We have had a successful year growing roses after a difficult start. Having had several telephone conversations with our rose growers, “feed and water regularly” was the advice. All roses in pots must not dry out at all as this stresses the plant out and then it is prone to black spot and weak growth. We watered heavily every day through the summer and fed them every six weeks using both a slow-release fertilizer and Uncle Tom’s Rose Tonic. We used the rose tonic for the first time in late summer and, within two weeks, we could see the difference it made to the plant. Next year we will use this on a regular basis.
If you buy a plant, try and plant it in your garden as soon as possible. In the past, you could leave the pot by your back door for a month or so before planting. However, with the summers being hotter and drier, if you leave it for more than two days without water it will start to suffer.
I would love to hear any feedback from other gardeners on feeding and watering.
Over the last four years, I have tested the varieties of the compost and bulbs we sell. I do this for a couple of reasons: one, it is important we know and are happy with the product we sell; and two, I need to check that the bulbs actually grow.
I started with Taylors Bulb collections to see if they grew and, over the years, I have been delighted with the display as the different bulbs appear and flower. I thoroughly recommend them. However, the compost used does also make a difference and my experience of Taylors Peat-Free Bulb Fibre was so bad I have not used bulb fibre since. Surprisingly, bulbs planted into Melcourt Peat-Free Ericaceous did the best – I only used this compost as I had a spare pot and lots of Ericaceous compost! The wool compost has consistently grown bulbs well too.
Summer flowering Plants into Peat-free and Peat-reduced compost.
My trials are interesting but, as each batch of compost is different, it is difficult to really judge.
TPMC Levington Tree and Shrub Peat-Reduced Planting Compost proved disappointing in 2023. I think it is too barky and lacking the food it used to contain. However, I would use it to plant trees in heavy clay soil to help break up the clay but not for summer bedding.
Wool Compost is peat-free and very good for bulbs. It does retain the moisture better than others but lacks food. Used as summer bedding, it tends to start well and then fizzle out.
Ericaceous is surprisingly good with bulbs but also disappointing with summer bedding.
Melcourt Sylvagrow is getting better. This was the first peat-free compost I ever used and it dried out and starved the plants to start with. However, last summer my plants did well in it, but even when I mixed it with some John Innes No 2 it ran out of steam so I think food needs to be added.
Humax Peat-Reduced is the easiest. It holds the water and the plants grow away fast but even this runs out of steam by the end.
Planting into peat-free and peat-reduced compost is challenging. We need to change our approach and routine of adding fertilizer to a more frequent basis and water much more. At the nursery we now leave plants in water trays during the dry months to help the pots retain water but you still need to regularly water over the top of the roots as some plants are unable to take up water from water trays. It’s important to water little and often as, once a hard crust has formed on the top of the plant, this is very difficult to rehydrate especially if the pots are small. You will also need to water evenly otherwise half the plant will not receive water.
In the nursery this summer we have fed all our plants twice through the year with a slow-release fertilizer. Traditionally, we only fed plants when we potted them.
This autumn has been perfect to be out in the garden with lovely warm sunny days. Earlier this month I planted up the Plant Centre tubs, choosing Crocus, Muscari, Narcissus and Tulips overplanted with Pansies which immediately gave colour. I have chosen to plant one pot with Melcourt peat-free Sylvagrow (nearest the wall) and the other Humax multipurpose peat-reduced compost so we can all see what happens. It is so exciting as the bulbs are already starting to grow and the tubs already give me pleasure.
On the strength of the above I planted out my other tubs this weekend, with the usual Taylors bulbs Blue Shades Collection in each of my six pots and a different compost, topped with viola. I had one extra pot and have planted this up with Crocus, Narcissus and Tulip and cannot wait until the spring.
The results of my summer bedding in all the variety of composts were disappointing and I think the secret is to feed regularly. The Humax original performed the best, followed by Humax peat-reduced and then the Melcourt Sylvagrow peat-free. The Tree and Shrub compost (Levington), Ericaceous peat-free and wool compost were very disappointing. All the pots became very tired by August so next year I shall trial the same but add food in equal quantities to all pots on a regular basis. The main challenge at the moment is that each batch of peat-free and peat-reduced compost is different from the last so what performed well last year is different from this year.
