Male grey catkins of Garrya elliptica
Garrya elliptica autumn catkins

Often overlooked among the shrub benches of garden centres, and generally only known to those truly passionate about their plants, Garrya elliptica is an extremely attractive ornamental shrub noted for its impressive autumn display of oversized catkins. Hence its common name of 'Silk Tassel Bush'.

Native to the coastal ranges of California and southern Oregon, it is an evergreen species with a number of notable cultivars, the most popular of which are Garrya elliptica 'James Roof' and 'Evie'.

It has an erect habit, which under favourable conditions can reach a height of approximately 3 metres although individual specimens have been recorded as being as high as 5 metres. It produces thick, leathery, grey-green, evergreen leaves. On male forms the flowers grow in decorative, grey-green catkins which can be up to 25 cm long!

Close up image of gray Garrya elliptica catkins
Garrya elliptica autumn catkins
It is of particular use in the suburban garden as it is both suitable for both full sun and shaded positions. That being said, outside of the mildest regions of the United Kingdom it will need to be planted in a sheltered position otherwise it can be prone to leaf scorch. This is a particular issue in areas which experience strong winds and extreme conditions. To maintain good conditions it is best planted against the shelter of a south or west facing wall, you can even go further and train it as a wall shrub. This then makes it much easier to protect it under extreme cold and freezing conditions by using horticultural fleece.

New plants are best planted in the spring so that the root systems can establish before the following winter. To be on the safe side it is usually good practice to provide 1st season specimens a winter protection of bracken or horticultural fleece. In the milder regions of England and Ireland winter protection will not be necessary after the first year except during unseasonably cold conditions.

Garrya elliptica will perform best when grown in a reliably moist yet well-drained soil with an approximate pH of 6-8. Even when established it is worth watering during periods of drought as this can cause the appearance of leaf spots in response to the environmental stress. That being said damaged leaves will usually be dropped in the spring and any sparsely leaved stems will soon become hidden by the new growth. In its natural habitat Garrya elliptica has proven to tolerate moderately heavy clay soils, just beware that it will perform poorly in environments which experience wet, freezing conditions.

Be aware that Garrya elliptica does not transplant easily and resent any root disturbance. Large, established should never be moved unless the intention is to throw away.

Strongly growing specimens may need to be pruned back to a suitable size for the garden but otherwise pruning is unnecessary other than to remove dead, diseased or dying stems or those which have produces excessive, straggly growth. To maintain the year on year effect of the catkins, aim to prune in the spring as the old catkins lose their ornamental value, but before the new foliage emerges.

CALLICARPA BODINIERI var. giraldii 'Profusion'

Callicarpa bodinieri var. giraldii 'Profusion' with its attractive purple berries
'Bodinier's beautyberry'

Commonly known as 'Bodinier's beautyberry' or just plain 'beautyberry', Callicarpa bodinieri var. giraldii 'Profusion' is for most of the year a surprisingly uninteresting specimen. At least it is in my opinion, until of course the appearance of its ornamental berries in late autumn.

And herein lies the problem, while Callicarpa bodinieri var. giraldii 'Profusion' has gorgeous autumn effect should you plant in in a prime location to make the most of its almost unique ornamental value or should you try and grow it as a container specimen so that it can be effective hidden from view for the majority of the year and then moved to 'front and centre' for the key, precious few weeks? That being said, with mature specimens able to reach an overall height of 3 metres and with a width of 2.5 metres, growing as suitably decent example as an easily movable pot plant is a lot easier said than done! So the positioning of 'Bodinier's beautyberry' is mostly going to be some compromise but consider planting it near to a prime location behind as few herbaceous plants known to lose their leaves before the show starts. Get it right and you can enjoy the almost unique delight that these jewel-like berries offer every season going forward, arguably only bettered by Pollia condensata, the marble berry. Unfortunately the marble berry is neither hardy or in general cultivation, whereas Callicarpa bodinieri var. giraldii 'Profusion is both.

The original species is a native to Western and Central China and named in honour of Émile-Marie Bodinier (1842 - 1901), a French missionary and botanist who collected plants in China - although not this one. The genus name is derived from the Greek meaning 'beautiful fruit'. It was introduced to the Victorian gardening establishment in around 1845, followed later by the Giraldii cultivar which entered production in England 1900 and receiving the First Class certificate from the Royal Horticultural Society in 1924. 'Profusion' was a further selection from the Giraldii cultivar. It is now the most attractive and widely cultivated of all species and cultivars within the genus Callicarpa.

Callicarpa bodinieri var. giraldii 'Profusion' is a deciduous cultivar with a rounded habit. The leaves are narrowly elliptic, toothed and have a downy bloom which is more prominent when young. The new foliage emerges bronze-purple in spring, turning to a dark green over the summer before finally turning to golden-purple prior to leaf drop in the autumn.

Small purple blooms appear from June-August in dense sprays no more than 3-4 cm wide on the new wood however these are largely overlooked. Once pollinated these are followed by eye-catching, glossy violet-purple bead-like fruits which appear in clusters of 30-40 individuals. These ripen in September, although the colour steadily improved through October and into early November. be aware than when planted in isolation Callicarpa bodinieri var. giraldii 'Profusion' will tend to fruit poorly, so for best berry affect plant in loose groups or for best results in a mass display.

