What ‘English style’ owes to Asia’s gardens

Gardening Advice - the Guardian -

Our traditional national landscapes of sweeping lawns and undulating hills are deeply indebted to China and Japan

Like so many other aspects of our culture, the origins of British garden style can be traced back overseas. As an avid reader of garden history books, I can’t help but wonder if our collective compass might be a tad off when it comes to understanding the primary source of influence in classic British garden design.

In 1685 Sir William Temple wrote an essay describing the East Asian appreciation of irregularity and asymmetry

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Strong winds and troubled trees | Allan Jenkins

Gardening Advice - the Guardian -

As autumn’s blustery weather arrives it’s time to take stock of struggling trees – and plant bulbs for some early spring colour

It is near winter at the summerhouse. Toadstools carpet the grass, some in clumps like fairy homes, others tall and on their own, white like ghosts. The climbing rose is still flowering, a delicate pink and strongly scented. Flocks of birds flit through the rowan, all agitated feeding. Soon they and the red berries will be gone. We have stocked up on sacks of sunflower seed for the residents.

Strong winds shake the trees, swirling leaves colour the grass. Soon the oaks and beech will be stripped of leaf, our neighbours exposed. Bo, the tree surgeon, is here to advise on the dead silver birch and the broken branches on the oak. Last year’s endless summer is still taking its toll. The oaks overheated, threw out hundreds of acorns. He advises cutting back the crown, points out the long-term damage. We will wait on any work until spring, but take a closer look when all the trees are bare.

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How to tend indoor plants in winter | James Wong

Gardening Advice - the Guardian -

Bringing plants inside isn’t always an act of kindness if you overwater or overheat. Here are the rules for keeping them happy and healthy through the cold season

I am more than happy to admit that I am a fair-weather gardener. With the past week of relentless rain, mist and mud, thank goodness for indoor plants. They offer me the chance to be surrounded by growth and life, even in the darkest depths of winter.

However, just as with exterior plants, seasonal changes will affect how you garden in the great indoors. In fact, for many houseplant species, understanding this shift can mean the difference between being an easy-care option and one that will really struggle for you. So here are the three things to remember as you tend to your indoor Eden over winter.

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Getting down to earth on the plot | Allan Jenkins

Gardening Advice - the Guardian -

The nights may be drawing in, but there’s still time to prepare the plot

The clocks have turned and it’s winter, Greenwich meantime. The month of all souls and remembrance. Back to an 8.30am sunrise in Scotland and sunset soon before 4pm. It’s a month of storms, maybe even snow in the north, everywhere the likely return of frost.

It’s time to prepare your plot for winter. Protect vulnerable planting and net brassicas from pigeons. Prepare bird boxes, as some birds will be looking soon for shelter and a drier, warmer winter home. Hang out feeders (and don’t mind the greedy squirrels).

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How to grow orchids | Alys Fowler

Gardening Advice - the Guardian -

Good winter light, careful watering, and feeding will ensure a rewarding crop of flowers, says our gardening expert

My first loves, when I was young, were epiphytic orchids; their often brash otherness seemed to speak to me. I dreamed of hothouses dripping in exotic blooms and joined the Orchid Society of Great Britain. Then I went to work in one of those hothouses, and those glamorous flowers suddenly seemed a little uptight, with all their demands and high humidity needs. Slowly but surely, orchids disappeared out of my life, until a couple of years ago when my neighbour gave me a moth orchid, Phalaenopsis x hybrid, when she was moving house. I thought it was a loan and then it turned into a gift, and just when my indifference was peaking, it flowered in great profusion.

Related: How to grow dahlias | Alys Fowler

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‘Heritage’ crops aren’t always better

Gardening Advice - the Guardian -

People think that older varieties have more flavour, but it’s often simply not true

As the leaves begin to turn, right now is the perfect time to start ordering fruit trees and bushes to plant out. However, I implore you not to fall victim to the buzzword “heritage” in the catalogues, at least if you are looking for good flavour. It sounds counterintuitive, I know, but speaking as a botanist who has tried and tested hundreds of varieties for flavour, I can give you some good reasons why to avoid these plants.