Rupert has been busy planting bulbs within the garden. Over the years we trial a few and, if they take off, plant in larger blocks. Yesterday afternoon he was out planting Cyclamen hederifolium. These have successfully seeded through the garden and their iced gem white to dark pink flowers always give pleasure in late summer. We are now enjoying the different leaf shades of grey and green and plant a selection especially for their leaves. These grow well in deep shade on dry soil under trees.
It’s now time to bring in tender plants, having lost all my Pelargoniums and Echium last winter I have already brought my Pelargoniums in (I will take cuttings in the next week) as well as my tender Hibiscus. My Echiums are now about 4ft tall in the ground and I shall keep an eye on the weather and, if necessary, make a cage to cover them if it is going to get very cold. Our other tender plants will have to take what weather throws at them. We were lucky last year as most came back even if not straight away; our Salvia have flowered profusely all through the late summer. We can keep our ‘Hot Tunnel’ to just above freezing which works well for the nursery but if you have a greenhouse a good substitute is a small heater timed with a thermostat.
I planted up my tubs for the terrace on 24 May, just after the Hadleigh Show. Following on from previous years, each tub contains a different compost from Melcourt Sylvagrow, Dalefoot Wool Compost, Levington Professional Tree and Shrub Planting Compost to Humax Peat-reduced Multipurpose Compost. I will give you feedback as to which compost performs the best as the season continues.
Firstly, I remove all the old bulbs, pansies and compost to completely empty the tub. Then I add crocks for drainage and fill the tub with compost. This year, I have planted Bacopa ‘Snowflake White’ and trailing variegated Nepeta to cascade over the edge of the tub. I have also added Laurentia blue, which I like as it gives a fluffy blue star flower and is great at filling space, and Nemesia burgundy to give colour. I have gone for a red, white and blue theme.
Once the tubs have been planted, water in well. The plants will grow like mad and will fill the tubs quickly. These plants will keep going until the autumn when I shall remove them all, as well as the compost, and plant up the tubs with bulbs again.
Having lost all my Pelargoniums last winter, I was generously given some more by a friend. I have potted them up individually and placed them altogether to brighten up another corner on my terrace. Helen, who kindly gave them to me, is coming to stay in July for the RHS show at Hyde Hall so I am dead-heading the flowers and keeping them watered so that they look their best for her arrival.
Planting up my tubs:
Glorious Pelargoniums on the terrace
An Alpine trough is an eye-catching and low-maintenance addition to any garden. Alpine plants are hardy, extremely resilient and easy to grow. Alpines naturally grow at high altitude on scree, or in well-drained growing conditions, which makes them ideal for our gardens being hardy and needing little water.
- Select a container, ideally shallow for easy drainage, but anything can do as long as it has a hole in the bottom.
- Place some stones at the base of the container for drainage.
- Mix John Innes No 2 compost with some grit to add more drainage.
- Plant up with a selection of plants. We have used Dianthus deltoids ‘Maiden Pink’, Cotula hispida, Iberis sempervirens ‘Erber Zweg’, Campanula ‘Clockwise Blue’ and Lewisia cotyledon ‘Elise’.
- Top with gravel, grit, slate or some other attractive topping.
- Place container in a light spot and water sparingly.
At this time of year, a bit of winter colour and scent can really lift the spirits. Here are a few which we highly recommend.
Witch hazel – my favourite and one of the best plants in the garden – Hamamelis x Intermedia ‘Pallida’
This beautiful highly-scented shrub is one of the best in the garden and at this time of year you cannot walk past without admiring it. It has lovely bright yellow flowers and, although it’s slow to grow and sometimes difficult to get going, it’s definitely worth the effort. They like rich soil in the sun or shade and was unharmed through the drought but here at East Bergholt Place it is planted in good moisture-retentive soil.
