, to deplete the nutrient levels in the soil. Wild flowers love that! Grass does not! Bearing all this in mind are you not inclined to agree that maintaining a formal lawn is an awful lot of work? There is of course an alternative to having acres of stripes. Sowing an area of native wild flowers and grasses and allowing them to just grow will save you so much backache and money. Sit back and enjoy the new encounters you will experience every day as new buds emerge and flower. As the area develops, annuals give way to the perennials. So not only will you witness changes through the season but also from year to year. The wildlife in your garden will increase with bees, hoverflies, butterflies as well as grass pollinating moths and birds. You can relax admiring your contribution to nature while listening to your neighbours wrestling with their mowers. After years of filling my garden to the brim with as many exotic shrubs and plants as possible, my garden has undergone a transformation in the last few years. After digging out the shrubs and perennials, I have introduced native wildflowers and plants as well as native shrubs. This photo shows my front garden in the summer of 2014. The change in how much time I spend working in the garden is amazing. I spend so much more of my time in simply watching and enjoying what goes on in the garden around me. Isn’t that how it should be? I hope this has given some of you food for thought and inspiration to perhaps make changes in your own gardens. They needn't be huge or budget shattering. Even a change in how you manage a lawn can make a huge difference to what will grow. Raise the height of cut on your mower, allowing the daisies and clover to flower. You'll be pleasantly surprised at what will come into the garden as a result of new pollen sources being allowed to thrive. I would encourage a little caution when choosing what are often called wildflower mixes in garden centres and nursery catalogues. Many that I have seen often contain exotic species. These are added for their colour or insect attracting qualities. But beware, some exotic flowers act as a narcotic to insects, making them addicted to the flower at the expense of all surrounding, more worthy blooms. Buddliea is guilty of this. I shall write another article in which I'll list naughty foreign types and recommend a native plant or shrub that will easily substitute.

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Other Pages (26)

  • Benefits of wildflower lawns | Wilderness Tamed

    Benefits of wildflower lawns & meadows. Aside from the obvious benefit of having a colourful mix of native plants, grasses and flowers that will spend all summer attracting a host of pollinating insects to your garden... ​ . ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ..the fact that you don't need to be wasting precious time and effort mowing them every weekend which saves you money on fuel costs. ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ When you take into consideration the increase in biodiversity in and around your garden... ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ...then add to that the improvement in the soil structure and health of the microbial life in it... ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ ​ Top it off with a reduction in artificial inputs from herbicides, like moss and weed killers.... ​ ​ ​ ​ Bird life, attracted by the increase in insects and seed variety. Amphibians who enjoy the extended foraging possibilities in this food rich habitat. Small mammals like hedgehogs, voles and shrews, excited by the expanded living quarters and food supply. ​ With specific plants and grasses that provide food for the caterpillar stages of a wide variety of moths and butterflies. You don't get that in a lawn! From April to November the average formal lawn requires mowing at least once a week in order to keep it looking neat. Add all those hours up over the year and ask yourself if you couldn't be doing something more relaxing with your time than pushing a mower back and forth. Soil is allowed to behave naturally when it isn't beneath a lawn. A more natural cycle of plant growth with less artificial irrigation and feeding lets the invertebrates and microbes within the soil develop to sustainable and balanced levels. Their behaviour, uninhibited by man made additions to the chemical or structural nature of the soil, contributes to healthy plant growth. As gardeners we should be embracing nature, not throwing punches at it. Chemical lawn treatments, in the form of 'weed and feed' or pesticides for getting rid of turf pests all alter the soils balance as well as killing plants and moss. Additional nitrogen based fertilisers contribute to imbalance. It's difficult to think of any real benefits to having wildflowers instead of a neat and tidy stripy lawn .........Oh no! Hang on..

  • Managing your wildflowers | Wilderness Tamed

    Managing your wildflowers As mentioned on the formal lawns verses wildflowers page, this is an easy process carried out no more than twice in a year. ​ As you will probably guess from other pages on this site my preferred method of mowing is with a scythe. Honestly, they're so much easier and eco friendly than people imagine. So simply mow the wildflower lawn and either immediately rake off the cuttings or leave for a few days to allow seeds to drop into the soil. That's it! It really is as easy as that. I could end this page here, but I like to waffle on a bit, so there'll be more. ​ You're wondering what to do with all the stuff you remove, aren't you? why not donate it to someone else who wants what you've got. They can spread it over a prepared area of their own garden. Allow the seeds to drop over a few days, then remove the vegetation. It's how many large scale meadows are created, with cuttings from an already established meadow. ​ Failing that, perhaps some locals would like it to feed their pet guinea pigs or rabbits. I know some folk bale their wildflowers and sell the bales for a few quid. ​ In other news, keeping the nutrient level low also means keeping the lawn free from too many Autumn leaves. Here's a quick video all about it.

  • Preparing the soil for wild flowers | Wilderness Tamed

    Preparing the soil for wild flowers This might come as a surprise, but you might have been spending the last few years preparing the soil for wild flowers. ​ If you watch some of my videos about lawns and grass cutting you will hear me mention how 'cut and remove' is the perfect way to manage a wild flower lawn or meadow. ​ Cut and remove? I hear you ask...Thats what most people do when they mow their lawns with a grass box. All the nutrient the grass has taken from the soil in order to grow, is collected in the grass box and dumped in a compost bin. Or worse still a local authority garden waste bin. ​ This constant depletion of nutrients in the soil is just what wild flowers want. It's the opposite of what a lush grass lawn wants. Yet this is how people have been conditioned to mow their lawns. Then they wonder why the grass is struggling to compete with moss and broad leaved weeds. Either that or they combat the nutrient loss from their mowing regime by introducing chemical or granular fertilisers. More cost! ​ This video below shows me sowing seeds in my own small front garden. The ground was previously planted with a mix of perennials and shrubs. ​ If you have a lawn that you are considering removing or changing the simplest way to get it ready for wild flowers is to remove the turf. Hire a turf lifter for this, it makes the job so much quicker. While you're on, hire a cultivator. You'll want to use this to turn the soil. It doesn't have to be deep. Rake the area level once it has been dug over. Firm the soil with a roller. Also easy to hire. Then either follow the video above or lay your rolls of wildflower turf. Make sure you get a full plant list for the seed mix and the turf. Insist that a native species mix is included. None native plants serve no purpose other than colour and some pollen. When should you do all this? Ideally in Spring between March and April but the best time is Autumn between September and November. Whether seeding or turfing, it's a good idea to plant some native bulbs in the soil first. These will provide an extension to the season of interest. Snakehead fritillary, snowdrops, bluebells and old English narcissus are great for adding a splash of colour early in the year.

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