Hello, I'm Tom, your not so local, but friendly gardener. I hope you will find the following articles useful and help you get to enjoy your gardening even more. 

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Pruning Fruit Trees

Pruning Fruit Trees

Pruning can be a tricky business and if not done correctly, or at the right time, can leave the tree with damage that could eventually kill it. Here Tom gives us a lot of advice.

To prune or not to prune?

To prune or not to prune?

Most of the pruning I see can be categorised into three different methods: hedge trimming, coppicing and pollarding. All of which are good, but to use one technique only on all the plants would be folly,

Here I highlight some problems and outline the correct techniques.

Seedlings

Seedlings

There is nothing like the satisfaction of raising your own plants.I have been checking over some cuttings today in my coldframe, taken in the late summer last year. Dianthus, Hebe, Penstemon and varieties of Erysimum the perrenial wallflower have made roots.So after a good session of potting these up, they will now be able to grow onwards..These will be planted out in containers or even in my own garden borders later on in the year. I've also had some success with some seeds collected from a Geum 'Mrs Bradshaw', a lovely yellow form.These germinated in the Autumn and I'm going to soon prick these out and pot them on.

Climbing rose training

Climbing rose training

Here I describe how to trim and train your climbing roses as well as how to care for them. It's always important to really think about where to plant them to give the best visual benefit.

Leaf mold and it's benefits

Leaf mold and it's benefits

Leaves are a great by product and one I am regularly given. I've been digging out some well rotted leaf mold that has been here about two years. If I'd left it another year it would look almost like peat. I have about six barrows full here and I'm using it to line my trenches in the veg patch. It'll really help with this heavy clay soil. Organic material is the best thing to use to help with breaking down the soil as the organisms breaking it down improve the structure. Sandy soil is also helped by this organic material as it gives it the ability to hold on to the moisture and nutrients. If you get offered leaves, rot them down (they need fungal activity rather than bacterial activity, like in a compost bin) You can add a few grass clipping, put them in some bin liners and picture the bag a few times. Pop the bag somewhere out of site for a couple of years and Bob's your uncle!

Catkins

Catkins

Catkins are already appearing on trees and Shrubs, infact earlier than ever. So what are catkins? Well they are a cylindrical flower clusters with inconspicuous petals. They are usually pollinated by the wind,(anemophilous) but in the case of Salix caprea "the pussy willow" which are pollinated in the conventional way by insects. The name catkin is derived from German or Dutch words meaning kitten, as they resemble a kitten's tail.Their job is to enable the plants to reproduce via male and female catkins and the tranferance of their pollen leading to fruit or seed production.Alot of trees and shrubs with catkins are monoecious which they have male and female flowers on the same plant. However that doesn't mean that they are self-fertile, they are still reliant from the transfer of pollen from one tree's male pollen to another's female's flowers. Pussy Willow or (Salix caprea) the fine evergreen shrub Garrya eliptica, and Poplar (populous alba) are dioecious with male and female flowers on separate plants. Certain trees or shrubs with catkins once their flowers have been pollinated grow into fruit such as Oaks (querus) with acorns or Hazels (corylus,) Sweet chesnuts (castanea sativa) with edible nuts. These fall to the ground or are taken by squirrels and buried in the soil. From where as seed they can germinate to produce new plants. With trees such as Willows (Salix) Birches (betula) and after pollination their flowers become tiny seeds. In the case of the willow they are covered in a white downy material which helps them to float upon the wind. Birches have tiny wings on their many seeds which also help them to travel through the air.Alder tree (alnus glutinosa) catkins produce a cone-like fruit to hold their seed.The male catkins are generally longer than their female counterparts. So in the next couple of months it will be the time to look for these natural wonders in hedgerows, woodland or in domestic gardens. They are one of the surest signs that new life is on the horizon, and spring is getting nearer.

 Iris Unguicularis

Iris Unguicularis

A fabulous, but again slightly early display of iris unguicularis (formerly iris stylosa) seen at Great Washbourne the other day. Known commonly though as the Algerian iris, whoever planted these obviously had some plant knowledge! As these are in an ideal spot, on a south facing but with a sheltered aspect at the base of this wall. Like alot of irises they prefer free draining soil and to baked by the sun. These are a spectacular splash of colour at the turn of, and into the new year. They really need a dedicated border or bed, and should be treated as a feature plant. They grow to about 12 inches high with grassy evergreen leaves which can look a little untidy at times.They soon colonise their patch of soil with their rhizomatous roots. The flowers are also fragrant and can be cut and brought into the house. Iris unguicularis can be susceptible to slug damage when young and when they are getting established, so keep an eye open for those. As their common Algerian name suggests, they are natives of North Africa and South West Asia. These in the pics may be the pale Lavender "Walter butt"? , there is a purple cultivar "Mary Barnard" with the white "alba"being less common. Julie Ritchie at the Hoo Nursery near Tewkesbury, just off the A38, down from the Odessa pub always has a good selection of these to buy along with other perrenial, grasses and alpines.

Reversion- Variagation

Reversion- Variagation

This post tackles a problem found on variegated, shrubs, called 'Reversion' . Variegation means the appearance of different coloured zones on leaves,(in this topic) or stems, fruit or even flowers. Variegation comes from a sport or a mutation of a green plants leaves in nature. Nurserymen then propagate these parts to create new varieties either with cuttings, grafting or even division. There are a huge amount of Variegated shrubs to choose from and can be seen in alot of gardens. They add an extra dimension to the value of the plant especially if they flower or are non deciduous aswell. The problem is though with these plants is that their growth isn't entirely stable, the mutations can be prone to reverting back to pure green shoots. The green shoots contain more chlorophyll in their leaves and are able to absorb more light energy and thus are more vigorous. Before you know it, your prized variegated shrub can be overcome with greenery! So what is the solution to "the green menace" then? . Well it is just a matter of tracing to where the reversion is shooting from and pruning it completely out and back to a stem that is still variegated. In the pictures we see some Euonymous which are classic shrubs to have this problem along with Golden Variegated ligustrum (privet) , Variegated Weigela, Eleagnus and Ilex (Hollies) to name but a few. Captions describe "the before problem" and" the after" remedy.

