Using Ilex Crenata As A Box Hedging Substitute

March 2015 114 I’m an enormous box hedge fan, and my garden is testament to some wonderful mature examples of this; however, for those of you who are regular readers of my blog, you’ll be aware of the problems I encountered last year when I introduced new box hedging into my garden scheme and discovered that some of these plants had been infected with box blight!

Our builders left at the end of January and I’ve recently been designing the border  directly in front of the house to try and soften the impact of our recent renovations.  March 2015 116  I wanted something in this border that was evergreen, structural and hardy, but would not encroach on the other evergreen shrubs at the back of the border, or the perennial roses and hydrangeas in the centre of the bed.  It was also important that the planting was sympathetic to other areas of the front garden.

Ilex Crenata 004My brother came up with the solution in the form of Ilex Crenata.  This plant is a member of the Japanese Holly Family, and is recommended by the RHS as a box substitute.  Although this type of Ilex has smaller leaves than box, it can be planted to form small potager edging.  Ilex Crenata, unlike box can be clipped at any time of year so no more waiting for Derby Day to trim your topiary!   It has the same hedge planting distance as box (30cm between each plant) but it’s not prone to leaf scorch and will break fresh growth from brown wood.  It’s also unaffected by leaf spot, rust and blight, and will tolerate clay soils. I’m thrilled with my Ilex Crenata, and I’ve just ordered some more for another herbaceous border in the same section of the garden.

Primrose currently have Ilex Crenata on special offer = 25 x 9cm pots at £58:99.

Ilex Crenata 006Good luck and happy planting!

Lizzie xx

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Blow Your Own Eggs to Make An Easter Egg Tree

More Blown Eggs! 012Here’s a lovely Easter project in readiness for the forthcoming celebrations this weekend, inspired by a visit to our friends Sam and James last Saturday.

Whilst visiting we spied the most dazzling display of hand blown eggs.  Our daughter, Fleur, was absolutely fascinated, so today we’ve had a go at blowing our own eggs and it couldn’t be easier.

You will need:

March 2015 121Twigs – we’ve used apple tree branches left over from a recent pruning

16 eggs

Mixing bowl

Twine or ribbon and a glue stick

A receptacle for displaying the twigs.  I’ve used a large jug with a narrow neck to secure the twigs, but for a broader display Sam used a jug with a wider neck and secured her twigs using sand and shingle.

March 2015 124We began by inserting a small hole in the March 2015 123
top of the egg using a binka needle.  We then made a larger hole in the bottom of the egg, taking great care not to break the egg shell.  Placing a mixing bowl underneath the egg Fleur then placed her mouth over the smaller hole at the top of the egg and blew, and blew, and blew!!!  We found that if we shook the egg this helped with the flow of egg white and yolk escaping from the larger hole.

March 2015 136After blowing the eggs we carefully washed the shells in soapy water and left them to dry on the aga.  Alternatively, a radiator or airing cupboard would work just as well.

Once the eggs were dry I took a section of twine and made a simple loop and secured with a knot.  I then threaded the twine into the larger hole in the egg, so the knot sat on top of the egg shell and secured in place using glue.

More Blown Eggs! 018Sam’s method was slightly different and she used ribbon tied in a loop with a bow and secured this to the bottom of the egg with glue.

Once the loop was securely fastened to the egg we had great fun arranging our display.  I’ve gone for a naturalistic display but the eggs can be painted for a more dramatic effect.  Old tester pots are great for this and I have no doubt that by Friday some of my beautiful eggs will have been painted by Fleur!!!

March 2015 133Finally, my able assistant mixed all the egg mixture we’d blown from the eggs together and made the most delicious scrambled egg with more left over for cake making tomorrow!

Happy Easter.

Lizzie xxx

 

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Growing Geraniums From Seed

More Blown Eggs! 014The majority of 2014 was spent renovating and extending Streamfield, so now the builders have finally left I’m beginning to turn my attention finally back to the garden and bringing it back to life!  I adore geraniums for multiple reasons but mostly for their fabulous splash of colour, distinctive scent, repeat flowering longevity and nostalgic memories of long summer days in my Grandfather’s garden.

