Ground Elder Eradication Trial!

TTagetes minuta

This rather unprepossing plant is Tagetes minuta, a half hardy annual and presumably a weed in its native Mexico, which is reputed to kill the roots of my nemesis, Aegopodium podagraria or ground elder.  I heard about it by chance in comments on a Facebook page and decided to check it out on the interweb. Sure enough, even the sage Sarah Raven sings its praises and claims to have cleared a bed of ground elder with it. I have ordered a large packet of seeds for a few pence which will be incredible value if it really works.

According to those who should know, the plant has herbicidal root secretions which destroy the roots of perennial weeds such as ground elder, lesser celandine and couch grass. It is apparently 2.5m tall with finely cut foliage and small creamy yellow flowerheads which are unlikely to turn heads but who cares! If it gets rid of the ground elder and celandines in my prize herbaceous border I don’t care how ugly it is just as long as it doesn’t kill all my other plants as well.

I will make this one of my summer projects with regular updates. I would be very interested in your comments about this subject, particularly from people who may have tried it.

Which? Gardening photo shoot!


Each year I offer to grow seeds in the Which? Gardening Trials and submit my results along with hundreds of other keen subscribers. Last year for the first time they set up an 8 week temporary on-line forum for the trialists to make comments and share experiences during the trial and I was a keen contributor, particularly regarding the climbing French bean ‘Monte Cristo’ which, although delicious to eat, were extremely curly! This got people talking and sharing photos and ideas. I loved it!DSC_0021

So this year I volunteered to grow two varieties of Zinnia to see which one attracted more butterflies and pollinating insects, Garlic Chives to assess their usefulness for salads and boiled potatoes, and Ipomea (Morning Glory) ‘Dacapo Light Blue’  to see how quickly it came into flower from germination.

Chives are chives and not very exciting but the flavour of garlic chives are more garlic than onion so you need to like garlic!DSC_0006

I have featured the Ipomea elsewhere in the blog and they are a real winner, as good or better than the popular and better known ‘Grandpa Ott’ and ‘Heavenly Blue’.DSC_0024

It was the Zinnias that became the stars this year and mainly because I got an email asking if I would be a case study for the magazine and feature my plants and comments when the results are published! Wow! What a privilege. The Trials team had seen the photos I had uploaded on the forum and wanted their own professional photographer to visit my garden and take shots of the plants and me!DSC_0015

And so it was that on a sunny Thursday last week, Matt Fowler, the Which? photographer, drove from High Wycombe to Cheltenham for an hour long photo shoot, him surrounded by equipment and me on my knees amongst the Zinnias!DSC_0089

I am not used to being in front of the camera so it was a little nerve-wracking. However, Matt was used to it and just got in with his job while Cathy was taking pics of him taking pics of me!DSC_0074

I grew the Zinnias in a raised bed in the veg garden so I could keep an eye on them and this turned out to have been a good idea because we could photograph them from all sides and very close up. DSC_0024

I think the light was bouncing off my bald head!DSC_0065

It was a good day and not your average Thursday morning. The varieties were ‘Oklahoma’ and the shorter, rather non-Zinnia like ‘Starbright’. Great plants, easy to grow, undemanding and drought tolerant, long flowering and attractive to bees and butterflies. What more could you want? Well, perhaps more flowers and less of me!


Big’uns & Little’uns!

Sweet Peas showing difference between cordon and bush

Just taken this photo for my next piece in Garden News and thought I would post it to show the difference between bush grown sweet peas on the left and cordon grown ones on the right. The bush grown ones are grandifloras which have more flowers and a stronger scent and I just let them scramble up pea netting and obelisks in various parts of the garden. They get no attention other than watering, feeding and cutting. The cordons are all frilly Spencer varieties used mainly for competitions and have less scent and less flowers but they are much, much bigger! Some stems are 18″ long and the flowers are at least twice as big as the grandifloras. However, they involve a lot more work and I have been tying them in every day for weeks, nipping out the side shoots, cutting off the tendrils and pinching out the flower buds to force them to put all their energy into making tall strong plants. Fingers crossed for a first time success at the local show next week!

Smartie Pants or Poo Pants?

035I am really not sure I like this new Dahlia ‘Twyning’s Smartie’. There is something decidedly odd about it. For a start it is a weakling, only about 18″ high and has taken absolutely ages to grow even to that paltry size. And the white splashed flower looks wrong, like it’s a mistake.039

Not all the flowers are splashed either so they are not consistent. If I had been choosing new Dahlia varieties I would have chucked this one in the bin as not fit for purpose.

I suppose it just shows how clever those marketing people are – getting mugs like me to buy the hype and the tuber! Its big brother, Twynings ‘After Eight’ which has dark foliage and white single flowers is still in bud. Let’s hope it reads this and does better!

First Sweet Peas!

003I don’t know why, but the first Sweet Peas of the year just make me smile!007

The stems are always longest and strongest on the early ones and these are no exception. Sown on 31 October last year, overwintered in a cold frame and planted out at the end of April, these will be followed by a further 20 plants sown on New Years Day which are now only 2 weeks behind! The March sown seeds were given away and swapped. I hope they get the same pleasure from them that we do.


Garvinea 'Rachel'

Garvinea ‘Rachel’

There is something about red. I just love it. I seem to be drawn to it. It is warm and ripe and hot. I have a lot of reds in the garden. Here are just a few.

Salvia microphylla 'Royal Bumble'

Salvia microphylla ‘Royal Bumble’

This pretty Salvia is in flower at the moment right outside the garden room window alongside the popular ‘Hot Lips’.

