When we’re on holiday, do our gardens miss us | Allan Jenkins

Gardening Advice - the Guardian -

Everything has gone wild and some serious effort is needed to restore garden and gardener’s happiness

The best-planted plans... This is a return to the allotment after near three weeks away. I had put in the work. I had weeded and fed, I had sowed new rows and organised watering cover (thank you, Lene). Howard had promised to pop in.

The salads were all up before I went, the peas and beans were adolescent, there was coriander, and fresh leaves and early potatoes: the bright, light tastes of summer. So why do I feel so guilty as I walk towards the plot on my first early mid-June morning after being away?

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Grow your own ingredients – even on a windowsill | James Wong

Gardening Advice - the Guardian -

You don’t need a garden to get in on the summer harvest – herbs make some of the best houseplants

At the peak of the growing season allotmenteers’ crops are now coming in thick and fast, but you don’t have to have access to masses of space to try your hand at producing homegrown harvests. In fact, even if all you have is a sunny kitchen windowsill there is a large range of edibles that you can get growing right now that will produce enough to transform all sorts of dishes. So here’s a run through of my (mostly) favourite indoor edibles that I am growing right now.

While we don’t tend to think about edible species when it comes to houseplants, loads of the fresh spices we use hail from the tropics and despite being impossible to grow outdoors in the UK, are super-easy to grow in pots indoors. A classic example is the curry plant Murraya koenigii from south-east Asia, whose leaves taste like ready-made curry powder. Tracking down the fresh leaves can be incredibly tricky in supermarkets, and even when you do they tend to have lost much of their flavour, so growing your own is really worth the effort. Plants can be treated just like their relatives the citrus, given a bright, warm spot and well-drained soil. And they take pruning really well, so you don’t have to be trepidatious when it comes to harvest time.

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How to grow beetroot | Alys Fowler

Gardening Advice - the Guardian -

Treat these earthy roots well and they will thrive, says our gardening expert

To taste the rich, mineral flavours of beetroot is to sample the true essence of your garden, for no other vegetable comes so close to tasting as your soil might. To say little of how pleasing beetroot look when in fine fettle, with the back-lit sun on their leaves. On the allotment I have patches of them to eat, small and sweet, throughout the summer, but in my garden at home I dot them along the bed edges where they will sit all winter offering structure and verdant leaves until I pluck them one by one to eat in early spring.

It’s a little too late to sow for overwintering, but it’s always worth a gamble because if they don’t fatten up you can eat them in early autumn as small and perfectly sweet.

Related: How to weed in a wildlife-friendly way | Alys Fowler

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Hate weeding? An easy solution | James Wong

Gardening Advice - the Guardian -

These fast-growing flowers beat the weeds at their own game

If you’re a regular reader, it will probably come as little surprise that I am a passionate believer in the therapeutic power of horticulture. I love witnessing the miracle of life unfold by sowing seeds, the satisfaction when a tree first bears fruit, the fresh scent of a mown lawn. However, there is one job I really can’t hack, especially at this time of year of peak plant growth, and that’s weeding. The hours of back-breaking work rooting out weeds between cracks in paving and in gravel drives, only to have to repeat the whole process a week later is (even to me) just too much like outdoor tidying up.

Fortunately, there is a simple trick you can deploy to beat nature at its own game. You can harness the power of tough, low-growing ornamentals to out-compete weeds for space, water and nutrients in these nooks and crannies. Not only will this dramatically reduce the amount of time you’ll need to spend weeding, but it will also turn a desert of paving and gravel into a colourful, living surface that will withstand any amount of trampling. Here are some of my favourite, hard-working candidates to fill cracks and crevices and get down to the business of fighting weeds.

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Harvest time on Plot 29 | Allan Jenkins

Gardening Advice - the Guardian -

This month in the garden has its rewards – and a few jobs, too

July, the harvest time, when sowing slows, but even though it’s the summer holidays you’ll need to grow for next spring: cabbages, cauliflowers, sprouts if you like them.