Every summer I buy geraniums in plug form and get a little frustrated by the colour combinations.  This month I’ve decided to bite the bullet and grow them from seed to get the colour combos I’ve always dreamt of (deepest violet, palest pink and Persil Automatic white!)   I bought the seeds online with an average of 10 seeds per packet. Geraniums take sometime to grow, so its advisable to start this process at the beginning of January to mid January.  I’m a little later this year, but if you start now you’ll just be a few weeks behind with a lovely plants by the end of May.

Pictures April 2014 404I started by inserting a seed tray with drainage holes into another water tight container.  I then added multipurpose compost to the seed tray (3/4’s full) and lightly watered so it was damp to touch.  (If you over water just leave the compost for a few hours to dry out and remove excess water from the container tray).

Pictures April 2014 405

I then added vermiculite to a bowl and mixed with water until damp.  Vermiculite helps geranium seeds to germinate.  As the outer shell of the geranium seed is hard in texture it requires a little more help.  The vermiculite helps absorb nutrients from the seed which might otherwise be washed out by watering and then releases the nutrients back to the plant roots.

Pictures April 2014 406

Pictures April 2014 407I then placed the tiny seed in the seed tray and covered with vermiculite.  Next I covered the entire tray with cling film and pierced holes in the top to add ventilation and placed in my airing cupboard for the next 4 days.  For germination to take place the compost needs to be kept at a constant temperature of between 21-23C.  At this point sunlight is not an issue.  As soon as shoots appeared I removed the seed trays from the airing cupboard and removed the cling film.  My trays are now on a south facing windowsill in my kitchen (see picture at the top of this post) and enjoying the sunshine and happily photosynthesising!

Pictures April 2014 408I’ll post so more photos as the plants grow but I hope this inspires you to give it a try and good luck.  Happy Germinating!

Since then ……

Pictures April 2014 410After a few days shoots appeared.  In hindsight bring out your shoots sooner rather than later so they don’t become too leggy – I left mine for 5 days and next time I think I’ll leave for 3.  Removing earlier prevents a leggy, wobbly stem!  I’ve tried to rectify this problem using cocktail sticks as a guide, and as the plants have got bigger they are becoming more stable.

Over the course of the next few weeks the plants began to grow steadily on a south facing window, until finally at 6 weeks I potted them on into individual pots.

More Blown Eggs! 014March 2015 099I will start to harden off the plants in May.

Lizzie xxx

 

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Box Blight and Box Rust at Streamfield

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For those who read my blog regularly you will be aware that our home sits in an established plot with many mature trees and shrubs, and a significant amount of box hedging.  We’re currently landscaping the front garden and despite the fact my Father-in-Law and I have propagated a lot of our own box hedging I’ve still had to buy new box.  Unfortunately, the RHS confirmed on Thursday that a batch of box balls I bought last year and planted into pots contain Cylindrocladium buxicola commonly known as box blight.

Topiary Ball with Box Blight

 

Box Blight Symptoms

I first became aware that something maybe awry two weeks ago when I potted on my box balls into larger containers and noticed that the crowns of the box balls were rather sparse.  The leaves had also suddenly developed cream edges which I took to be a nitrate deficiency, so on my gardening guru’s advice I began feeding with liquid tomato fertiliser and Top Rose.  Recently I’ve read a few articles in the weekend papers concerning box blight so decided to conduct a little more research.  While I didn’t seem to be suffering from all the symptoms – dark or light brown circular leaf spots, often with a darker margins and straw to bronze coloured blighted foliage, I did have dark stem cankers or black “streaks” on my stems and leaf drop.

I found the following pictures from NC State University the most helpful in identifying my own box blight – search internet for: NC State University Prevention and Management of Boxwood BlightImage

RHS Advice

As soon as I had read this document and identified the black lesions on my own plants I rang the Royal Horticultural Society at Wisley.  If you’re a member of The RHS their Plant Pathology team will provide a pathology report free of charge.  As soon as I described the plants symptoms they asked me to provide photos of the suspected blight by email and a soil, root, stem and leaf sample by first class post.  They also suggested that I place a bin liner over my suspected infestation to prevent further outbreak until they could identify the cause.  Within 24 hours of receiving the sample they emailed back to say I did indeed  have Cylindrocladium Buxicola blight and provided me with the following advice.