Honeysuckle - Lonicera Fragrantissima

Honeysuckle - Lonicera Fragrantissima

For me, some of the most exquisite winter flowering shrubs are the shrubby winter honeysuckles. Lonicera fragrantissima which was brought to these shores by Robert Fortune the Scottish plant hunter from China in 1845 , Lonicera Standishii, or the cross between these two Lonicera X purpussii named after two German plant collecting brothers. Fantastically fragrant, these like so many of the winter flowering shrubs have got into their stride earlier than normal. The white flowering fragrantissima at home in my own garden have been blooming for a month now. Heavenly lemony scent wafts through the air, whenever I get anywhere near them. Delicious is the best description for their perfume.They have beautiful golden yellow stamens which contast superbly with the white petals. I have three in my rather large garden, two alongside the driveway and one by a pathway. A pink Standishii is also pictured, a recent cultivar named "Budapest". Flowering goes on for a good 3-4 months. These largely deciduous shrubs are pretty uninteresting from spring until late autumn. Fragrantissima can get quite congested with its older growth, so any pruning is best done straight after flowering. Mainly thinning out any heavily congested parts that are bunched or crossing and rubbing. But don't go mad, some of the finest free flowering specimens are the most neglected! The usual good handful of growmore around the roots and a mulch after pruning is a good idea.With a twiggy habit they lend themselves to having a later summer flowering clematis viticella growing up through them. Growing to about 2 metres in height with a max spread of 2.5 metres these will grow in virtually any soil providing its well prepared state with plenty of organic material. A sunny, sheltered spot is ideal. A must have plant in my view for any garden, I really enjoy mine as I grew them all myself from hardwood cuttings!!

Lawn Care in Winter

Lawn Care in Winter

December the 1st and lawn mowing! Alot of people ask me, "can I still cut my lawn, or when is the last cut done"? Well the answer is yes you can still cut your lawns, and "the last cut" will be determined by the weather and ground conditions. The golden rule is to just take the top of the growth off, don't scalp it! Infact never scalp your grass, as it will weaken it and allow moss and weeds to move in. Grass will grow if the temperature rises above 5 degrees so with a warming climate it is inevitable that mowing will continue throughout the winter months. Always check for worm casts, and if these are present sweep them off before cutting.If there is a dew on the grass, draw a sheet or tarpaulin over it to disperse the moisture. A trick that I have is to use my leaf blower to do this. It works very well, not only at this time of the year but also in the peak growing times when a customer's grass has to be cut in moist conditions. Not a cut and a blow dry, but a blow dry and a cut!!! I prefer to use a four wheeled machine at this time of the year as apposed to a rear roller mower, because there is less chance of churning the headlands up as you turn the machine around for the next run down the turf. So go for a higher setting with the blade, and just tidy things up. It's a good time of the year to renovate the lawn edges with a half moon edging tool, use a plank on straight runs as a guide. This is a job that gets overlooked in the busy times of gardening activity, but done now it will make a tremendous difference to the neatness of where the grass meets the soil ready for when spring activities ensue again!

Heliborous Niger - Christmas Rose

Heliborous Niger - Christmas Rose

Fancy a Christmas rose? Well here is one at work today. However this plant is a Hellebore, Heliborous niger and actually a member of the buttercup family! Not to be confused with helleborus orientalis which bloom around about mid-Febuary.The black hellebore name is thought to originate from the colour of the plant's roots. They share with Orientalis the same growing requirements of a moist fertile soil, at the front of a border in a sheltered spot. Trim off the old leaves after flowering, but I tend to remove a few to expose the delightful white petalled blooms with their eye catching yellow stamens. An annual mulch of well rotted garden compost, farm manure or leaf mould around the plants is a good idea. Beware though this plant when established resents being moved. If you leave some of the flowerheads on to run to seed, then seedlings very often germinate close by. .These can be lifted when big enough and potted up to grown on and then when big enough as viable plants transferred to the border. You will see alot of these for sale in garden centres, farmshops, and DIY stores and even supermarkets. They are a joyful plant for the dullest time of the year. This one pictured has just come into bloom and certainly coloured up my day in Gretton today.

Jenny Pim - Periwinkle

Jenny Pim - Periwinkle

Well here's a cheerful little flowered plant out in bloom today in Beckford Road. Growing in a wall was this ground covering Vinca or "Periwinkle" difformis 'jenny pym'. Delightful little pink and white blooms, the name difformis means two different types of shoot. One long arching stem which spreads the plant via layering, and a shorter stem which produces the flowers. Periwinkles generally are happy in partial shade, but this one get's sun all day. This particular one seems to be putting flowers out virtually all year, as whenever I work in this particular garden it's blooms are out. All vincas are pretty undemanding whether they are in minor (small leaf) or major (large leaf) forms They now come in a great variety of flowering colours and even variegated leaf forms, and quickly occupy a patch of ground with their vigorous growth. They can therefore become a bit of a pest if combined in a border with other plants. But planted in an area where you can let them colonise ie under trees or maybe down a bank they are great performers. Alternatively you can contain them, as in this one grown in a wall, equally in a pot or a container. If they get a little scruffy, just trim them and back they will come! .