Callicarpa bodinieri var. giraldii 'Profusion' received the Award of Garden Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society in 1984, along with the First Class certificate in 1921.

Main image credit - Kurt Stüber: Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported


The autumn display of catkins of Garrya elliptica
When and how do you prune back Garrya elliptica?

Garrya elliptica is an extremely handsome evergreen, and a popular choice for going against shady walls in suburban gardens. It is native to the coastal ranges of California and southern Oregon, and is named in honour of named for Nicholas Garry, secretary of the Hudson's Bay Company from 1820-1835. A strange association being that these two locations are almost as far as you can possibly be being that they are situated at opposite ends of different countries!

As attractive as it is, with a mature height of up to 5 metres, at some point it is likely to be necessary to prune it back to suitably maintainable size. While still within a suitable size regular pruning is usually unnecessary and hard pruning should be avoided as this can cause invigorated shoots to soils its natural habit.

Catkins of Garrya elliptica?
When and how do you prune back Garrya elliptica?
There is a general rule of thumb that can be followed with the majority of evergreen shrubs which is to prune back over the summer. This makes sense as many evergreen species from Mediterranean, subtropical or tropical enter a kind of dormancy period as a way of coping with the summer heat. Of course if you pruned back Garrya elliptica in the summer you would be removing the juvenile ornamental catkins and therefore robbing yourself of their ornamental value during the late winter.

Therefore, where pruning is required (as in reduction in height, removal of errant, disease or damaged stems) the best time to prune Garrya elliptica is in early spring. This needs to be timed to fit between just as the catkins start to fade, but before the new spring growth emerges.

With regards to unkempt, overgrown specimens, these can be renovated by cutting them back gradually over three to four years to create a low framework of branches. So long as the specimen is healthy. You will find that the re-growth will be invigorated and will itself require thinning out the following spring. Select the strongest, best-placed shoots and remove the rest.

HOW TO GROW THE SNOWBERRY - Symphoricarpos albus


Yellow blooms of Erysimum cheiri at the Botanische Tuin TU Delft, Delft, The Netherlands
How to grow wallflowers from seed

Once an extremely popular plant during the Victorian period, wallflowers have steadily fallen out of fashion over the years arguably in favour of the even more brightly coloured and mass-produced (read inexpensive) Tulip bulbs. Despite this, and maybe in part due to the ubiquitous presence of modern Tulips cultivars, wallflowers still manage to maintain a place in the garden. The reason for this is down to those gardeners who are becoming bored of seeing little else other than a sea of different sized, coloured and shaped tulips throughout the spring, wallflowers are without doubt the next in line for being the toughest and most colourful of all Spring flowering plants. In fact wallflower cultivars Erysimum cheiri 'Persian Carpet’, 'Sunset Apricot' and 'Sunset Primrose' have all received the Award of Garden Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society.

There was a time when the shops were full of bunches of bare-root wallflowers for little more than 10 plants for £1.00, but nowadays you are likely only to see pot-grown plants at a significantly more expensive price point. However this shouldn't stop you from enjoying these gorgeous flowering biennials as they are easily grown from seed.

As far as traditional bedding plants go wallflowers are amongst the hardiest, but this is understandable as the original species is a native to most of Europe. As such there is no need to propagate under protection as wallflower seeds will happily germinate outside.

Wallflower seeds should be sown during May or June in order to produce plants that can be bedded out in the autumn. Sow the seeds either individually in large modular seed trays containing a soil based seed compost ot thinly in an open, prepared seedbed of any ordinary soil. Gently water them in and they will germinate within a week or so. Generally wallflowers are extremely easy to germinate, just keep the soil or compost on the moist side bt without waterlogging the rots. When the seedlings are large enough to handle (usually around October) they can be carefully lifted, try to disturb the roots as little as possible, and bedded out in preparation for the spring. Pinch out the shoots before planting to create a compact, bushy habit. They are tolerant of most neutral or alkaline soils and will even cope well on very poor soils.

Wallflowers are usually sown one year to flower the next, and then afterwards discarded. This is for two reasonably good reasons. The first is that wallflowers have a tendency to become leggy during its second year. The second is that as time moves on wallflowers become increasingly prone to clubroot.



Skimmia japonica 'Rubella' in red flower bud
Skimmia japonica 'Rubella'

Arguably the most popular and attractive of all species and cultivars within the genus Skimmia, Skimmia japonica 'Rubella' is a compact, evergreen shrub noted for its glossy foliage and ornamental flower buds. The original species is native to Japan, China, and Southeast Asia, and is known to have been cultivated at the Royal gardens, Kew as far back as 1838, albeit under its earlier name of Skimmia oblata. It is a dioecious species, meaning that male and female flowers are produced on separate plants.

Botanical illustration of Skimmia japonica female form
Skimmia japonica - female
With the male form being the more compact and ornamental than the female it was the one selected for production. However, it did not obtain any particular attention from 18th century horticulturists as it did not produce the the expected beautiful fruits experienced with Skimmia reevesiana (the original recipient of the 'japonica' species name) until it was introduced from Japan by Scottish botanist Robert Fortune (1812 – 1880) in 1861 to Standish’s nursery in Greater Manchester.

The original species has since produced four cultivars (including Skimmia japonica 'Rubella') which have received the Award of Garden Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society. The 'Rubella' cultivar was introduced to France from China in 1865 by French naturalist Eugène Louis Simon (1848 – 1924) and then on to Britain before the end of the century.