Topiary Ball with Box BlightI’ve enclosed the RHS Advisory box problems web page: http://www.rhs.org.uk/Science/Plant-diseases/Box-problems  There are fungicides (see my list at the end of this post) that are currently available to the amateur gardener and may help control the disease.  You should also cut out and destroy the affected branches or remove the badly infected plants.  Removal and replacement of the topsoil may also be helpful as the fungus can remain viable for at least five years on decomposing material.

I have so much established box I can’t risk an infestation so have disposed of the plants, soil and pots at a landfill site to prevent further infestation in my garden.  I am now keeping a very close eye on the rest of my box hedging.

Outbreak of Rust in Box Hedging

Established box hedge with suspected box blightSuspected box blight in established box hedge

Meanwhile in another part of the garden, our box has been affected by box rust.  The above established box hedge looks perfectly healthy until you examine the leaves in detail.

Underside of leaf affected box rust

Underside of leaf affected by box rust

Box rust can be identified by inspecting the leaves for rust like spots.  On the underside of the leaf, brown raised bumps can be seen.  This raised bump is where the fungus resides producing spores that will spread.  Box rust is not as damaging as box blight and usually is only found at low levels, often not requiring treatment.

If you do wish to control the rust the RHS advise clipping off the affected shoots or spraying with one of the fungicides labelled for rust.

Fungicides Recommended by the RHS to stem Box Blight and Box Rust:

Bayer Garden Multirose Concentrate 2

Scotts Roseclear Ultra

Finally:

In the interim, I have removed any young box suspected of box blight from my garden and disinfected the top soil where they were planted with diluted Jeyes Fluid.  I’ve also sterilised all my garden tools with Jeyes Fluid as a preventative measure.

Good luck and I hope this post proves useful in identifying any box problems you may have.

Happy gardening – Lizzie xxx

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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How To Make a Dry Stone Wall

ImageWe’re currently in the process of landscaping our front garden before the builders arrive this Spring.

Before our arrival at Streamfield, our front garden was overgrown and had historically been used as a fruit and vegetable patch, and the remaining land had been left to grow wild.

During the clearing process we have dug out a huge amount of stone from the ground and have wondered what to do with it!

Our solution has been to rebuild the very old and neglected original dry stone wall found during our undergrowth clearing sessions!  Building the wall has been achieved quite simply:

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1) First we sorted out the stones into different sizes: large, medium, small and rubble!

0072) We then dug foundations where necessary around the wall, and laid large foundation stones at the base.

3) Next we followed the rule of one stone on two stones, and two stones on one.  Covering each joint as we progressed for greater stability.

0094) To keep the wall level and stable we infilled with smaller stones and rubble.

0035) As the wall built up we gradually tapered the top, finishing with a thin, flat stone on top of the wall.

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Next  Spring we hope to grow Aubrieta and Sandwort in the crevices of the stone wall.

Good luck and Happy Dry Stone Wall Making!

Aubrieta deltoidea, Choceň, Czech Republic, cu...Arenaria montana (Mountain sandwort), in bloom

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Homemade Blackcurrant Jam

Blackcurrants

Blackcurrants

Until last summer I’d never made jam, but after moving to Streamfield and inheriting a vegetable patch and fruit cage bursting with a wide variety of fruits, I’ve had to learn pretty fast.  The weather over the last few weeks has been incredible and this year I’ve had a bumper blackcurrant harvest, and for the first time have made a batch of blackcurrant jam.  The perfect gift for unsuspecting friends!

