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  1.  Best Christmas Trees for Containers

    Rather than cut down a fresh tree each year, more and more of us are opting to grow a Christmas tree outside in a container or in the garden to decorate each year.

    To grow a tree in a container in the medium to long term the tree selected needs to be relatively slow growing and of a modest sized tree. The traditional varieties of Christmas tree are not suitable to being grown in a container or small garden; they all get too large.

    When buying a cut Christmas tree, typically the selection offered to us for sale will be the Norway spruce (Picea abies ) which is a fast growing tree ultimately reaching 55 meters. The Nordmann fir (Abies nordmanniana ) although slightly slower growing it will get to a very similar size over time, as will the Douglas fir.

    A Christmas tree to keep and grow on in a container really need something which looks like a Christmas tree, but is smaller and much slower growing so it will not get too large. 

    Whichever tree is selected, all container grown trees will need to be kept well-watered throughout the year. As always when growing any shrub or plant in a container, there is an increased risk of the roots drying out and regular watering is essential.  Plant into a large container with built in growing space but not so huge the new tree is lost. In terms of compost check the variety you choose with your retailer as some are best in ericaceous compost.

    Ideas for Containter Christmas Trees

    The Alberta spruce is a contender, although ultimately reaching 3m, picea gluca var. albertiana ‘Conica’ is very slow growing. It is an evergreen, conical in shape with a slight blue tinge to its foliage. It can be kept in a container and is best in ericaceous compost. You can prune it in the autumn to maintain the conical shape if there are wayward branches.

     Also suitable is the  Spanish fir abies pinsapo ‘Aurea’  which has the RHS award of garden merit. It is also an evergreen conifer growing up to around 1.5m with greyish blue colour. It can be container grown in neutral to slightly acidic compost and will tolerate partial shade.

     

    Blue Spruce

    Blue Spruce

     

    Picea pungens 'Blue Diamond Super Blue'  is a  really attractive, lovely Blue Spruce, which will slowly grow up to 2m. It has pronounced silvery blue foliage and again can be prune to keep to a “Christmas Tree “shape. In part, because of its lovely blue colour, it is becoming more popular as a Christmas selection.

    The last suggestion is Picea abies 'Rydal',  a Norway spruce with an  eventual height around 2.5m which means it may need to be transferred out into the garden in the later years.  However, it is slow growing and will remain suited to a container for many years. It has an upright conical habit which looks good decorated as a Christmas tree. It also has lovely red new growth in the spring, fading to green, showing that a Christmas tree is not just for Christmas, but a handsome tree in its own right.

     These are all good garden evergreens which will withstand growing in a container for a number of years and can easily stand in as a Christmas tree. Alternatively there are many dwarf varieties of conifer and pine which are even smaller still which may suit. 

     

     

  2. seedhead- viola seeds

     

    How To Save Seed

     

    Early autumn is the best time for saving seed.  Many plants, especially annuals, start shedding their seed quite early in the year from around August and the seed is evident on plants throughout autumn. The basic method of saving seed is to look for a ripe seed pod (see images) and cut it from the plant bringing inside in the warm to dry.

     

     

     

    Some seeds have specific germination requirements, but there are many seeds which are easy to save and germinate saving the cost of seed the following year. This is particularly so if you are successively sowing, such as Rocket, even though seed is relatively cheap to buy, several packets still add up. Helpfully Rocket is one of the easiest seeds to save. 

     

    At the end of the season leave a few stems of peas and beans for the pods to form and dry out. In the case of rocket let it flower so the seeds pods form as the flowers fade.

     

    If the weather is wet or frost threatens, cut down the stem and bring indoors to dry. It is most important that seed is dry when stored as damp seed will quickly go mouldy and be unusable. That said I did leave a bunch of rocket I had picked in the greenhouse over winter, and shaking out the seed in the spring it was good to use. Once dry the seed can be stored but it is best to sort the chaff out and store just the clean seed. This means removing the seed pod/husk and taking out just the seed, often tweezers are needed for very small seeds to scrape them out of the seed pods. 

     

    Gathering and saving Tomatoes seeds is different.  To save tomato seed you need to pick a ripe fruit, scoop out pulp with the seeds and place in jar of water. Swill it around for couple of day and the seed will separate from the pulp and then you can fish the seed out and dry for storage. Many tomatoes plants sold are F1 hybrids and these are not suitable for seed saving. Neither are plants which cross pollinate such as courgettes, squashes and cucumbers.  

     

     Seeds  which are easy to save and germinate

     

    Rocket is great the seed pods which form after flowering are full of tiny rocket seeds. Other easy seeds to save are Tomatoes, all of the Pea and Bean family, many annuals such as Cornflowers, Nasturtium, Poppy Seeds, Morning Glory, Marigold, Calendula,  Nigella, and Sweet Peas.

