Garden Myths: Number 14

It’s a dwarf conifer!

Gardens are littered with 6 metre high conifers with a small group of rocks around its base. Invariably this is the last resting place of a garden rockery with a dwarf conifer planted in it. For some reason people have no problem with seeing an oak seeding will grow into a tree but when looking at a small conifer plant they think it will stay small. There are in fact only a couple of truly dwarf conifers and they are not very common, all the rest are little conifers which just haven’t grown yet.

Garden Myths: Number 13

Lawns are less work than borders.

No, but they take less thought on the part of the reluctant garden. Just think about the time you spend following the lawn mower up and down the garden every year. Now compare this to how much time you spend looking after an established border of similar area. Initially the border does take more time, effort and thought; but once established it should take a fraction of the time the lawn does.

Garden Myths: Number 12

Clematis need lime.

It is an old belief that clematis need plenty of lime, and it was often recommended that mortar rubble should be buried under a clematis when planting one. I have also heard people claim a clematis growing in clay soil was only succeeding because it was against brick wall, no doubt ignoring the Rhododendron growing beside it! The fact is clematis aren’t that fussy regarding soil and will happily grow any reasonable garden soil.

Garden Myths: Number 11

Peonies will not flower for years after you move them.

I have moved peonies at all times of the year and they have continued flowering without interruption; and I am not alone in this observation. They do object to being planted too deeply, and this will stop their flowering; so care should be taken to ensure when planting them to ensure the new and existing soil levels are matched up.

Garden Myths: Number 10

Plants will go to a particular size and stop.

People often ask for plants to do things that are not realistic and the commonest one is for a plant that will grow to a particular size and stop. That is understandable but sadly some people in the horticultural industry will actually tell them a particular plant will do just that. Providing such action is wholly unprofessional and reprehensible.

All plants will grow at different rates throughout their life and ultimately there growth will slow down a lot, but this can be when they are centuries old. Clearly some plants will always outgrow others but their growth is strongly influenced by the conditions they are grown in. To take an extreme example take an oak tree in open parkland and grown as a bonsai.

Garden Myths: Number 9

Evergreens don’t lose their leaves.

It is an old misconception, older enough for me to be for warned by my amenity horticulture lecturer, that people think by choosing evergreen you will not have to clean up fallen leaves. The logic is easy to see; if the plant is evergreen it has leaves all the time so they don’t fall off. The error of this will quickly become painfully apparent the first time they weed under a holly bush! While evergreen don’t shed all their leaves on one go: they do still shed them, as can be seen if you look under any established evergreen tree or bush and what is more they tend to take longer to rot down than leaves of deciduous plants.

Garden Myths: Number 8

Waterfalls and streams need a mains water supply.

The first time, on discussing creating a garden pond, the customer carefully explained where the mains water supply was “as I would need it” I was taken aback; but it has happened now a number of times. The logic I presume is that as there is water running it must be from the mains. To clear up any confusion the water is circulated by an electric pump. Using the water mains wouldn’t work for a number of reasons. Tap water contains chemicals such as chlorine and fluorine which are added that could harm the plants and fish, if you’re constantly adding more and more water from the mains where will the excess go to, what is your water bill going to be, what happens as the water pressure goes up and down, what’s going to happen to the water pressure in the house and a domestic water supply does have sufficient water pressure or flow rate for all but the smallest water feature.

Garden Myths: Number 7

Cacti don’t need water.

Every plant needs water. The amount they need varies greatly with a pond plant at one extreme and a cactus at the other; but they all still need some water. The plants grouped together as cacti have evolved to survive with very little water and very infrequent rainfall but like all living things on earth they need and use water.

Garden Myths: Number 6

It’s a simple environmental choice.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions

The problem with the environment is its complicated; I mean REALLY complicated! Not just fiendish Sudoku complicated, more theoretical physics complicated. In the environment everything interacts with everything else, so the simplest change can have completely unforeseen results. Take a simple example: many years ago a group of botanists wanted to protect a colony of rare orchids and so they put up rabbit netting around the plants to stop grazing animals eating them. So far so good, it seemed to everyone a sensible course of action. Everyone except the orchids which quickly died out in the fenced off area. Fortunately they did continue to grow at the site but not in the fenced of areas but in the grazed ones. The orchids relied on the grazing animals to keep the competing grasses down so they could flourish. Scenarios like this keep reoccurring time and again when people try to make changes to help the environment. The problem is that environmental campaigners keep making over simplistic claims about the needs of the environment; when the truth is far more complex.

The problem with the environment is its complicated; I mean REALLY complicated! Not just fiendish Sudoku complicated, more theoretical physics complicated. In the environment everything interacts with everything else, so the simplest change can have completely unforeseen results. Take a simple example: many years ago a group of botanists wanted to protect a colony of rare orchids and so they put up rabbit netting around the plants to stop grazing animals eating them. So far so good, it seemed to everyone a sensible course of action. Everyone except the orchids which quickly died out in the fenced off area. Fortunately they did continue to grow at the site but not in the fenced of areas but in the grazed ones. The orchids relied on the grazing animals to keep the competing grasses down so they could flourish. Scenarios like this keep reoccurring time and again when people try to make changes to help the environment. The problem is that environmental campaigners keep making over simplistic claims about the needs of the environment; when the truth is far more complex.

Garden Myths: Number 5

Slugs and snails can be kept off Hostas by raising them high up or setting them in gravel.

Hostas are a versatile and attractive genus of garden plants; used and loved by gardeners. Unfortunately the large succulent leaves that make them so attractive are also irresistible to slugs and snails. This has led to an all-out war between gardeners and gastropod, with peace loving elderly spinsters turned into pathological nocturnal hunters. In an attempt to keep the Hostas safe many ploys have been tried, including raising them off the ground. It doesn’t work, I’ve seen snails more than 2 metres up vertical brick walls. Sadly gravel is no more effective and so far the only reliable way I have found is regular use of chemicals.