Ingredients

1.8 kg (4lb) blackcurrants

1.1 litres (2 pints of water)

1.8 kg (4lb) sugar* – Top Tip = heat the sugar in a warm oven before you add to the preserving pan to help it dissolve more speedily

sterilised jam jars – I used the dishwasher to sterilise my jars

preserving pan

jam thermometer

*I began by using an equal sugar to fruit ratio but when I tested the jam on my son and his friends they all agreed it was too tart!  I then increased the sugar ratio to 1.5 x sugar to fruit and the boys were delighted!!

Blackcurrants in a pan with waterMethod

I started by harvesting the blackcurrants from my vegetable patch and then carefully washed and removed the stalks from the blackcurrants.  I did this the night before I made the jam in front of the television and refrigerated overnight.

The next morning I placed the currants in a preserving pan with water and brought the water to boiling point.  Next, I turned down the heat and simmered until the fruit was a soft and pulpy consistency, stirring all the time to prevent the fruit sticking to the bottom of the pan.

Blackcurrants with sugar addedAfter that, I removed the preserving pan from the heat and added the sugar, constantly stirring until the sugar was dissolved.  I then brought the jam to the boil and boiled rapidly until the jam was a runny consistency and just below temperature on my jam thermometer.  I’ve overcooked jam in the past so now prefer things runny rather than rock solid, as you can always boil for longer if necessary!

Next, I removed the scum from the top of the jam with a metal spoon.

Blackcurrants  in a jam jarFinally, while the jam was still hot I carefully poured it into sterilised jam jars and placed a circular round of greaseproof paper on top of the jam and tightly sealed.  Don’t stick on your homemade labels until the jam has completely cooled!

Top Tip

I always use a very small jar as my testing jar to ensure that the jam has set properly.  It’s very tempting to keep testing the jam to see if it’s set once it’s in the jar.  Do wait until the next morning to test by spreading your breakfast toast with your homemade jam from the tester jar.  This should provide you with a fair indication if the set is correct and the fruit/sugar ratio is working.

I have been known in the past to put my jam back into the preserving pan and cook for slightly longer or to add more sugar and my jam has still worked perfectly.

Jam making takes practice, so don’t be discouraged if at first you don’t succeed.  It makes the jam taste even better once you’ve had a few disasters!!   Blackcurrant Jam on ToastGood luck and happy jam making!

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Propagating Box Hedging

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Over the last few months we’ve been rather busy laying a new drive at our home.  This has involved some fairly extensive ground clearance and to my husband’s great delight the hiring of a mini digger!!  We’re finally at the stage where we can begin to plan our new garden design and this involves cultivating quite a lot of box hedging!

Moving Self Seeded Cuttings

We’re very lucky that we have established box plants already in our garden and where possible we’ve taken established self seeded plants and replanted along our drive using a good rich compost and mycorrhizal fungi root grow to provide a healthy root system.  However, we still need to create two new beds and have decided the most cost-effective solution is to propagate our own. 

Propagating Box Hedging From Cuttings

I started by taking 10cm cuttings from the new growth from my box hedge.   This month we’ve been giving our hedges one last trim before the winter and I’ve used the off  shots.  Box can be tricky to propagate so please do take more cuttings than you require when propagating.

I began by removing the lower leaves on the stem and soaking these cuttings in water overnight away from direct sunlight. 

The next morning I filled 40 propagating pots with compost and watered.  Taking my presoaked cuttings, I then dipped the end into organic rooting gel and placed the root cutting into the compost filled pot.  I put 3 cuttings in each pot. 

To ensure success it’s very important to keep your cuttings warm and in a light place to cultivate good root growth. 

Making Your Own Propagator

Once all the cuttings had been potted I placed my tray on top of my chest freezer in a glass walk way between my home and garage that I use as a makeshift greenhouse.  Taking a sheet of clear polythene, I’ve wrapped this carefully around the cuttings, ensuring that the polythene doesn’t touch the shoots.  I’ve used wine bottles to suspend the polythene and have stored in a light place but away from harsh direct sunlight.  A greenhouse or cold frame would also be ideal.

I’ll now wait for 10 weeks to see if the cuttings take.

An Alternative Method

My Father-in-Law follows the same method but adds a line of sand to the compost when planting his cuttings.

Good luck and Happy Propagating!!

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