A simple trick for growing a tricky orchid | James Wong

Gardening Advice - the Guardian -

Put your orchid in a large glass bowl with water to emulate the steamy jungle it comes from...

Vanda orchids are true miracles of nature, with dramatic blooms painted in webbed patterns of sapphire blue, purple and lavender that sit high above cascades of silvery roots. But this beauty comes at a price. For many indoor gardeners, this exotic genus of orchids can be an enormous challenge to grow. As soon as they are removed from the coddled conditions of specialist nurseries, they can deteriorate without the right treatment from 3D-printer-perfect to compost-heap fodder in as little as a week. Fortunately, there is an easy trick that can not only dramatically boost your chances of success but also display the flowers to their greatest visual effect – and all you need to do this is a glass vase.

Vandas hail from the steamy jungles of southeast Asia, where they grow clinging to the branches of trees. Suspended in air saturated with moisture, their roots have evolved into long, draping curtains that absorb water from rain showers and the dense jungle air. As these roots are often just as spectacularly showy as their flowers, nurseries usually grow the orchids with no potting media at all, to show them off to best effect.

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Autumn arrives at our Danish summerhouse | Allan Jenkins

Gardening Advice - the Guardian -

The bramble is creeping back, the rowan is scarlet and mushrooms and puffballs are popping up

The end of summer at the Danish summerhouse, banking on the bank holiday. June’s painted lady butterflies have been replaced by brighter red admirals flitting around the apple trees while the wasps swarm fallen fruit.

We made an early decision here to be sensitive to the environment: apples and pears are old Danish varieties, other trees we have planted are native to the area. The same that grow wild everywhere. We are not looking to make our presence much felt. The larches are taller than when we were last here, the firs and pines, too. The beech has filled the gaps between us and the neighbours. The oak leaves rustle in the sea breeze. The fresh green is gone.

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How to grow fuchsia | Alys Fowler

Gardening Advice - the Guardian -

Not so keen on its clashing colour combinations? You might change your mind when you taste the berries

If you are wondering who is eating all the berries of your fuchsia bush, it’s me. I can’t tell you how much joy I get from wandering around my neighbourhood plucking from front garden bushes the juiciest of dripping fruit – it tastes somewhere between a kiwi, blueberry and strawberry, with a touch of pepper. If it’s too peppery, you are picking too soon – the berries really do need to be bursting.

The best berries tend to be on the naffest bushes; those bedding sorts with pirouetting ballerinas for flowers, in clashing colour combinations. If it’s hard to imagine wanting such a thing in your garden, you may change your mind when you taste the berries. Plus, as bushes go, they are a tolerant sort: good for bees, unfussy about soil, shade and, for that matter, being pruned hard. On top of it all, they flower from June right through to October.

Related: How to grow winter salad | Alys Fowler

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Making friends with ferns | James Wong

Gardening Advice - the Guardian -

An evergreen solution to dark problems

I am a terrible horticultural voyeur, forever peering over fences as I wander round my patch of central London. I find it fascinating what people can achieve in such small spaces, what plants they can get away with and the atmosphere they can create against all adversity.

However, there is one horticultural conundrum that even the most successful urban gardeners often find hard to crack: what to grow as ground cover in small, dark, urban spaces. You see an awful lot of white pebbles stained black by the city air, sun-loving summer bedding sulking in deep shade and (my nemesis) threadbare patches of artificial turf. But a group of plants will thrive in these dark, dingy conditions and provide perpetual clothing of green, even in the darkest depths of winter: evergreen ferns.

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Save seed, plan and share – it’s as good as growing | Allan Jenkins

Gardening Advice - the Guardian -

The best small companies, the legume holy grail and how keep them dry – top tips from a seed hoarder

I am a spender not a saver. I was never much good with money. I enjoy the ability to be able to buy things. With seeds I am a hoarder. Except for the guilt that comes now, sputtering to the end of the growing season, when I have somehow failed to sow in time, to let my seed live a fuller life. To express itself, to grow, become an adult plant, a root crop, a flower. Though I guess there is always next year.

I trawl seed businesses like other addicts collect drug dealers. I favour small companies – the specialist suppliers, the monomaniacs where my money can make a difference: Roger Parsons for sweet peas, Ben Ranyard at Higgledy Garden for (mostly) annual flowers, Mads McKeever at Brown Envelope Seeds for open-pollenated organic vegetables, Jekka McVicar for herbs, Franchi for (mostly) Italian vegetables, Adaptive Seeds for kales, and many, many others.