Under favourable conditions you can expect Skimmia japonica 'Rubella' to reach an approximate height and width of 1-1.5 metres. It is a rounded evergreen shrub with glossy, dark-green, leathery leaves. Each leaf is elliptic in shape and up to 10 cm long and aromatic when crushed. It is most noted for is panicles of long-lasting, showy red buds which appear late winter. These open to fragrant, less-showy, creamy-white flowers in the early spring

Skimmia japonica 'Rubella' will perform best on a good neutral to acid soil in a North-facing or West-facing or East-facing position. Dig in plenty of leaf mould or well-rotted manure before planting to help maintain moist conditions. Avoid planting in full sun as this can cause yellowing of the leaves.

This species and its cultivars have proven to be generally trouble free although they can be prone to attack from scale insects, especially if grown under poor conditions. They require little pruning except to remove any untidy or elongated shoots.

Skimmia japonica 'Rubella' works well in the garden when used as an understory plant positioned under deciduous trees. It can also be used to form a low, informal hedge.

HOW TO GROW THE SNOWBERRY - Symphoricarpos albus

HOW TO GROW THE SNOWBERRY - Symphoricarpos albus

Naturalised snowberry growing in a mixed hedge
How to grow the common snowberry - Symphoricarpos albus

The common snowberry - Symphoricarpos albus, is an ornamental fruiting shrub native to both Canada and the northern and western United States. It is a plant valued by Native Americans who used various parts of the plant as a medicine, the crushed berries as soap, and sometimes as a food for livestock (although the berries are poisonous to humans, causing vomiting, bloody urine and delirium!).  The wood of the snowberry was also particularly suitable for making arrow shafts, something that early European colonists would have been only all too aware of! Symphoricarpos albus was introduced to English scientists in 1879.

1918 Botanical illustration of the common snowberry - Symphoricarpos albus
How to grow the common snowberry - Symphoricarpos albus
It is a small, deciduous shrub which under favourable conditions can be expected to reach an approximate height of 3 metres by 2 metres wide, although it has a habit of spreading further by suckers. The broadly ovate leaves are pale to mid-green with a grey caste. The bright pink blooms are small and rather insignificant, appearing from July to September. However it is the pure-white berries for which Symphoricarpos albus is most noted for. These are globose or ovoid, approximately 12 mm across and produced in abundance from September onwards. While the berries are known to contain a number of poisons, they tend to cause vomiting when eaten so the effects of the toxins are rarely encountered.

In its native habitat, is generally found growing on the banks and flats in canyons and near streams below 1200 metres. When planted in gardens it has proven itself to be a surprisingly robust species tolerating most soils and conditions. It will perform well in both well-drained soils and heavy clay and is equally at home in full sun or shade.

Thin out overgrown specimens and remove unwanted suckers between October and February.

Weird fact!

Due to the extreme whiteness of the snowberry berries, they also have the common name of 'Corpse Berry'! So called as some believe that they are a food source for wandering ghosts.

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HOW TO GROW THE SNOWBERRY - Symphoricarpos albus


Euonymus alatus displaying red autumn colour against a sussex flint wall
How to grow Euonymus alatus

Commonly known as the 'burning bush' or 'winged spindle tree', Euonymus alatus is for the most part a rather unexceptional specimen. Native to central and northern China, Japan, and Korea it is a hardy deciduous shrub noted for the corky ridges or 'wings' which appear as the stems mature. However it is mostly considered for garden space due to its spectacular autumn colour as the leave turn a brilliant crimson-pink prior to leaf-drop. Hence the popular and far more relevant common name of 'burning bush'.

Close up of Euonymus alatus displaying red autumn leaf colour
How to grow Euonymus alatus
It was introduced to British science in 1860; however it wasn't until 1984 that it received the Award of Garden Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society. The common name of 'Spindle tree' is in reference to it close relation to Euonymus europaeus - the wood from which was traditionally used for the making of spindles for spinning wool.

Under favourable conditions you can expect Euonymus alatus to grow to a height of 2.5 metres tall, and up to 3 m wide. The species name 'alatus' is from the Latin for winged and refers to the broad cork structures which appear on the branchlets. The ovate-elliptic leaves are between 2–7 cm in length and 1–4 cm wide with an acute apex. The small flowers are greenish colour and appear over a long period in the spring although they are fairy insignificant to the eye. The fruits are reddish-purple which open to reveal bright orange-coated seeds.

Euonymus alatus will perform will in most soils but will prefer a moist, well-drained soil. It will be happy in either full sun or partial shade. Plant fro October to March.

Pruning of Euonymus alatus is not particularly necessary although the shoots can be thinned out and shortened in February in order to maintain a tidy form.

Main image credit - Simon Eade
In text image -  Famartin

HOW TO GROW THE SNOWBERRY - Symphoricarpos albus


English Ivy - Hedera helix growing up an old painted house wall
How to grow English Ivy - Hedera helix

Although often known by the common name of English Ivy, Hedera helix is actually native to most of Europe and western Asia. It is a hardy, evergreen climber which under favourable conditions can be expected to reach a maximum height of between 20–30 m. Although considered little more than a noxious weed in the many countries where it has successfully naturalised, it was once held in higher regard when it was used for making wreaths which were worn by dancers and on the brows of the Greco-Roman deity in the tales of Bacchus - the god of wine.