There is the popular belief that the older the variety, the better the flavour. Harking back to a time before intensive plant breeders bred all the “goodness” out of crops, according to this narrative modern crops are watery, bland, loaded with sugar and low in nutrition. Diet gurus on Twitter warn that modern fruit is now so sugary that zoo monkeys can no longer be fed bananas. Celebrity chefs will claim modern apples have seen their sugar content double, pandering to our “insatiable sweet tooth”. Food writers will even report on the “toxic truth” of grapes such as Thompson Seedless. One thing you will rarely see, however, is evidence.

Even the subject of fruit growing can’t escape our temptation to retreat to an idealised past

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Think about spring…

Gardening Advice - the Guardian -

A wet autumn day is the perfect time to plan for next year

A wet October afternoon. Too wet for planned seaweed-feeding. Too wet to walk on the soil. A time to stay indoors and to think about spring and seed.

There are bowls and dishes and plates of seed cluttering the bookshelves; a large dish of dried bean pods in the kitchen (not to mention stashes downstairs).

I am starting to have fantasies about sieving trays. It’s somehow easy to get lost looking on YouTube

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How to grow onions and shallots | Alys Fowler

Gardening Advice - the Guardian -

Our gardening expert advises on planting for a bumper crop

If it weren’t for that blasted fly, I’d be queen of onions. The allium leaf miner shreds any whiff of the enzyme alliinase – it takes down leeks, bunching onions and garlic, and the only sure way around it is to barricade your crops with the finest of mesh netting or confuse the female so thoroughly with a blanket of other plants that she can’t find her way through to your crop (mint is quite effective as long as you can keep it from taking over). For the last few years I’ve been prepared to battle only on behalf of garlic, but I miss shallots, so I’ll darn all the holes in my mesh and protect those, too.

You have two choices with growing onions and shallots: you can either sow in early spring or plant as sets. The latter are immature onions or shallots that grow into mature bulbs. These are fairly easy to grow; you just nestle them into the soil so only the neck is sticking out.

Related: Alys Fowler’s gardening column: how to grow peas over winter

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Don’t bother with a living wall – plant some ivy

Gardening Advice - the Guardian -

Ivy is a far simpler and more cost-effective way of cloaking buildings in green

The concept of the living wall has enjoyed a meteoric rise in popularity in recent years. What was once a design novelty at fancy flower shows has gone mainstream, and most major urban developments now seem to have at least part of their surface coated in a matrix of panels filled with growing substrate, allowing plants to colonise their surface. But, much as I love these technological marvels, there’s a far simpler, more cost-effective way to clothe buildings in a living cloak of green: plant some ivy.

Every time I walk past an incredibly complex watering system being installed and scores of workers on cranes hauling huge panels, I think to myself: “None of this is necessary!” Ivy is a cheaper, easier and far less risky option, and provides many of the same environmental and economic benefits as newfangled substrate-filled panels.

Green walls capture tiny particulates from the air that have been associated with a wide range of health problems

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The rain has hammered the amaranth…

Gardening Advice - the Guardian -

A few dry days and winter sun may hold back the decline. I’ll leave it late to save precious seed

Summer’s been dismantled. Packed away. The plot is hunkering down nearer the ground. Kala’s garden, too, has been half-cleared, now sitting in jugs and drying on shelves. Huge heads of sunflowers, seeds to be shared with friends and family.

I have left the sweet pea structures on the plot, though the flowers are long gone. Two have been colonised by nasturtiums, tendrils reaching hungrily out as though to snare passers-by. The last wigwam is now webbed by an iridescent morning glory, its seed sent to me by a reader. New to me, I will grow them again every year, purple as Prince.

