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.


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


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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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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large specimen of Black-Eyed Susan vine - Thunbergia alata with orange flowers
How to grow the Black-Eyed Susan vine - Thunbergia alata

The black-eyed Susan vine - Thunbergia alata is a popular perennial annual self-twining climbing plant noted for its striking blooms. It is an easy to grow plant often grown as pot specimens or as a small climber.

Native to Eastern Africa is has proven to be surprisingly tough, and despite its subtropical to tropical origins it will often overwinter viable seed in the milder regions of northern Europe such as the south of England and Ireland. That being said self-sown seeds are unlike to come into blooms until August.

Orange blooms of Black-Eyed Susan vine - Thunbergia alata
Flowers of the Black-Eyed Susan vine
Under favourable conditions you can expect the black-eyed Susan vine to reach a height of 1.8-2.4 m although in the United Kingdom 1-2 m is more likely. The mid-green leaves are heart or arrow-shaped.

The blooms, which can be up to 5 cm wide, have a flat orange-yellow corolla with a chocolate brown centre. They appear singularly from June to September from the leaf axils.

The Black-Eyed Susan will perform best in an ordinary, well-drained garden soil in a sunny sheltered position. Pot grown specimens can be grown in 15-20 cm pots containing a good quality compost such as John Innes 'No.2'. Provide suitable supports such as strings, wire or canes for he tendrils to climb up.

If you wish to grow them the following year then you can either over-winter the plants under frost-free protection at a temperature of 7-10 degrees Celsius or collect the seeds for sowing in March. Overwintered plants will need to be kept on just the right side of moist. They can be hardened off to outside conditions over 10-14 days once the threat of late frosts have passed.

There are a number of colour variations available including red, orange, white and yellow. Depending on the selection they can also be with or without the characteristic dark centre.

They are surprisingly hardy and while the parent plants won't survive, their seeds have been known to remain viable through the winter in the milder regions of southern England and Ireland. That being said when left to their own devices the soil temperature will not be warm enough for germination until June onwards and therefore flowering will not occur until the end of August.

Main image and in text image credit - Simon Eade

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Red flowering Corydalis solida cultivar
How to grow Corydalis solida

Native to northern Europe and Asia, Corydalis solida is a popular flowering herbaceous plant noted for its finely cut foliage and the colour variations of its blooms. It is an easy to grow species that does well in the gardens with northern European type climates.

Mauve flowering Corydalis solida cultivar
How to grow Corydalis solida
It was originally named Fumaria bulbosa var. solida in 1753 by Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus (1707 – 1778), hence its rather unattractive common name of 'fumewort'. Its reclassification to the genus Corydalis was made by notable French botanist Joseph Philippe de Clairville (1742 – 1830) in 1811.

Found growing under the canopy of deciduous woodland, Corydalis solida is considered to be a spring ephemeral. This means that it will grow quickly in the spring coming into bloom before the leaves of the trees emerge to darken the woodland floor. It also means that there is a relatively short window of opportunity to purchase these plants in the spring before the blooms finished the foliage begins to die back.

Under favourable conditions you can expect Corydalis solida to grow to approximately 25 cm high with deeply divided, grey-green foliage.

It produces narrow, long-spurred flowers in March to April on narrow, dense, terminal racemes. The blooms are approximately 2 cm in length and can show colour variations (although not on the same plant), ranging between mauve, purple, red or white.

It will perform best in a well-drained but moist habitat in full sun (if the soil is permanently moist) to full shade under deciduous plants. The soil only needs to need moderately fertile.

The small pebble-like tubers of Corydalis solida are about the size of a marble usually available in the autumn. They should be immediately planted at approximately 5cm deep and 10cm apart.

Several varieties and cultivars have received the Award of Garden Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society.

Main image credit - Corydalis solida 'George Baker'Peter coxhead

In text image credit - Bernd Haynold Dual License GFDL and CC-by-sa

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Physoplexis comosa in a pot sunk in sand in an alpine greenhouse
How to grow Physoplexis comosa from seed


Despite being a fascinating and much sought after alpine specimen, Physoplexis comosa is sadly rarely seen outside of botanical gardens and specialist nurseries.  Unlike many examples offered up as alpine plants in your local plant retailers, Physoplexis comosa is the genuine article native to the French and Italian alps. Commonly known as the 'Tufted Horned Rampion' or 'Devil's Claw', like all true alpines it has blooms characteristically larger than its foliage.

It is fairly easy to obtain Physoplexis comosa seeds online throughout the year. If growing under protection they can be sown at any time of year. If being started outside they will need to be sown under the protection of a cold frame in the autumn.

Outdoor germination

Fill a modular tray using a good quality, well-drained seed compost such as John Innes 'Seed and Cutting' Sow Physoplexis comosa seeds onto the surface at a rate of one seed per module. Cover the seed with a thin layer or horticultural grit, or vermiculite. Gently water in using a can with a fine rose on it so as not to disturb the seed then. Keep the soil moist but never waterlogged and avoid the compost drying out completely during germination. You now have two ways to proceed. The first is to place the modular tray in a cold frame, where the natural winter cold should offer ideal conditions for germination to occur in spring.