The leaves are glossy dark-green, often with silver markings along the veins. The green-yellow blooms are formed in umbels from late summer until late autumn. Each flower is 3 to 5 cm in diameter and very rich in nectar. It is considered to be an important late autumn food source for bees, butterflies and other native insects.

Hedera helix flower buds on arborescent growth
How to grow English Ivy - Hedera helix
English ivy is an extremely robust and vigorous (some might say aggressive) species capable of growing in most soil types in almost any situation. It is one of the hardiest of all species within the genus and arguably the most useful for both ground and wall cover. It will perform best in full sun although it will benefit from some shade during the hottest part of the day over the summer.

Pot grown specimens can be grown in 10-15 cm pots containing good quality soil-based compost such as John Innes No.2. Keep in a position of full sun but move to a position away from direct sunlight over the summer. Keep the compost just moist throughout the year and feed monthly with a half dose liquid soluble fertiliser.

Unusually two forms are produced. The first is juvenile, sometimes known as runner growth with lobed leaves and adventitious roots able to attach themselves to any surface. The second form is adult or arborescent growth in which it bears flowers and fruits. In this state the leaves are entire with wavy margins, but unlike the juvenile growth it does not have adventitious roots. This arborescent growth is produced on the upper levels of the runner growth when it reaches the top of its support.

Along with its many cultivars, Hedera helix has proven itself to be an excellent houseplant particularly in unheated rooms.

English ivy - Hedera helix growing into the thatched roof of an old cottage
How to grow English Ivy - Hedera helix
When grown on walls or fences cut it back close to its support during February or March each year. English ivy can be pruned again during the summer to remove excessively long runners or any other unwanted growth. If growing on a house or small building wall keep an eye out for runners damaging gutters or entering the roof space. This can be a particular issue with thatched roof properties.

Note. Cuttings taken from the arborescent growth will retain its adult form and develop into rounded, bush shrubs which both flower and fruit freely.

Image credits - Simon Eade

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Close up of Banksia hookeriana flower
How to grow Banksia hookeriana

Commonly known as Hooker's banksia, Banksia hookeriana is a bushy evergreen, half-hardy shrub native to southwest Western Australia. It was described by Swiss botanist Carl Meissner in 1855, and is named in honour of Sir Joseph D. Hooker (1817 – 1911) a founder of geographical botany and director of the Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew.

In its natural habitat Banksia hookeriana can be found growing on grows on deep white or yellow sand on flat or gently sloping land. Sadly it is not possible to grow Banksia hookeriana outside in the United Kingdom as it requires frost free conditions. However that doesn't mean that it can't be grown under protection of a large conservatory or glasshouse. When grown as a pot specimen provide full sun and plant in John Innes ericaceous compost or produce your own mix of equal parts loam, grit and moss peat. If grown in a greenhouse border it will perform well when plenty of leaf mould and sand are dug into the soil prior to planting in order to create well-drained conditions. This is important as Banksias require almost permanently moist conditions during their growth period, however they will quickly succumb to fungal infections in waterlogged conditions. The same can be said for high humidity and so make sure that excellent ventilation is also available. Provide a half-strength liquid soluble feed once a month from April to September and water sparingly over the winter.

If you can provide suitable soil conditions then it may be possible to grow Banksia hookeriana outside in the mildest regions of the Unite kingdom, notably the southwestern coasts of England and Ireland. However every cold protection measure will need to be applied.

In countries which experience frost-free winters then Banksia hookeriana can be grown outside. Once again they will require a free-draining, preferably neutral to acid soil in full sun.

Under favourable conditions you can expect Banksia hookeriana to reach and approximate height of 4 m and a width of 3 m. The leaves are long, narrow and serrated, and approximately 6–16 cm long by 0.5–1.2 cm wide.

The bright flower spikes, initially white before opening to a bright orange arise at the ends of branchlets, appearing from late April to October. As the spikes mature woody seed pods known as follicles develop. Like most Banksia species, Banksia hookeriana serotinous meaning that large numbers of seeds are can stored in the plant canopy for years until seed release occurs in response to an environmental trigger. In this case it is being burnt by bushfire!

Image credit - Gnangara  under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Australia license.

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HOW TO GROW THE SNOWBERRY - Symphoricarpos albus


Freshly cut verdant lawn with stripes
Why scarify a lawn?

Let's face it, scarifying lawns is hard work and I don't think that anyone would do this job willingly unless it was to reap some serious rewards in the future. So why scarify a lawn? Well the point of scarification is to keep the levels of thatch down to acceptable levels. Thatch being old grass stems, dead moss and any other such plant material taking up space at the base of your lawn.

The reason why we scarify is because a thick layer of thatch (anything larger than 1 cm deep) will impede the effectiveness of fertiliser applications and absorb rain water like a sponge preventing it from reaching the mat-like roots of your lawn - two things that can seriously affect the quality of your grass. Removing the thatch will help the grass by increases the levels of water, air and nutrients that are available to the lawn's root zone. This encourages the grass to thicken up, making it stronger and therefore less susceptible to disease. A thick layer of thatch will weaken the lawn making it more susceptible to diseases and less able to compete with common weeds and moss.

However with collection boxes on lawnmowers as standard and weed and moss killers readily available as well as cheap as chips, is there really still a need to brave the elements, wear out your arms and blister your hands?