It’s always a joy when the snowdrops appear, the flowers poking out before the leaves. I remember years ago going for lunch and all the way down the table were tiny vases of snowdrops. They have a light honey scent. Best planted ‘in the green’ i.e. now, they are dug up from the ground and sold in bags in flower ready to simply replant.
Winter flowering Honeysuckle – Lonicera Fragrantissima
As the name suggests this very hardy and robust shrub is brilliantly scented. We have one by our back door and it is great to pick as it lasts for ages in water. It flowers on last year’s growth and is beautifully honey-scented. It grows in any exposed position in dry soil so is a good one to beat the drought, sun or shade.
Coronilla Valentina subsp. glauca ‘Citrina’
Floppy evergreen shrub with yellow pea-like flowers. It flowers all through the winter and is a good winter shrub. We have one which flops over itself by our back door, the peacocks rather like pecking the leaves but above this level we get lovely yellow flowers. It will grow in sun or shade and is happy in light soil but most probably likes some shelter. It was unharmed and unwatered through last summer but is positioned in the shade which probably kept it cooler – being from the pea family it does not mind the dry.
Christmas Box Sarcococca
Any variety, these ever-green hardy shrubs have a strong sweet scent, flower through December, January and February and last for weeks if picked and placed in a vase of water. They like shade and a cool position and all ours got through the drought last summer without watering as well as surviving the hard winter. Perfect for a shady spot in any soil.
Winter Sweet – Chimonanthus Praecox
As I write, the flowers on this woody shrub are just appearing. They are rather exotic-looking spiky flowers but the scent is amazing and, when picked and placed in a mixed vase of flowers in February, are very special. Rather a scruffy shrub but if you have room in your garden do plant one; all ours are planted in sheltered positions in fertile soil and all have survived the drought and cold no problem.
Sara has put together this easy, step-by-step guide to making your own wreath, using greenery and berries found in your garden.
Basic greenery – any evergreen with smallish leaves
Conifer – any can be used; Leylandii, Golden Cyprus, Thuja Plicata
Holly – green, variegated, yellow berried varieties
Skimmia jap. ‘Nymans’ – need male plant to produce berries on female plant
Cornus – for coloured stems
Cotoneaster – larger berried varieties
Crataegus laevigata ‘Carrierei’
Euonymus myrianthus – evergreen with yellow fruits
Euonymus europaeus – good autumn colour with pink fruits
Punica granatum– Pomegranate
Aronia mel. ‘Autumn Magic’ – black fruits
Sarcococca – both red (ruscifolia) and black (confusa) berried
Cornus and salix stems – coloured stems
Hazel – Corylus avellana
Contorted Hazel – Corylus avellana contorta
Sorbus – red, orange, pink or white berries
Euonymus – evergreen varieties
Callistemon – Bottle brush
Orange slices, cinnamon, ribbon
Other useful shrubs to have for Christmas
Osmanthus heterophyllus – evergreen and scented
Daphne evergreen/semi evergreen scented
Lonicera fragrantissima – deciduous but scented
Sarcococca – fantastic evergreen scented lasts forever
Arbutus unedo – strawberry tree – pretty drooping flowers
Mahonia x m ‘Charity’ or other winter flowering vars
Camellia sasanqua ‘Hugh Evans’ – scented Winter flowering
A Wreath in Six Easy Steps
1. Collect up all you need:
- Wreath frame
- Reel thin floral wire
- Moss or alternative
- Green foliage
- Accessories e.g. pine cones, bows
2. Moss up your frame (you can use newspaper or hay or moss raked out of your garden) this will keep the foliage in good condition and prevent it from drying out. Tie the wire to the frame and go round and round securing the moss inside the frame. This should create a tight round generously-filled circle as a base to wire your greenery onto (keep wire attached and put to one side).
3. Prepare your greenery and berries and snip them up into short stemmed sections 4” (10cm long). These you will bunch together and tie into the frame but do not worry, they do not need to be perfect. You will need more than you think.