Continue with kales and chards and fennel. And it’s likely to be your last chance to sow beetroot this month. Add carrots for autumn and winter. It’s getting late to top up peas and French beans to be ready before the frost.

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A ‘boggler, boggler’ bus just the ticket | Brief letters

Gardening Advice - the Guardian -

Books of poetry | Electric buses | Headlines | Slugs and snails

Fr Julian Dunn (Letters, 1 July) may be stirred to profane language about the dearth of poetry in the 100 best books for the summer piece, but he missed Raymond Antrobus’s The Perseverance in the section headed “Prize winners”. More would of course be welcome. How about a little Luke Wright to liven up an evening?
Tom Rank
Glossop, Derbyshire

• A poetry book for the summer? Fr Julian Dunn need look no further than any of Connie Bensley’s excellent collections.
Penny Brown
Lewes, East Sussex

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Waterlilies: miracles that you can grow | James Wong

Gardening Advice - the Guardian -

Long thought to be impossible, a hardy lavender waterlily was gardening’s holy grail – until 2007...

In the cosy world of gardening, it’s rare something comes along that changes everything. But for lovers of water plants, in the summer of 2007 a Thai farmer would overturn almost 100 years of entrenched dogma with a creation that many thought impossible: a hardy blue waterlily.

With their flawless translucent petals, waterlilies are among the most beautiful of all garden plants. Yet their quirky genetics mean that, unlike most garden favourites, this genus eluded the endeavours of plant breeders until just over a century ago. Right up to the late 1800s the only waterlily available to European gardeners was the white native form. Then a French horticultural genius called Joseph Bory Latour-Marliac cracked a hybridising technique whose results dramatically expanded the options available by mixing in the genes of waterlily species from North America. Pinks, yellows, oranges and reds were the result. It was his waterlilies that inspired Monet, resulting in an explosion in the plant’s popularity.

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Working towards peas and peace | Allan Jenkins

Gardening Advice - the Guardian -

It’s tempting to rest, but gardens and summer call, no matter the mood

Up early after a disturbed night’s sleep, spirits low but much to do. I had wanted rest and to recuperate. My bones ache, my heart too, but gardening is therapy.

I had run out of time the night before, stuff left undone. So I am at the allotment, Monday morning before 5am, almost no one else on the road. At the gate, it is just me and the joyful chorus. My troubled world suspends, almost disappears. My breathing and pulse rate slow. I will drift awhile in the moment.

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How to weed in a wildlife-friendly way | Alys Fowler

Gardening Advice - the Guardian -

A perfect weed-free plot offers little to our embattled insects. There is a gentler approach than pulling every unwanted plant

I have watched and silently wept this spring as trees ready for nesting, forget-me-nots in full bloom, and buttercups about to burst forth have all been clipped and ripped, torn and shredded. And in their place? Nothing. Under the rules of good husbandry, this sort of pruning and weeding makes your plot look perfect and well-ordered, the soil pleasingly flat and tickled. But I am going to take my feminist rage at this word, husbandry, and rip it up like it has done to the wild things. Enough of this obsession with control and order.

Our world is in grave danger; the smallest beings that crawl and fly around this globe are disappearing. Yet there is a yawning gap between knowledge and practice, and it sits around one of the fundamental tenets of gardening: weeding. Between the nothing of bare earth and the next set of weeds is a hungry caterpillar, weary bee, or a sawfly larva with nothing to eat. There are no pointless insects; they all matter, as they are intricately interwoven into the food web.

Related: When aphids attack | Alys Fowler

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Plant limes for fragrance and flavour | James Wong

Gardening Advice - the Guardian -

These unusual citrus trees will add real zest to your garden – and kitchen

Citrus trees are without a doubt among the most popular of all ornamental plants worldwide – and with good reason. They are the ultimate horticultural multitaskers, offering beautiful flowers on a patio outdoors in summer and glossy-leaved evergreen houseplants when brought in for the winter. Of course, there’s attractive, tasty fruit, too – and that’s before we even talk about the uplifting scent of their blossoms.