Unfortunately the answer is yes, because lawnmower collection boxes will not collect every single grass clipping and any moss or weeds controlled by weed killers do not magically disappear. So thatch will still build up over time, although perhaps not as fast.

Ok, so if you you have made up your mind to scarify then you have two choices. The easy (more expansive) way or the hard (traditional and fitness enhancing) way. The hard way is how most gardeners scarify a lawn and that is to go over it vigorously with a spring-tine rake. A regular garden rake is not the tool for this job. The easy way is to purchase a rolling lawn scarifier, however for larger lawns and deeper pockets electric and even petrol powered scarifiers can be purchased.

Scarifying is quite and invasive procedure even for well-maintained, established lawns so don't over scarify as this can cause more harm than good. Avoid scarifying in the spring as your lawn will struggle to recover. Autumn is the best time of year to scarify lawns.

Main image credit - Simon Eade

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Our native English Ivy - Hedera helix, is a fantastic example of a species perfectly suited to its environment. The trouble is that it has a reputation for both strangling other plants (which it doesn't) and for damaging the mortar in brick or stone walls (which to be fair it does). While it can be argued that it doesn't strangle it will both out-compete a 'host' plant by smothering or cause it to fall down due to the sheer weight of the continuing Ivy's growth.

Ivy growing into the roof thatch of an old English cottage
How to kill off Ivy
What is undeniable is that Ivy can easily out-compete the majority of ornamental garden plants, and often re-seeds itself to the point of becoming a pernicious weed. If left unmanaged it can completely cover single and two story building as well becoming a menace in both tiled and thatched roofs.

So how do you get rid of ivy? Well there are two ways, the first is the hard work organic way while the second is the easier herbicidal (using weed killers) way.

How to kill off Ivy organically

Ivy growing on a wooden fence dying back
How to kill off Ivy
Quite simply you would cut off all growth from the base of the plant and allow the top growth to die off before removing from whatever is as attached itself to.

While you are waiting for this to happen you can spend your evening digging out the extensive though usually quite shallow root system.

If your Ivy is growing against a tree then it is unlikely that you can dig out the root system without damaging the trees root system. In this case cut the Ivy stems back to ground level year on year which over time should help to weaken it to the point of death. Alternatively you it may be able to cover the Ivy in sheets of thick black plastic - effectively smothering it over time.

You can't throw your discarded roots and still-green stems onto a compost heap as it is likely to form new growth. Arguably the best policy is to burn it once dug up or removed.

How to kill off Ivy using weed killers

Dead Ivy still attached to wooden fence
How to kill off Ivy
Translocated weed killers can be used throughout the growing season so long as temperatures do not drop below 7 degrees Celsius.  They are best used on Ivy growing on walls, fences etc but cannot be used when growing on other leafy plants. Glyphosate products affect chlorophyll and so can be used when growing up barked trunk. Tree genera such as Juglans (Walnut), Tilia and Laburnum are not suitable as they have significant levels of chlorophyll in the stems and trunks - especially when young.

Gel treatments will perform best using a gel application while larger specimens will require a spray. Be aware that nearby plant specimens may also be at risk from the weed killer application, especially in windy conditions, and so may need to be covered to prevent accidental weed killer application.

Once your chosen treatment has been applied wait until the leaves turn brown before cutting the main branched to near-ground level. The stems can be allowed to dry off before removing, however the root system remain in the ground where over time it will naturally rot back into the soil.

For Ivy growing on trees which have had the branched removed, the remaining stump can be treated with a stump and root killer containing the active ingredient of glyphosate or triclopyr. Always read the packaging before application.

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Over ripe cherry laurel fruits on natural stone floor
Are Cherry Laurel fruit poisonous?

They look like cherries and, when they are lying on the ground fermenting, they smell like rotten cherries. However if you have young kids or idiot dogs around, whether the fruits of the Cherry Laurel are poisonous or not is probably a question that is likely to cross your mind. Especially when you consider the huge amount of fruit drop you can get from a single mature specimen.

Native to southwestern Asia and south-eastern Europe, and sometimes commonly known as the English Laurel by the Americans (I don't understand why either), the cherry laurel -  Prunus laurocerasus is an large evergreen shrub or small tree grown for its large, glossy, leathery foliage. It is a widely cultivated ornamental plant most often used for hedging which accounts for why there are so many large, fruiting specimens around.

Surprisingly for many plant common names, the name 'Cherry laurel' is surprisingly accurate as not only are the fruits cherry-like in appearance, this species is indeed from the genus Prunus where all the ornamental and edible cherry species and cultivars reside.

So if the Cherry Laurel is so closely related to edible cherries that that mean that the fruits are not poisonous?

Well both the foliage and the fruit stones contain cyano-lipids which are capable of releasing cyanide and benzaldehyde when ingested, particularly when chewed. The fruits themselves are edible although rather flavourless and somewhat astringent. To a lesser extent the fleshy fruits also contain small amounts of hydrogen cyanide but usually not enough to cause any ill effects. That being said, if any of the fruits do have a bitter taste to them then they should be avoided as this is indicative of larger concentrations of hydrogen cyanide being present.

So to conclude, Cherry Laurel fruits are not usually poisonous but sometimes they can be, and the leaves and stones always are.