4. Start to assemble the wreath. Lay your bunch of greenery onto the moss and wire in tightly, make sure you keep going in the same direction. Collect the next bunch together, lay this on top of the first slightly to one side and wire in tightly make sure your wire is over the stems and not the green foliage. Keep going in the same direction, you will see the wreath starting to take shape. Continue until the wreath is completed, then tie off the wire to the frame to secure.
5. A wreath should be round with a empty centre. You can prune out any wispy parts at this stage and, with short lengths of wire, wire in cones, orange segments whatever else you like. Secure a separate wire to hang the wreath from and tie a bow to finish.
6. To keep your wreath in good condition, mist with water or leave in the rain to keep the moisture in the base which will keep the greenery in good condition.
Have fun and enjoy your creations.
What you need to get started Cover your wire circle with moss Make small bunches of greenery
Wire the bunches to the circle Keep adding the bunches The finished wreath
The majority of our trees are container grown, fully hardy, ornamental, (ie suitable for a domestic garden) English grown and ideal to plant now. If planted with care, already formatively pruned (the shape of the tree has been started) and kept watered during the first couple of years, you will then have the pleasure of enjoying your tree and most will flower their first year. We advise staking to prevent blowing over, planting with compost to provide nutrients, retain water and give the tree a good start. We also recommend mulching, preventing the weeds and grass growing from around the base.
Fruit trees these are either sold in pots or they are ‘bare root’ ie dug into our border. These will then be dug up and will need to be planted by the customer immediately. This is a cheaper and traditional way of planting fruit trees through the winter. We sell a good range of the most popular varieties and these are all grown in Worcestershire for us.
We are always happy to help advise what tree for what site and please do not hesitate to ring and ask. Our trees arrive early Autumn and with our dry summers we do recommend planting by early spring which gives the tree time to become established before the dry weather.
How to plant a tree
Dig a square hole approximately 75cm (2.5 feet) across and a little deeper than the tree container. We recommend a square hole to encourage the roots to penetrate out into the surrounding soil, particularly if the bottom and sides of the hole have been forked over.
If planting in free-draining light or heavy soil, the new tree will benefit from digging in some tree planting and mulching compost (roughly half an 80-litre bag per tree). Be careful not to use any fresh green material which might scorch the roots.
We recommend staking newly-planted trees, especially those in exposed positions. Knock the stake into the hole before planting the tree and place it in the direction of the prevailing wind so that the tree blows away from it to prevent damage.
We use ‘rootgrow’ a beneficial mycorrhizal fungi which helps roots become established, just dip the roots of the tree into the white powder just before planting.
Position the tree in the hole and attach the tree to the stake using a tree tie firmly secured. To prevent the tie sliding down the stake, put a tack in the stake. Back fill the hole with your mixture of original soil mixed with tree planting compost and be very careful not to bank up the soil around the stem which can cause the tree to suffocate. We strongly recommend the use of a mulch to help preserve soil moisture and to prevent weeds and grass from growing too close to the tree and competing with it for water and nutrients, again be careful not to let the mulch mound up against the trunk.
If your garden is prone to rabbits, then placing a clear plastic spiral tree guard (clear to let the light in) around the trunk of the young tree is essential.
It’s imperative to keep a newly-planted tree well-watered during the first couple of years, until its roots have established themselves in the surrounding soil.
Keep an eye on the stake, particularly after windy weather, and make sure that the trunk is not rubbing up against it. Loosen off the tie and the tree guard as and when the trunk expands. The stake, tie and tree guard can all be removed once the tree is growing well in its position.
Enjoy your lovely trees.
For more information, please don’t hesitate to chat to one of our friendly and knowledgeable team members, or call us on 01206 299 224.