Indoor germination

The second is to place the tray inside a heated propagator 18-22°C for 2-4 weeks or seal inside a clear polythene bag and place it on a warm bright windowsill (but one which is out of direct sun during the hottest part of the day) for the same time period. As these seeds are grown under protection they will need an enforce period of cold stratification so they will next be moved to a refrigerator for 4-6 weeks at a temperature of approximately -4 to +4°C. After this period return to a temperature between 5-12°C for germination which although will have some variability should expect seedling emergence in up to 6 weeks.

Once the root systems have established in their modules the seedlings will be ready for potting on into 9cm pots, again filled with a well-drained compost. Avoid disturbing the root system and protected under glass before acclimatising the plants to outside conditions when danger of frosts have passed.

Physoplexis comosa will perform best in a gritty, well-drained, poor to moderately fertile alkaline soil in full sun. Be aware that it will need protection from winter wet. Physoplexis comosa can be successfully grown outside under suitable conditions or keep as a container grown specimen in an alpine house.

Image credit - Simon Eade

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Apricot trees with shot hole diseases on leaves
What is shot hole disease?

Caused by the fungal pathogen Wilsonomyces carpophilus, shot hole disease is most notable for affecting members of the Prunus genus. Also commonly known as Coryneum blight, it is rarely seen on garden specimens, however it is a serious problem for commercial growers of Almond, apricot, nectarine, peach and cherry trees. Infections can occur anytime between the autumn and spring, but is usually most severe following wet winters. As you would expect, Shot hole disease is most noticeable in spring as the new growth is most susceptible.

Apricot leaves with shot hole disease
What is shot hole disease?
Once a tree has become infected, shot hole disease produces small 1mm to 6mm reddish or purplish-brown spots occasionally surrounded by a light-green to yellow ring. As the disease progresses the spots dry out and then fall away from the leaf leaving characteristic small holes of various sizes. To some the leaves look as though they have been fired upon by shotgun pellets - hence its popular common name.

In significant infections, this loss of material from within the leaves will clearly reduce the amount of photosynthesis that can occur. This then has the knock-on effect of weakening the plant, and decreasing fruit production. To put this into perspective, it is estimated that approximately 80% of the California almond crop may be infested with shot hole disease. This is believed to result in a potential yield loss of 50-75%.


The shot hole fungus is known to overwinter in infected buds and twig cankers. The spores are dispersed in spring by rainfall. On ornamental prunus species avoid overhead watering as this is a particularly effective way of spore dispersal. Be aware that the spores will remain viable, albeit in a dormant state, for months.

For infection to occur temperatures will need to remain above 2 °C combines with approximately 24 hours of wet conditions. At higher temperatures shot hole infection will take hold in considerable less time. For example only 6 hours at 25 °C.


Remove and dispose of any infected buds, leaves, fruit and twigs, preferably by burning. This includes contaminated leaves around and beneath the tree. In the autumn, apply a spray of copper fungicide or Bordeaux mixture. A subsequent spray during favourable conditions over the winter may also be considered with severe infections. Research in the 1930's found that applications of Bordeaux mixture reduced shot hole disease on peaches from 80% to 9%.

Image credits - Simon Eade

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Bottlebrush plants - Callistemon species and varieties, are among the most exotic of all hardy garden specimens. However their unusual growth habit means that most gardeners are reluctant to cut into the wood in case their shape and following season's blooms are affected.

To be fair, bottlebrush plants are usually low maintenance and will require little or no regular pruning. That being said, some forms can easily grow too large for their allocated garden space and will need cutting back one way or the other. Like conifers, avoid cutting back into the inside branches where there are few leaves as you may not see any regrowth.

Bottlebrush flower stem coming into bloom
How to prune back bottlebrush plants
The best time to pruning is from mid to late spring, but if you miss this opportunity you can light prune at the end of the summer. Removing any weak, crossed, rubbing, diseased or dying stems back to the trunk, and remove any suckers from the base as soon as you see them. Rip them from the trunk rather than cut to reduce the incidence of regrowth. This will be the same action for specimens grown with a single trunk but only do this as the suckers emerge. Shoots longer than a few inches will need to be cut. The best results are from rubbing away emerging buds with your thumb.

To guarantee that next season's blooms will remain unaffected and to just generally maintain a shape, lightly prune immediately after flowering - usually just a couple of inches from the growth tips and removing the spent flower structures.

If you are trying to reduce the size of an overgrown specimen, cut back down to size in the spring making sure that this is done well before the new seasons bud form.

In drastic situations, it is not unknown for mature specimens to grow back from being cut down to the ground. However this should only be done as a last resort.

Image credits - Simon Eade

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