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Green leaves and scarlet flower of Banksia coccinea
Banksia coccinea

Probably only seen in England as a cut flower, or even more rarely as a specimen under the protection of a large glass house in a botanical garden, Banksia coccinea is a gorgeous evergreen shrub or small tree with a dramatic, erect habit and spectacular flowers. Commonly known as the Scarlet Banksia, the genus name is in honour of British botanist Sir Joseph Banks (1743 – 1820), President of the Royal Society.

Botanical illustration of Banksia coccinea
Banksia coccinea illustration
Native to the south west coast of Western Australia, its distribution ranges from from Denmark to the Stokes National Park, and then north to the Stirling Range.

Under favourable conditions you can expect Banksia coccinea to grow to approximately 8 metres in height, however outside of its native habitat 2–4 metres is more likely. It has an erect habit with little lateral spread. The trunk is generally single at the base before branching vertically further up, and is covered with a smooth grey bark. The leaves are roughly oblong in shape with toothed margins and are approximately 3–9 cm long and 2–7 cm wide.

However it is for its outstanding blooms which Banksia coccinea is best known and as such has become one of the most important Banksia species for the cut flower industry. The squat and roughly cylindrical, prominent red and white flower spikes appear mainly in the spring from the ends of one-year-old branchlets. The true flower is white and covered in grey or pale brown fur. The scarlet structures (can be dark red, orange or pink) are the styles (an elongated section of an ovary) which are 4–4.8 cm long and strongly recurved or looped until they are released at anthesis - the period during which a flower is fully open and functional.

In its native habitat Banksia coccinea will most likely be seen growing on white or grey sand in shrubland, heath or open woodland. So for successful cultivation it will require sandy, very well drained soils in Mediterranean climates where temperatures rarely fall below 0 degrees Celsius. Be aware that in regions with experience summer rainfall and humidity they can be prone to infection from fungal rots from which they can succumb to surprisingly quickly.

The most effective method of propagation of Banksia coccinea is by seed, which unlike many other species within the genus do not require any treatment before sowing. Germination will usually take 12 to 48 days but this can be longer depending on the age of the seed and growing conditions. You can expect these new plants to flower and fruit after approximately three years.

The coloured cultivars of Banksia coccinea can only be propagated by taking cuttings however they are notoriously slow to take and can often fail before rooting has taken place.

Main image credit - Cygnis insignis public domain
In text image credit - Ferdinand Bauer (1760–1826) public domain

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Below are a selection of images from specimens from within the genus Morus. The illustrations are within the public domain, one image has permission granted by Mark Lane - Head Gardener to Queen Elizabeth II, while the others are files are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 or 3.0 International license. The attributes for the work in the manner specified by the authors are listed below the image are the best to my understanding but you may which to confirm these via their wikipedia listings.

Silkworm moth caterpillar eating leaves from white mulberry
Image credit - Gorkaazk This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license

Botanical illustration of Morus nigra
Image of Morus nigra illustration in public domain. Original book source: Prof. Dr. Otto Wilhelm Thomé Flora von Deutschland, Österreich und der Schweiz 1885, Gera, Germany. Permission granted to use under GFDL by Kurt Stueber

Fruit of Morus alba 'carman'
Image of Morus alba 'Carman' from the National colection of Mulberries housed at the Royal Estates. Pernission granted by Mark Lane - Head Gardener to Queen Elizabeth II

Flowers of Morus nigra
Female inflorescence of Morus nigra - Credit JJ Harrison ( licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Botanical illustration of Morus rubra
Illustration of Morus rubra - Public domain. Duhamel du Monceau, H.L., Traité des arbres et arbustes, Nouvelle édition [Nouveau Duhamel], vol. 4: t. 23 (1809)

White mulberry tree
Morus alba image credit - Alborzagros. licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

Mature white mulberry tree at Canons Ashby House, England
Image credit - Kokai. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.

Morus alba fruit
Morus alba fruits image credit Andre Abrahami. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license

Buckingham Palace London
Image credi - Diliff. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. In using this image or any subsequent derivatives of it, you are required to release the image under the same license. As such, any reproduction of this image, in any medium, must appear with a copy of, or full URL of the license.Attribution of this image to the author (DAVID ILIFF) is also required, preferably in a prominent location near the image.No other conditions may be added to, or removed from this license without the permission of the author and copyright holder.Suggested attribution: "Photo by DAVID ILIFF. License: CC-BY-SA 3.0"Please review the full license requirements carefully before using this image. If you would like to clarify the terms of the license or negotiate less restrictive commercial licensing outside of the bounds of GFDL/CC-BY-SA, please contact me by email, or if you don't have a Wikipedia account you can either leave a message on my talk page with your contact details and your request, or you can contact me on Facebook. Please also send a 'friend request' to ensure that I am aware of your message.


Pre-packed Nerine sarniensis bulbs, compost and a terracotta pot on the lawn.
How to plant Nerine sarniensis bulbs

There are few plants that can give such an exotic display of colour in the autumn, but these bulbous perennials from South Africa are arguable some of the best. Of the 20 or so species within the genus (their classification is still ongoing) Nerine bowdenii has proven to be both the hardiest and most widely cultivated, however Nerine sarniensis, along with its cultivars and hybrids, is usually considered to be the more ornamental cousin. Nerines are usually available to purchase from quality plant retailers from September to approximately November, sometimes longer depending stock levels.

