Shrub

A plant with a system of woody stems which branch out and last from one year to the next gradually increasing in size. Ranges from prostate to several metres in height.

Hardy Perennial

These are plants with no woody stems lasting from one year to the next. Some have leaves which persist from one year to the next but by enlarge they die down to the ground at the end of each summer. Hardy perennial grow by spreading horizontally and tend to establish and flower quicker than trees and shrubs.

Introducing plant names

I should really start off by saying something about plant names, as this is a real bugbear amongst gardeners. I thing just about everyone who has worked professionally in horticulture has been asked, generally in a tone of exasperation, why do we insist on using these weird names in a language of a people how died out centuries ago. This usually is answered by some mumblings about it avoiding different countries arguing about which language to use. This is actually more the reason the system is retained, along with the impracticality of changing it now! The real answer is far more complex, goes back at least to the conversion of Rome to Christianity and wends its way via the middle ages roman catholic church, Charlemagne and the use of Latin to control access to knowledge. That story is too long to delve into but by the time Carl Linnaeus set about creating his system of naming if he was to be taken seriously as a man of learning, and he certainly did, then he had no choice but to use Latin.

Carl Linnaeus is the man credited, some might even use the word blamed, with the naming system we use. In fact what may seem the two most obvious aspects, the use of Latin and using two words to name the plant, weren’t unique to his system having both been used in other attempts to place nature in a sense of order. His big idea was that the name didn’t physically describe the plant, it was just a label. The name John Smith only tells you that person is called John Smith and he has close relatives who last have the surname Smith. It does not tell you if he has dark or fair hair, or if he is tall or short. Try to give some one a name which describes them would be unworkable and so it proved with plant names. Therefore Garrya elliptica in itself tells you that the plant is related to other plants called Garrya and that is about it.

Photinia ‘Red Robin’

Photinia 'Red Robin'
Photinia ‘Red Robin’

This is a very common shrub in gardens – that is not to say it isn’t very worth while one to have in your garden. It has a lot of desirable features to recommend it. It will happily grow in most gardens being happy in sandy or clay soils. Its large evergreen foliage makes it a good screening plant and in a few of years it will reach 2 metres in height.

It’s easily identified by its red shoots, the leaves emerge strong red colour which persists at the leaves grow, only gradually fading to a glossy green as they mature.

Photinia-'Red-Robin' shoot
Photinia-‘Red-Robin’ shoot

Its’ dense foliage as well as making it a good plant for hedges and screening also make it very effective at smoothing out weed underneath it. In a border you should allow about 1.2 metres by 1.2 metres for it. As a hedge, either formal or informal a single row spaced 600 mm to 900 mm apart will have a good screen. The exact spacing being decided on by the size of the plants you are starting with, the cost and how long you are prepared to wait for them to close up to form a continuous hedge.

Photinia-'Red-Robin' hedge
Photinia-‘Red-Robin’ hedge

Photinia x fraseri ‘Red Robin’ as it is more correctly known is a selection from the hybrid between two plants P.glabra and P. serratifolia. Though P. ‘Red Robin’ was introduced to this country from New Zealand its parents, along with the rest of the genus come from the Himalayas. Its’ distinctive foliage make it hard to confuse with other plants, visually the most likely is Pieris ‘Forest Flame’ which also has striking red shoots but this is an altogether smaller plant and it regularly flowers in the UK which Photinia ‘Red Robin’ does not. The genus Photinia is in the very large and horticulturally important rose family.

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The Well-Tempered Garden by Christopher Lloyd

I am starting with this as when I’m stuck this is generally the first book I turn too. I was first introduced to the writing of Christopher Lloyd by my amenity horticulture lecture, Richard Bisgrove, as an undergraduate and I have been a fan, particularly of this book, ever since. This is not so much a ‘how to do’ book’ as a ‘how to think’ book. Far too much published in the name of gardening is a repeat of ‘now do this, now do that’ (copied from innumerate books of the same ilk and with the same errors repeated!) with little thought about why you are doing it an for what purpose. With Christopher it was written principally from personal experience, mistakes and all, and when not he is careful to state so.

First published back in 1970 with a revised edition published in 2001 this was, I believe, his first book having been writing of country life from 1963. By virtue of its age some so of the technical details are a bit dated but that is not as important as the underlying garden philosophy which is as relevant now as it was when first written. The 2001 edition is now, I believe, out of print but the book was sold in sufficiently large numbers that used copies can be very readily found.

I was told one day all gardens will be kept like this, hopefully many more gardening literature will be written liked this.

To begin at the beginning!

In the coming posts I’ll walk you through the problems associated with starting a new garden. I grant only a small number of people are at anyone time in this position but it will illustrate how a garden develops, provides a logical starting point and even if you are not actually starting a new garden there should still be things of interest to you.

OK so you moved into your new house, the place is full of empty cardboard boxes and packaging, making the place look like an upmarket ruff sleeper’s convention, you found the kettle and your child’s favourite cuddly toy; stare out of the window and see the garden. You will in all likelihood be faced with one of three scenarios.

A bare patch of mud with a fence around it.

A bare patch of grass with a fence around it.

An existing garden.

If it the second or third option you can, for the time being, just cut the grass and worry what to do later, it isn’t going to come to any harm and there will be lots of more urgent things you need to right now like get some sleep and recover from the move!

If you look out on an area of mud and/or weeds you may have to do something soon rather than later as that mud will end up getting everywhere and the weeds, even if not present now, will soon be growing vigorously.

You may have noticed I haven’t mentioned fences yet as in all possibility the garden will already be fenced off so I will come back to that later if you don’t mind. As they say ‘Roman wasn’t built in a day’.

The first thing we need to decide is if there is a weed the problem. If there’s none or just some weed seedling which have just come through we can ignore them but if the weeds are big enough to hold the soil together you are going to tackle them before we can do anything else. A lot, no.., A GREAT DEAL has been written and said about the use of chemicals in the garden and I’m not going to dive in what is a very opaque and opinionated debate at this point. The bottom line is that to clear a garden sized weed problem in a reasonable time is going to mean using a weed killer.