     

     

     

    How to Clean and Store Seed

     

    Cleaning seed is a perfect job for a winter afternoon. It's not a job to be hurried, and for the smaller seeds, tweezers are the only way to separate seed from chaff and dirt.

     

     

     

    These seeds pods in the images below have been drying out in a warm, airy place for weeks until I finally got round to sorting them out.  It is important the seed is really dry before you store it. The seeds in the image left, Nigella seeds are dark brown almost black but when the seed was ripe it was green. As it dries, it has darkened and you can feel that the seed is hard and dry.

     

     

     

    Each seed pod needs to be opened and then the seeds removed, which is easy if it is broad beans or peas which are large seeds which come away in your hand. Smaller seeds, such as Nigella and Rocket are tiny and tweezers are really good for scraping out the pod into a seed packet. In the image on the right the assorted wild flower seeds are on the left side of the image and the husks and seed pods on the right. I keep it in the fridge over winter as the ideal environment is cool and dark.

     

     

     

    Unless you have a lot of time and plants, saving seed isn't going to replace buying seed in the spring and it's not ideal for all plants, but it is interesting to grow from saved seeds and it saves some money.

     

    Calendula seed prepared-seed
  3. Thyme drying 310 Oregano drying

     

     

    In August, when Thyme has finished flowering it needs to be trimmed back. This curtails its natural tendency to get leggy and keeps it in a neat shape. Don't throw away the prunings, they can be saved and used as dried herbs over winter. 

     

    You can dry them out in the oven on a very low heat, keeping a careful eye as they can go from nearly crisp to blacken very quickly. I think it is easier just to hang them in bunches in a warm place until completely dry. Then, using an ordinary screw top jam jar, clean the leaves from the branches into the jars ready to use. 

     

    In the first image Thyme is drying and in the second, Oregano. Both are herbs which respond well to this simple method of drying and will preserve well over winter. It’s nice when summer has long past to undo the lid of the jam jar and smell the dried herbs which you picked yourself.  There are absolutely 100% as good as shop bought, free and no air miles. The supermarket Oregano I currently have in my cupboard states it is “the produce of more than one country” so it’s been around the world a bit. I hope I have picked enough to ensure future Oregano is the produce only of the garden.

     

     

     

  4. Seed-selection-310 Growing lettuce

    Spring is just around the corner, an important time for the sowing of seeds and the growing of new crops of vegetables. Produce like broad beans, beetroot, garlic and shallots are planted, ready for the conditions brought by the warmer months. But what is becoming more of a worry is the rise of temperatures due to climate change and the damage this can bring. The unbearable heat can wilt the leaves of plants and they can literally be scorched and burnt in the sun. Here we give you some tips to help combat this:

    Preparation is Key…

    You’re likely to know when a heatwave is nigh as it will no doubt be warned of on the news. If you grow your own produce, it’s important to keep a closer eye out on the weather forecast, allowing you to help prevent the occurrence of any damage.

    Keep Healthy Plants

    Ensuring your plants are given the best chance at survival can be achieved through providing them with the healthiest conditions to grow in where you can. Having rich, quality soil in raised beds and using organic fertiliser will promote access to important nutrients. Planting in thoughtfully spaced triangles will prevent over crowing and actually save you time – as the vegetables will successfully compete against any weeds growing between. Keeping an eye on your garden as often as you can, will allow you to quickly notice and fix anything that doesn’t seem quite right.

    Creating Shade

    When the sun does arrive, and it is at its hottest – it is advisable to cover your plants and vegetables with any material which can block out and reduce exposure. This can be done using plants stakes and a dark cloth, by stretching it to cover the vegetables but leaving openings at each end to allow air circulation - you could also cover the plants directly using a lightweight muslin cloth. Alternatively, portable structures like Garden & Camping gazebos can be placed in various positions to protect the crops. You could even look at planting larger greenery like sunflowers, to give a natural source of shade to your plot.

    Controlled Watering

    During a heatwave, it is best to water plants either by hand using a watering can or with a soaker hose or drip line. This is to ensure that the water is reaching the soil beneath and should be done early in the morning, giving the vegetables the moisture they need to bear the heat. By using sprinklers, the water is likely only reaching the top leaves and not the root, even evaporating in its transit or settling and consequently causing scorching and burn. It is also important to remember to still water shaded areas as they too require hydration.

    Using Mulch

    A great way of cooling the soil is by using varieties of mulch. Biodegradable mulches include garden compost, leaf mould, spent mushroom compost, processed conifer bark or wood chippings. These help to improve the fertility and the structure of the soil. You could alternatively opt for non-biodegradable mulch, which still helps to limit weed growth and would usually come in the form of black plastic when used on a vegetable plot.

    We shall have to see what more extreme weathers 2020 has to bring, but hopefully these tips should allow your garden to remain healthy and thriving, even in the warmest of temperatures.