However, there is always one small caveat: the vast majority of citrus plants I see in garden centres are oranges, lemons and the occasional clementine or mandarin – the same fruit that are incredibly easy and cheap to buy in the shops. This is a shame considering that the cost of the plants easily outweighs any harvest you’d ever get. If only we picked some of the rarer varieties (there are at least 100), we could get some wonderfully unusually flavoured fruit that is essentially unbuyable in the shops – all for the same price and level of care as one of their more common cousins. So if you are toying with the idea of giving citrus a go, here are my top three unusual plants for great flavour.

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Sowing annuals for my daughter’s summer garden | Allan Jenkins

Gardening Advice - the Guardian -

Paternal love is expressed as a riot of blooms and colour

Kala’s poppies come out as we start sowing more. It is close to her birthday and we are preparing her midsummer garden as we do every year. There are already clematis, mad amounts of jasmine, cascading roses, lolling lavender. It is a heady, sweet-smelling spot in London’s Kentish Town.

We are here to sow her annuals and I’ve been hoarding seed like a kid collecting cards. Kala’s is a smallish terrace townhouse garden with fairly poor soil and visiting cats. But it grows well. Last year there was a nasturtium explosion, which invaded her anxious neighbour’s garden. It was mostly my fault.

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When aphids attack | Alys Fowler

Gardening Advice - the Guardian -

Don’t reach for bug killer. Be patient and nature will deliver the perfect pest management solution

I have aphids. Lots of them. This is the way; you never have just a few. Spring was full of soft, sappy growth, which is manna to these sap suckers, that are also known as blackfly and greenfly. Also, aphid mothers are quite something. The females are parthenogenetic during the summer, which means they can give birth to live young without being impregnated: pop, pop, pop, with each one starting to suck sap immediately.

If you see about 10 aphids on a plant one day, the next there may be double that. Before you know it, there will be an infestation. If the plant is weakened or overcrowded, the aphids can give up ambulatory life and create winged versions to fly to better conditions. Winged and wingless aphids are often present on the same plant.

Related: The best scented flowers and foliage | Alys Fowler

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Beginning again with begonias | James Wong

Gardening Advice - the Guardian -

Begonias used to be for hot climates only, but here are some tough enough to survive and thrive in Britain

I am a reformed begoniaphobe. I grew up in the hot spot of begonia biodiversity that is southeast Asia – home to dazzling iridescent species that shimmer like butterfly wings and mottled beauties that look straight off the set of Avatar. But my only knowledge of the genus was massive, double hybrids in lurid Vegas showgirl shades from 1980s British bedding-plant catalogues. Since then, thanks to the introduction of weird and wonderful species, I have well and truly been converted to this fascinating genus.

Back in the day, the only begonias commonly available in the trade had not only had all their wild, rainforesty look bred out of them in favour of a uniform, plastic, perfectness, they were also strictly summer bedding plants only. Come the slightest whiff of frost, their soft, water-filled tissues would collapse to a brown mush that needed to be replaced every year. However, the popularisation of species from more northerly latitudes introduced a gene pool that confers a significant level of hardiness if given a thick winter mulch.

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Poles, beans and tomatoes from a gardening Yoda | Allan Jenkins

Gardening Advice - the Guardian -

Giving thanks to the gardening gods – and a farm in the Black Mountains

Our summer started with a white van man, a delivery from near the Black Mountains of Herefordshire. Hazel poles for climbing beans and peas, a tray of sweet peas, too. All from Jane Scotter at Fern Verrow farm, with a few tomato plants thrown in.

The poles are chunky hazel, full of character – I am not overly keen on bamboo, too straight and featureless – with surfaces for the beans to cling to like climbers on a cliff face.