Melcourt Sylvagrow – peat-free
Dalefoot Wood compost- wool and bracken, peat-free
Levington Professional Tree and Shrub (TPMC) peat-reduced
Humax – peat-reduced
Bathgate – peat-based
John Innes No 1 and 2 – peat-based
Over the last three years I have been experimenting growing bulbs and summer bedding in the various composts we sell. It started out as a trial to see if the mix bags of bulbs offered by Taylors Bulbs really worked. I am sure, like many other people, I buy a bag with a lovely shiny cover only to open up and find not very exciting-looking brown desiccated bulbs and wonder if they will ever turn into the beautiful plant photographed on the package.
I started with Taylors Coloured Themed blends and the first year I was delighted all the bulbs came up and filled my tubs from February until May when I replanted with summer bedding. These desiccated bulbs seemed to grow whichever way up and I have been using these multi bags ever since. I now plant the bulbs into different composts to see how well they compare.
Compost for Bulbs
In 2021 I planted bags of bulbs with Taylors bulb compost, wool compost, Bathgate and Humax general multipurpose compost, Melcourt Sylvagrow peat free and Levington Tree and Shrub professional compost. The bulbs appeared from early March until mid-May but the bulb compost was very poor and my pansies planted on the top hardly grew either. The wool compost and Tree and Shrub compost proved the best, the Humax was also disappointing.
I have been experimenting over the last two summers using Melcourt peat-free, Bathgate and Humax multipurpose, Levington tree and shrub and wool compost.
General feedback from 2021 – Melcourt grew very slowly and plants half the size, Levington did well but ran out of food by the end of the summer, Humax and Bathgate did the best
Results for Summer 2022
Having spoken to Melcourt regarding peat-free I was advised that, to the make of the compost, you need to feed and water it more. I planted one tub with just Melcourt peat-free and one with Melcourt peat-free and John Innes No2 which was to give it more food and I hoped moisture retention.
Bathgate and Humax were the best. The plants grew brilliantly and I watered all the pots the same. Melcourt peat-free was again very disappointing to start with very short plants but they did keep going to September, Melcourt with John Innes No2 did very well to start and mirrored Bathgate but lagged by the end of August, Levington grew well but by the end of the summer had run out of food. The wool compost was planted up later so unfair to compare but grew very well and certainly retained the moisture better during the very hot spells.
If using peat-free I advise adding John Innes No 2 or 3 which will help add food and retain the moisture. The wool compost is very encouraging and I will continue to trial this; it’s definitely worth trying if you want a peat-free option. Levington peat-reduced works very well as did the general multipurpose composts.
I will continue to stock the composts listed above and will continue with my trials. Going peat-free is a huge challenge for garden centres and nurseries with each batch of compost a slightly different make up. The main tip I can give is to add extra food and I am afraid you will have to water more. It’s also advisable to mulch your pots to keep the moisture in, if they do dry out it takes much longer to rehydrate and some peat-free composts create a crust on the top when dry which can be difficult to penetrate.
In the nursery we find the peat-free dries out very quickly especially in small pots and it is sometimes difficult to water evenly through the pot creating an ununiformed root structure. We also feed our plants more as the nutrients leech out, once a crust has formed it can take a long time and a lot of water to rehydrate the plants. Thank goodness for the rain today.
Good luck and I would love to hear your experiences.
Here at the Place for Plants, we have just planted up our pots and tubs as the summer bedding was looking very tired. We used the Taylors Blue Shaded Collection with a few extra tulips. We started planting these up several years ago to make sure they actually worked and they are brilliant. We now plant each of our six terrace tubs with different composts in order to trial all the composts we sell and to find out how to get the best out of the peat free composts. We will post the results of my trial here in a few weeks’ time.
These mixed bags of bulbs are not only good value but easy to use with the planting depths given. We put some pansies on the top for winter colour and then, from early spring, the tubs are full of bulbs right through to May when we plant up the summer bedding. It gives us enormous pleasure, especially in February and March as the first green shoots of the bulbs appear and you know spring is around the corner. The peacock feathers are there to keep the peacocks out of the pots, but they also look rather attractive!
We have a wide range of mixed bulbs for sale as well as terracotta pots, composts and bedding plants.