How to plant Nerine sarniensis bulbs
The trouble is that while forms of Nerine sarniensis are often available they can't be planted outside in the United Kingdom without rotting of due to the wet weather or simply dying of from the cold. The reality is that unless you are growing it in the mildest regions of the UK, as well as providing ideal conditions and a dry mulch over the winter, it will be always be best grown as a conservatory or greenhouse specimen.

That being said, outside of being brought under protection for the winter and keeping it out of heavy rain over the typical British summer they can be planted outside during their flowering period albeit in a suitable pot. So how do you plant Nerine sarniensis bulbs?

Using terracotta pots only due to their better drainage qualities and fill with a good quality, free-draining growing media made up of equal amounts of John Innes No.3, multipurpose compost and gritty sand. One bulb will be suitable for a 4 inch or 10cm pot. In larger containers space the bulbs close but not touching each other or the sides of the pot.

Three Nerine sarniensis bulbs in a pot
How to plant Nerine sarniensis bulbs
Unlike most other garden bulbs which are planted approximately 3-4 times the depth of the bulb, Nerine sarniensis bulbs will need to be planted with the neck of the bulb just exposed above the surface of the compost. Gently water in and then refrain from watering until the flower spike emerges. At this point you can sink the pot outside in a prominent border to gain the best effect fr0m it subsequent blooms.

Watering can then be increased as the stem and, later on, the leaves develop over winter. However as soon as overnight temperatures drop to below 7 degrees Celsius they will need to be moved to the protection of a heated greenhouse or conservatory.

Nerine sarniensis bulbs potted into terracotta pot and ready for sinking into the ground
How to plant Nerine sarniensis bulbs
From January to April the bulbs will require an application of a potassium-rich, liquid soluble fertiliser every two weeks. Tomato fertilisers are perfect for this. Once the foliage begins to turn Nerine sarniensis will enter its dormancy period. Place the pots out of the rain and stop the regular watering. Allow the compost to remain slightly dry over the summer period but do not allow them to become 'baked’ over the summer.

You can repot Nerine sarniensis on a regular basis at the end of each summer.

In text image credit for red Nerine sarniensis flower - By Snifferdogx - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

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The lady of Elche statue and pond at the Huerto del cura
The Gardens at Elche - The Huerto del Cura

The Gardens at Elche - The Huerto del Cura are a gorgeous jewel of a garden and well worth the visit to the historic town of Elche. Not only is it situated within one of the largest palm groves in the world, it is just a short drive from Spain's Alicante airport. That being said, just how do you get to the Gardens of Elche - The Huerto del Cura?

There are two things you need to be aware of before you go to The Huerto del Cura. You can't just arrive in the town and expect to find your way to the gardens of Elche. Why? Because the signposting to the gardens is intermittent at best and increasingly non-existent the nearer you get so be prepared and take a suitable map or preferably a satellite navigation or mobile phone downloaded with European mapping.

Entrance to Elche Gardens - The Huerto del Cura
The Gardens at Elche - The Huerto del Cura
Secondly, if you are driving yourself then parking can be a real headache in Spain. Of course taking a taxi or organised excursion will always be a more relaxing although more expensive option, unless you are driving a car specifically hired for this visit.

Please note that a recent survey found that it takes an average of eight minutes to find a legal parking space in any of the main towns, and nearly twice as long in large cities.

With this in mind be aware that the Huerto del Cura does not have off street parking and on my last visit to the Gardens at Elche - The Huerto del Cura there were no spaces available at all on any of the nearby side roads.

Cactus display at Elche gardens - The Huerto del Cura
The cactus gardens at Elche - The Huerto del Cura
Be aware that the garden entrance is on Calle Porta de la Morera isn't particularly conspicuous and is also frustratingly a one-way street so you can't just turn round of you miss it or a suitable parking space making a 5-10 minute long drive round the one way system before you can get back to it. To be honest, you are unlikely to find a space on Calle Porta de la Morera so it is advisable to continue onto the roundabout by the police station and turn right along Carrer Xop Illicita.

You are far more likely to find a spot here, but don't make the mistake of parking in a police reserved space. If you have no luck on this road then continued to the end and turned right again onto Calle Mangraner where you can expect to find a reliable amount of parking spaces. Admittedly it is a bit of a walk back to the gardens but what else can you do. Just don't forget where you parked and if you used satellite navigation do not leave it out on display as this can increase the risk of your car being broken into!

Images credit - Simon Eade

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Mexican Fleabane Erigeron karvinskianus growing in wall
How to grow Erigeron karvinskianus

Commonly known as the Mexican Fleabane, Erigeron karvinskianus is vigorous, spreading perennial plant which is native to Mexico, Central America, Colombia and Venezuela. Yet despite its native tropical and subtropical habitats it has managed over a short period of time to acclimatise to the cooler regions of northern Europe where it has become naturalised. It even has a foothold in the temperate climates of the south coast towns of England.

Mexican Fleabane Erigeron karvinskianus leaf flower
How to grow Erigeron karvinskianus
It was first described in 1836 by Swiss botanist Augustin Pyramus de Candolle (1778 – 1841) The species name is in honour of Bavarian naturalist Wilhelm Friedrich Karwinski von Karwin, who according to de Candolle collected the first plants for Western science in Mexico.

It is a great garden plant and ideal fort dry sunny areas although it can be invasive in the milder regions of England and Ireland. It can be used to great effect when under-planted with shrub roses of other such flowering shrubs. It requires little cultivation once established and readily self-sows from seed.