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

Gardening Advice - the Guardian -

September is a kind month; the soils are warm and moist, and there are enough good days ahead to ensure quick growth

There are always some summer losses that niggle – crops that never got going, or did but instantly got mown down by marauding somebodies. You can’t make up for lost carrots and the time for tomatillos is over, but you can get a few crops in now for last-minute wins.

September is a kind month; the soils are warm and moist and there are enough good days ahead to ensure quick growth for those that are willing to race at life. So, if you’ve spent all summer hunkering after a good radish and instead got something that bolted or went pithy in the middle, try again this week. September often produces a truly fine crop. Choose somewhere sunny, and if you use a pot, make it a big one – radishes hate being overcrowded. Cover thinly with just a little soil, then water. You should have a crop in four weeks. ‘French Breakfast 3’ and the super-fast ‘Sparkler’ are both ideal.

Related: How to grow winter salad | Alys Fowler

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Bag a begonia

Gardening Advice - the Guardian -

Begonias are a bargain if you grow them yourself

As regular readers will know, I have become a bit of a begonia obsessive. And with all sorts of new species being introduced from the jungles of Asia, it seems after years in the doldrums these exotic houseplants are finally experiencing a much-deserved renaissance. In fact, rarer specimens now frequently exchange hands online for almost £100, which continually surprises me considering how easy it is to clone these plants for free.

While there are loads of different propagation methods for begonias, many are only suitable for very specific varieties, which can make the whole process confusing for non-geeks. However, there is one that in my experience works for any variety going and, as luck would have it, is also by far the simplest. If you fancy trying your hand at cloning your own begonias, now is a good time of year to do it and all you really need is a glass of water.

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Autumn begins today but there’s still time to sow | Allan Jenkins

Gardening Advice - the Guardian -

As a gardener’s work slows, plant a few autumn leaves and herbs

1 September. The start of meteorological autumn. Another two hours of daylight lost in the next few weeks. Gardeners have seen it for some time. Seeds that raced to leaf and flower just weeks ago are sluggish now. All has noticeably slowed. Still time, though, to sow the last of the autumn leaves, mustards and mizunas, komatsuna, and spinach for spring. To sow, too, hardy lettuces, radishes, rocket, land cress. Plant garlic and autumn onion sets – we will, after some resistance, for want of watching something slowly grow. But first wait for the coming cooler weather. Even with an Indian summer, frost is possible sometime this month especially outside the south.

So tidy and weed, take care of the compost and fork it over, water it if it’s dry. Harvest the last of the potatoes. Untie lingering tomato plants, remove lower leaves and lay flat. You may soon need to strip the last green toms to colour them on a windowsill, bag them with a banana.

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How to grow winter salad | Alys Fowler

Gardening Advice - the Guardian -

Our gardening expert looks at rocket, mustards and oriental salad leaves in the second of a two-part special (read the first part here)

I think winter salads need a little heat to them; a few leaves that pepper the cooler greens and don’t mind being rested on by hot things, be that roasted vegetables or grilled cheese. For this you need the spicy salads from the brassica family, such as rocket, mizuna, and the many mustard leaves.

Rocket, as its name suggests, is up before the rest and races to grow, giving you substantial salads by autumn, slowly increasing in spiciness as the weather darkens. If its peppery heat is too much, try Real Seed’s ‘Mild’ rocket, which is sweet rather than fiery. By winter, cultivated rocket will have stopped growing unless it’s in a polytunnel or greenhouse. Not so for wild rocket, Diplotaxis tenuifolia, which is smaller-leaved, spicier and hardier. I love it on top of pizza.

Related: How to grow cress | Alys Fowler

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Animal magic: garden tips from pet owners

Gardening Advice - the Guardian -

It’s amazing what gardeners can learn from keepers of exotic species

As someone who has spent a lifetime fixated on horticulture (as a kid I used to stay up late reading the RHS Encyclopaedia under my covers with a torch), I thought I had a pretty good grip on how to grow plants. But there is always a surprise in store.