I will miss seeing Kala screaming about insects as she ties in her jasmine, dwarfed by flowers

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Gardeners should remember that green is a colour too | James Wong

Gardening Advice - the Guardian -

Never overlook the loveliness of green, most delicately nuanced of colours

They say if you find a job you love, you will never work a day in your life. However, what they don’t tell you is that it works both ways. As someone lucky enough to have their passion as their profession, believe me when I tell you it means you never, ever switch off. At the cinema with my mates, just as I am losing myself in the action, a forest of British birch trees will suddenly appear in the backdrop of what is meant to be a camp of Congolese mercenaries. I’ll go on holiday and find myself fishing mystery leaves out of cocktails to see if I can identify them. I’ll be sat at lunch with non-plant people and if the conversation turns to food, I have the irrepressible compulsion to tell them facts about vegetables. Trust me, it’s a curse.

Human eyes are great at distinguishing shades of green because it allows us to tell the toxic from the tasty

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New lessons on the old plot

Gardening Advice - the Guardian -

It’s never too late to try something new, whether it is ‘super plugs’ or wire tunnels…

It seems you are never too old to try new gardening thinking. For the first time I have veered from seed, succumbed to an email ad and bought Organic Gardening Catalogue ‘super plugs’. Specifically: 10 Winter Density lettuce, 20 Bright Lights rainbow chard and 20 Nero di Toscana kale.

All organically grown, of course, and all replanted now on the plot in space opened by fallen sunflowers – felled at last by the first heavy rain and winds – and by lifting the last of the beetroots.

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How to grow oyster mushrooms at home | Alys Fowler

Gardening Advice - the Guardian -

Growing mushrooms from scratch requires care, so start with a kit and go from there, says our gardening expert

Whether it’s microdosing with psychedelic mushrooms, seeking biodegradable alternatives to polystyrene, or mycologist Paul Stamets’ TED talk (over 5m views on ted.com), fungi is a hot topic. Mushroom gardens are spaces to grow gourmet delights such as oyster or shiitake mushrooms: think elegant woodland dwellings with logs and woodchip beds. Fungi are the perfect solution for slightly damp, shady city gardens, or that spot under a tree where nothing grows. Instead of battling to get plants to take hold, inoculate your ground with mushrooms instead.

Related: How to grow winter radish, turnip and spinach | Alys Fowler

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Why it’s worth waiting for winter squash | James Wong

Gardening Advice - the Guardian -

Not all fruit and veg are best eaten as soon as they are picked…

One of the mantras of popular food culture today is “eating seasonally”, a practice universally held to be the key to better flavour, better nutrition, better ethics, better everything. However, as a scientist who is fascinated by how what goes on inside the cells of plants dictates the flavour and nutritional benefits of harvests, I have just one problem with this: it’s simply untrue.

For while the sweetness of crops like asparagus and sweetcorn can indeed decline precipitously in the days (even hours) after harvest, for many crops the exact opposite occurs. This is particularly true of the winter squash, which despite being ready to harvest right now, will measurably increase in flavour and nutrition if you hold off eating it for a few months. For squashes, fresher is definitely not better. Here’s how it works…

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Summer’s over. Time to get down to earth | Allan Jenkins

Gardening Advice - the Guardian -

As the season’s harvest ends, now is the moment to clear and mulch – and also to plant out the onions

Summer harvest is mostly over, so October is the time to think about soil. A good month to clear and compost, to weed and hoe, but please remember to leave some crops to seed. Birds need the winter feed.

We are an organic-only site so will mulch much of the plot. We will spread it after rain and leave it to lie on the soil’s surface for worms to do their aerating work over the winter.

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How to grow dahlias | Alys Fowler

Gardening Advice - the Guardian -

Kept frost-free over winter, plant out early and the tubers will reward with colour all summer long

Last spring, I did something I consider utterly indulgent – I ordered rooted dahlia cuttings. On the whole, I am a seed person, but I deviated for these dahlias. ‘Honka’ is a star dahlia, each petal a slim, slightly incurved ray of palest lemon yellow around a darker butter-yellow centre. It looks like a child’s drawing of a flower, charming in its simplicity.