Under favourable conditions you can expect Erigeron karvinskianus to reach a height of up to 15 cm. It has narrow hairy leaves which are prone to dying off at the base if the is induced to bolt.

The aster-like blooms are approximately 1 cm wide with a golden-yellow central disc and a fringe of white ray florets. As the blooms mature the florets turn a pinkish-purple.

Erigeron karvinskianus will perform best in a fertile, well-drained soil that does not dry out in summer. It will need sunny position but will benefit with some midday shade. It is ideal for growing in wall or paving crevices, but be aware that it will often self-seed and become invasive in mild areas. The seeds can even be mixed with a little clay and pressed into hollowed mortar joints in walls. Deadhead spent blooms to prevent the seed heads form which will encourage more blooms. To gain a second flush of blooms, cut Erigeron karvinskianus back to ground level in autumn.

As tough and as vigorous as this plant is, avoid areas prone to excessive damp or waterlogging if you want it to overwinter successfully.

Erigeron karvinskianus received the Award of Garden Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society in 1993.

Main image credit - Simon Eade
In text image credit - Hectonichus

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 bird's foot trefoil Lotus corniculatus flowers and leaves
How to get rid of the bird's-foot trefoil - Lotus corniculatus

Although rarely seen in a well managed garden, the bird's-foot trefoil - Lotus corniculatus, is a surprising attractive specimen as far as lawn weeds go. Its exotic, eye-catching blooms are in part due to its origins in the grasslands in temperate Eurasia and North Africa and its classification within the family Fabaceae.

 bird's foot trefoil Lotus corniculatus flowers and leaves
How to get rid of the bird's-foot trefoil - Lotus corniculatus
As a lawn weed, it is conspicuous in bloom and will develop an extremely prostrate habit when mowed. This means that it has a change to establish relatively unnoticed before its flowering season. Furthermore, it is better equipped to cope with poor soils enabling it to easy outcompeted with the grass if the nutrient levels are not improved.This is because (like most species within the family Fabaceae it has the ability to fix nitrogen using specialist bacterial in its root system.

It characteristically grows in grassy places in full sun and well-drained soils although is deep, branched root system will tolerate both wet and moderately dry conditions. It performs particularly well in poor, low nutrient soils, and in particular lawns which are not routinely fed and/or have the clippings removed when mowed. It is also tolerant of poor drainage and soil salinity

Note. In warmer climates where summer temperatures are regularly over 24 degrees Celsius Lotus corniculatus can become susceptible to fungal diseases.

Organic control of the bird's-foot trefoil - Lotus corniculatus

Your best and only organic control option is to dig out the plant and root system by hand. Be aware that the bird's-foot trefoil can prove to be particularly invasive and all attempts to remove it must be thorough or it will simply grow back. At the very least, scarify your lawn in the autumn with a spring-time rake in order to help your grass compete against the bird's-foot trefoil.

Chemical control of the bird's-foot trefoil - Lotus corniculatus

The bird's-foot trefoil is known to be intolerant of high levels of nitrogen so a twice yearly application of lawn food will help to keep your lawn from being out-competed by it. However to fully eradicate it you will need to apply a selective broadleaved weedkiller. You can purchase products such as Resolva lawn weedkiller concentrate by Westland from your local garden centre.

If you have the appropriate herbicide spray certificates you can consider Tritox, Intrepid 2, Greenor, Bastion T, Dormone or Supertox 30.

Main image credit - Simon Eade
In text image credit - FredrikLähnn public domain

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Corydalis cashmeriana flowers
How to grow Corydalis cashmeriana

Although difficult to grow in the milder regions of the United Kingdom, Corydalis cashmeriana is arguably the most attractive of all the species and cultivars within this genus. Native to Kashmir, the northernmost geographical region of the Indian subcontinent, it is a gorgeous hardy perennial noted for its comparatively large, salvia-blue blooms and is particularly suitable for rock gardens or alpine houses. For those of you who care about such things the species name Corydalis is derived from the Greek meaning 'crested lark'.

Under favourable conditions you can expect Corydalis cashmeriana to reach a height of 15 cm high and a spread of 25 cm. The dissected blue-green leaves are 3-lobed and biternate. The brilliant clear-blue blooms are approximately 1-2 cm long and appear from May to August on racemes 5-8 cm long

In its native habitat Corydalis cashmeriana is usually found in open screes and scrub in an acidic, well-drained humus-rich soil. Under cultivation it require cool, humid conditions which makes it difficult to keep in the milder weather experienced in the south of England.

As you would expect, it will perform best in full sun planted in cool, humus-rich lime-free soil. Experience has shown that Corydalis cashmeriana will perform better outside in western Scotland than anywhere else in the UK. Avoid planting near deciduous plants as any leaf drop on corydalis can cause them to rot off. Remove any leaves that fall on the foliage as soon as possible.

The soil within its natural habitat will be generally poor, but a monthly feed of 50% of the recommended dose of liquid soluble fertiliser will be fine.

In England Corydalis cashmeriana is best cultivated in an alpine house in 15-20cm terracotta pans of John Innes compost 'No.1'. Keep the soil just on the moist side over winter and avoid waterlogging as this can increase the incidence of root rots. Repot annually in March, but avoid disturbing the root system as much as possible.

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