Two years ago, I wandered into an exotic pet exhibition while on holiday in the Netherlands. I was blown away by the spectacular horticultural installations being made by collectors of poison dart frogs, praying mantises and colourful land crabs. I couldn’t fathom how they managed to create thriving colonies of velvety moss or immaculate living walls dripping in orchids. And, quite frankly, I felt frustrated that I only recognised about half the plants.

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Summer’s lofty sunflowers bring colour and joy | Allan Jenkins

Gardening Advice - the Guardian -

Sunflowers can charm as swiftly as they grow, and are especially loved by kids, bees and birds

I came late to sunflowers. I didn’t love them much as a child. Too big, maybe too one-note. And at first I was concerned they might be too dominant for the allotment, leech necessary nutrients from food plants, block much-needed light. But that was then.

The shift was swift. There is a photo of the early plot with Howard and his young daughters where the girls look like something from Rousseau, as though lost in a sunflower forest. And it was through them and other children I discovered my own late love. We worked for a time with a school gardening club, encouraging primary-age kids to grow together. It was the wonder on their faces at how fast their flowers thrust that made sunflowers irresistible.

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How to grow winter salad | Alys Fowler

Gardening Advice - the Guardian -

In the first of a two-part special, our gardening expert on leaves to see you through the season

The perfect winter salad has a little peppery heat, is robust enough to take strong-flavoured dressings, and has a sweetness that can only be brought on by cooler nights. I love a mixture of crisp lettuce, rocket, the sweet anise of chervil, and a little mustard or mizuna. As this is a subject dear to my heart, I’m going to split it into two: this week we’ll deal with lettuce, and next week all the other flavours to spice it up.

It is hard to be made to think of long nights and cold mornings when sandals and short sleeves are in order, but if sown now, winter lettuce will be up in no time, and will put on enough growth before the shorter days and colder nights set in. You can sow until the first two weeks of September to have pickings this side of New Year, and from the end of September to October to harvest the other side.

Related: How to grow beetroot | Alys Fowler

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Gardening tips: plant sneezewort for sprays of tiny white flowers all summer long

Gardening Advice - the Guardian -

Then sow parsley seeds for an overwintered crop, and get festive with some chillies

Plant this If you need a “good doer” for a white border, wildlife garden or cut-flower patch, take a look at easygoing perennial Achillea ptarmica ‘The Pearl’ – AKA sneezewort. It does well in sun or partial shade, producing sprays of tiny white flowers all summer long. Height and spread: 70cm x 70cm.

Sow this Parsley is biennial, meaning it needs sowing twice a year to ensure a constant supply. Sow now for an overwintered crop under a cloche or cold frame. Seeds don’t transfer well, so sow in situ in pots or into a prepared seed-bed. Even easier, let existing plants self-seed and find their own sweet spot.

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It’s high time fuchsias were back in fashion | James Wong

Gardening Advice - the Guardian -

Genetically diverse fuchsias are hardy, versatile and beautiful – and well worth rediscovering

When it comes to horticultural fashion, it would be hard to pick a group of plants quite so resolutely in the style doldrums as fuchsias. Yet, while the pastel-coloured frills of the Barbara Cartland types we remember from 1980s pub hanging baskets might have a definite whiff of the doily about them, the huge genetic diversity of the genus means there is a fuchsia for almost any situation. From towering, hardy garden shrubs to tender houseplants, and even exotic candidates for the fruit and veg patch, here are some of the best reasons to ignore garden trends and rediscover these hard-working, versatile and beautiful plants.

Fuchsia magellanica from the southernmost tip of South America, in the cloud forests of Chile and Argentina, is the hardiest of them all. It can be grown outdoors almost anywhere in our analogous climate here in Britain. Although often cut back to ground level by gardeners to create a loose, suckering hedge, given a sheltered spot away from harsh winds, it will form a large shrub or even small tree. This can be encouraged by snipping off small suckers so the plant concentrates its energies on one or two central stems, and then “lifting” the canopy, by removing lower branches coming off this central stem(s) to encourage upward growth. This means its masses of slender purple and pink pendant blooms are above eye level and cascading dramatically down, and highlights its curious peeling bark. There is a beautiful pure white-flowered form, too, that might just rival it in terms of elegance called ‘Hawkshead’.