Red Pelargonium

Red Pelargonium

Pelargoniums are such a reliable performer in a hot summer and I always buy a few to put in pots around the patio.244

I love big blousy red poppiesDahlia 'Redskin Mix'


And red dahlias…this is ‘Redskin’051

And Geum ‘Mrs Bradshaw’ a chance seedling introduced by Perry’s nursery in Enfield017

You might have read about my love of chillies and this particular Cayenne variety which grows so well in my greenhouse

Yum Yum!

Yum Yum!

And finally, our scrumptious and reliable autumn raspberry ‘Brice’ .

Just can’t resist red!


Favourite Dahlia & Chrysanthemum of 2012

Bishop of LLandaff

Bishop of Llandaff

Probably my favourite Dahlia of the year, Bishop of Llandaff. The sturdy stems holding gorgeous deep red flowers contrast with the dark foliage and, with regular deadheading, went on for months. A really good front of border dahlia and very attractive to bees. Started from seed this year, this was grown from a packet of ‘Redskin Mix’ from Suttons Seeds.

Orange Allouise

Orange Allouise

Undoubtedly my favourite Chrysanthemum of 2012, the gorgeous buttery yellow ‘Orange Allouise’ which captivated me every day in the early morning sun throughout August and early September. Strongly recommended if you like that sort of thing!


One of this years additions to the cutting garden was Chrysanthemum ‘Froggy’ from Sarah Raven and it has produced a bumper crop of small green button flowers, perfect for a contemporary looking vase. Obviously it would work well teamed with white, yellow or pink but it also looks good just on it’s own set off by the darker green of the foliage.

Sweet Pea Sowing Time

Cathy and I love Sweet Peas and we grow them every year. They seem to like the alkaline clay soil in the front garden and are much admired by passers-by. Our window cleaner also happens to be a champion sweet pea grower and he reckons it is because the place we grow them is where the mixer was when the extensions were done and each day the builders washed it out and the cement soaked into the ground in that spot. I am not sure I totally believe him but it’s a good theory!

We started with a small pot of mixed Grandifloras in 2009 and now grow several different cultivars including Cupani, Matucana and Painted Lady which, as far as I know, are the three oldest varieties.

Lathyrus odoratus 'Painted Lady', Fabaceae, Fa...

Lathyrus odoratus ‘Painted Lady’,  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This year we participated in the Which? Gardening trial of ‘High Scent’ and have just reported back so I shouldn’t reveal the results until they do!

‘High Scent’

I have tried sowing them in autumn and spring and directly in the ground in April, and I have come to the conclusion that it all depends on the weather! In a mild winter and spring autumn sowing probably produces stronger plants and earlier flowers. The earliest I have managed is an overwintered self-sown white Grandiflora in flower on 24th April. However, in severe winters it is a struggle to keep them going, even in an insulated cold frame with fleece over at night. It is definitely better to grow them ‘hard’ but if the compost freezes for too long there are often casualties. It is strongly advisable to pinch out the growing tips when two pairs of leaves have formed, same for the side shoots, to keep the plants compact and bushy.

I have tried all the recommended germination techniques and read all the conflicting advice. There seem to be many contradictions in the ‘best practice’ expounded by the expert growers and it must be very confusing for some novices. Do you soak the seeds overnight in tepid water to soften the hard seed case? Or do you nick them with a knife or nail clippers or sandpaper them to expose the white pith beneath and ease the passage of root and shoot? Or do you, as I now do, just take them straight from the packet and sow them!

‘King Size Navy Blue’

Then there are the containers to sow them in. Should you use a standard 9cm pot, a discarded cardboard toilet roll tube, a root trainer, seed tray or what? Perhaps you should buy the special biodegradable grow pots from J. Arthur Bowers or special deep Sweet Pea Pots marketed so cleverly by Sarah Raven? I have tried them all but, in the end, I have opted for none of them. Instead, I have bought 100 re-usable polythene grow tubes for £5 from Eagle Sweet Peas as they seem to offer the best solution.

Although they will stand up on their own when full of compost, I can get 20 in a standard mushroom tray which keeps them upright and makes them easy to move about.

As the autumn sown seeds are going to be in the tubes for at least 5 months, I mix a little slow release food in the gritty compost.

The window cleaner reckons you should sow them when the clocks go back and plant them out when the clocks go forward. Simple to remember and has worked for him for over 30 years. Three seeds of each variety are now sitting in their grow tubes in the greenhouse and as soon as they germinate they will be transferred outside into the cold frame.  I will sow 3 more of each on New Year’s Day in the propagator, on 1 March in gentle heat if it is still cold, and directly in the ground on 1 May. If two thirds germinate and grow to maturity, bearing in mind how much slugs, snails, mice and birds love the seeds and seedlings, this should provide me with around 160 plants, half for us and half for friends and neighbours and the Horticultural Society Plant Sale in May. I am hoping to avoid the usual glut of flowers in June and July and prolong the season to provide cut flowers from mid-May to mid-September.

According to Mr Fothergill’s, 2013 is the year of the Sweet Pea and they have released a new variety in conjunction with the RHS called Chelsea Centenary to celebrate.

My 20 selected varieties for next year are as follows:

  1. Cupani
  2. Matucana
  3. Painted Lady
  4. Grandiflora purple/pink
  5. Grandiflora red
  6. King Size Navy Blue
  7. Cathy
  8. Heirloom mixed
  9. Alan Titchmarsh
  10. Apricot Sprite
  11. High Scent
  12. Singing the Blues
  13. Henry Eckford
  14. Ensign
  15. Air Warden
  16. Beaujolais Purple
  17. Noel Sutton
  18. Royal Family
  19. Mrs R Bolton
  20. Lathyrus chloranthus

Lathyrus chloranthus is a species variety and unique as it is the only ‘yellow’ sweet pea known to exist. It is a bit of a novelty and has little or no scent but I thought I would grow it simply for the colour which is really an acid green rather than yellow.