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How to grow dianthus | Alys Fowler

Gardening Advice - the Guardian -

Our gardening expert on pinks – the carnation’s heavenly scented cousin

I recently attempted to explain to my friend Lucy just how lovely dianthus can be, but her response was to remove them from her online shopping basket and go back to looking at alliums. I pleaded: “They smell heavenly. You will be picking them all summer long, little posies of ruffled blossoms all over your kitchen.” But that failed to move her.

I should have qualified the difference between a carnation – the unscented, unloved flower of forecourts, top heavy and not great for the garden (and a species of dianthus) – and a pink, which is a darling, compact, scented variety that is easy to grow. (The name comes not from the colour, but the frilly edges, as in pinking shears.)

Related: How to grow beans | Alys Fowler

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Gardening nirvana

Gardening Advice - the Guardian -

Take nature’s gentle path to mindfulness and make your garden a place of peace

As a gardener I passionately believe in the transformative power of green spaces and, as a scientist, I know that there is a growing body of evidence to suggest measurable benefits to mental and physical health. Understanding just three simple design principles can help you maximise your garden’s restorative potential, based on the concept of mindfulness. By wonderful coincidence, these same principles can give even the smallest spaces the illusion of being much larger, by keeping your interest sustained for longer. So let’s get started.

To many people, their dream garden might be a blaze of colour with rainbow hues spilling from every corner. However, by restraining your colour palette to the myriad of greens, gardens are immediately given a more tranquil feel. In these spaces, the elements vying for visual interest are on a more level playing field and the subtleties of texture, shape and form elevated to match that of colour. It means your eye wanders over the scheme slowly, and the more you look, the more you see – a slow forage, rather than a quick hit of horticultural “fast food”. This considered appreciation of the moment distracts us from dwelling on the past or being worried about the future, and may reduce anxiety.

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Tending trees: a life’s work

Gardening Advice - the Guardian -

It’s slow work, but looking after trees has its own rewards

I am a custodian of trees, a guardian of green leaf. And there is nothing greener than new-born leaf, unless it is the kitten-soft needles of spring larch. We have returned to the Danish plot for the bank holiday with summer work to do – and we turn in from the path to a cathedral window of shimmering, shivering life. The trees have come into their own.

The birch are shedding bark, paper thin. Most beech have a fuzz of citrus-green leaf. Other trees are yet reluctant. It has been dry, the soil here sandy this close to the beach. I set up a hose in the sheltered spots under the canopy to give them a kick start before the forecast rain.

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How to use the healing herb comfrey | Alys Fowler

Gardening Advice - the Guardian -

Our gardening expert explains its benefits for both plants and people

My back is a little broken. I blame it on a bag of compost, although my chiropractor blames it on all the tapping I do at the computer. If I’m to harvest potatoes and plant pumpkins, I need a plan of action, a multipronged, throw‑everything-at-it approach: chiropractor, shiatsu massage, if necessary, painkillers – and comfrey.

Comfrey may not be an obvious choice, but it has always been such a kind plant to the garden that it should come as no surprise that is kind to the body, too. Once known as knitbone, Symphytum officinale has a long history of wound healing, particularly broken bones, torn muscles, sprains and aches. It was even applied internally, although many herbalists are cautious of using it this way because it contains powerful pyrrolizidine alkaloids that can cause liver damage and abdominal distress. However, only slight absorption occurs with external application. As such, a compress or poultice is considered more suitable for home use.

Related: The best scented flowers and foliage | Alys Fowler

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Free up church land for therapeutic gardening, says bishop of Carlisle

Gardening Advice - the Guardian -

Bishop plants idea of using Church of England plots to benefit homeless people and those feeling isolated or lonely

Churches should offer their green spaces as gardening projects for people with mental health problems, a senior Church of England bishop has said.

Studies had established the therapeutic benefits of gardening, said James Newcome, the bishop of Carlisle and the C of E’s lead bishop on health issues.

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