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Nettle tea works wonders for plants – but hold your nose | Allan Jenkins

Gardening Advice - the Guardian -

It’s strong smelling, but nettles left in water for a few weeks make a great fertiliser

This week’s column is not for the fainthearted, or if you are super sensitive to smell. But if you are looking for a chemical- or manure-free fertiliser then, please, read on.

We start with a hazard warning. It really will smell. A lot. Your garden neighbours will notice. They may disapprove.

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Gardening tips: plant a beach aster for a slice of the seaside

Gardening Advice - the Guardian -

Then prepare potted plants for your own holiday, and visit Arundel Castle

Plant this Get the seaside look with the drought-tolerant daisy flowers of the beach aster, Erigeron glaucus ‘Sea Breeze’. Perfect for gravel gardens, crevice gardens and romping along a drystone wall. It needs full sun, and there are two forms, pink and mauve – both a ground-hugging 30cm x 40cm.

Try this Trips away can leave pots and hanging baskets parched. If you can’t get a friend to water, gather containers together in a shady corner to reduce evaporation, water before you go, and buy watering spikes to keep plants moist. Terracotta pots will dry out much quicker than plastic ones.

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Out of the shadows: plants that thrive in shady gardens

Gardening Advice - the Guardian -

Glossy and somtimes surprisingly lush and tropical, greens that favour dark corners can create a deeply restorative space

Deep shade doesn’t even flirt with the sun. In the penumbra cast in this shadowy world, plants that thrive have had to adapt to just glimmers of light – deep shade is defined as having less than two hours of sunlight a day.

The leaves of shade-loving plants often have a deep-green colour, and tend to be thinner and broader than their sun-loving cousins. This is because they have adapted to absorb the filtered light under the forest canopy. They are also usually shinier, to reflect light into the margins and corners of their world. It takes a lot of energy to grow in such poor light conditions, and a greater allocation of energy goes into defence mechanisms against hungry herbivores. These plants have camouflaged, often mottled leaves and inconspicuous flowers and fruit compared with sun worshippers.

Related: Gardens: a riot of colour on the Emerald Isle

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How to grow cress | Alys Fowler

Gardening Advice - the Guardian -

If ever there was a plant for window box-growing, this is the one, says our gardening expert

Wrinkled Crinkled Crumpled cress: has anything ever sounded more pleasing to grow? It sounds like the stuff of story books, afternoon tea, and of course egg sandwiches. It is the same cress you used to grow in an egg shell or on a piece of damp kitchen paper, but a much better variety, with ruffled edges.

Lepidium sativum is a very old vegetable from the Middle East, in the brassica family. Sativum translates as “from seed”, meaning it was cultivated, and you can trace its history back to early Persian vegetable gardens in 400BC.

Related: How to revive tired plants | Alys Fowler

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How do I keep my fresh herbs in mint condition? | Kitchen Aide

Gardening Advice - the Guardian -

How can I stop coriander and parsley from wilting and turning to mush?

• Do you have a culinary dilemma? Email feast@theguardian.com

Please explain how to keep coriander and parsley fresh. I buy them in pristine condition and they start to wilt in a day or two in the fridge. I’ve tried putting them in a glass of water, but that creates a sludge at the base of the stalks. Not attractive.
Adil, London

The road to lovely leaves starts with what you’re buying, Adil; it all hinges on how long ago that coriander or parsley was cut before it took up residence in your kitchen. If you’re buying them from a supermarket, you just aren’t going to know.

Related: Why does my gnocchi turn to mush? | Kitchen Aide

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It’s time to go bananas

Gardening Advice - the Guardian -

They are the perfect tropical plant for cool climes

It’s a question I always dread: what’s your favourite plant? With an estimated 400,000 species to pick from, talk about a tough choice. But if I absolutely had to grow just one group of garden plants, it would be the hardy banana.

Despite finding their centre of diversity in the lowland tropics of south-east Asia, there are several banana species from the northerly (and especially high-altitude) edges of their range that experience significant levels of frost, and a climate on a par with that of many areas of Britain. The classic example of this is the Japanese hardy banana, Musa basjoo, which actually hails from Sichuan in China and has been recorded as being “root hardy” to as low as -20C if kept dry. So even when the above-ground section of the plant is turned to mush by freezing temperatures below -5C, it is capable of regenerating from energy stores in underground corms the following spring.

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