I had a vision that they would sit so prettily next to ‘Golden’ chard (from realseeds.co.uk), which has amber midribs and glossy green leaf tops. So I ordered seven robust, healthy dahlia cuttings from Halls of Heddon (hallsofheddon.com), one of the most reputable dahlia growers, sowed my chard and waited for complementary perfection. And, you know, it worked. The whole thing looks resplendent backlit by the late autumn light and, on duller days, resembles a pool of sunshine on the ground.

Related: How to grow fuchsia | Alys Fowler

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Pot to plate: how to set up an indoor herb and veggie garden

Gardening Advice - the Guardian -

With a bit of natural light and the right potting mix, it’s possible to grow food right where you’ll eat it

You don’t need a farm or even a back yard to have a crack at growing your own food. It’s amazing what you can grow in pots on a sunny windowsill or in a courtyard. While you won’t be able to grow enough to ditch the supermarket, you will certainly be able to liven up your meals and your living space.

A small container-based garden is the perfect place to start your food-growing adventure – you don’t need big veggie beds and you don’t really need any tools. It will help you to build your skills as a gardener without committing huge amounts of time or resources.

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Make time to enjoy autumn in a garden | James Wong

Gardening Advice - the Guardian -

Talking about a ‘to do’ list is an easy way to kill a gardener’s creativity, but it’s easy to regain inspiration – just get outdoors

Early autumn is a time for netting ponds, raking leaves and cleaning out sheds – or so much of the narrative of horticultural media goes. Yet as a botanist with a special interest in how people communicate and learn about plants, I find the way we often talk about gardening as an art form fascinatingly weird. I mean, to the uninitiated it must sound an awful lot like outdoor tidying up. A sort of never-ending series of messy chores, often in less than ideal weather, and as much as it pains me to say it, I can see why so many people would rather do anything else with their time.

Can you imagine if, for example, the people of food media talked about their passion in a similar way? “Right now is the perfect time to defrost your freezer, reorganise your spice rack and tidy your tin cupboard.” There’d be very little talk about food as a creative art form, an outlet for self-expression, a catalyst for social interaction or an essential part of wellbeing – just lots of advice on the exact angle at which to sift flour and how to load the dishwasher.

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A rescue plan and burst of sun bring blooms and joy

Gardening Advice - the Guardian -

There’s mildew in the pots plants, but daisies save the autumn day

One of the perils of gardening on a roof terrace is the need to keep plants in pots. Plus, the increased probability you’ll be reliant on compost bought in bags. This planting comes with a higher level of failure than growing in a flower border or vegetable bed.

We often turn to dahlias to see our pots through the autumn, but August was a disaster. The Bishops (Llandaff, York and Auckland) succumbed to mildew. I don’t know if it was us, the weather or the garden centre. We water early or late in the day, wetting the soil not the plant.

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Ease the chill by sowing for brighter days | James Wong

Gardening Advice - the Guardian -

Poppies, radishes and spring onions – some of the cheerful flowers and veg you can plant now

I am not afraid to admit it. There are some plants that I have a troubled relationship with. While nerines and amaryllis are some of my very favourite garden flowers, for their ability to erupt like pastel pink fireworks from beneath the earth in September, their arrival is also unequivocal confirmation that the dark days of winter are just around the corner. Like that last quick dip in the ocean before catching your flight home from a summer holiday, for me it’s an emotional trigger that the months of sunshine and fun are over and only school and seriousness await.

Fortunately, for us fair-weather gardeners, there are some plants you can spark into life right now, just as almost everything else slips into a slumber, providing you with a constant reminder of new things to come. Here are some of my favourite flower and veg seeds that you can sow in the autumn.

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