Monday, 29 June 2009

Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh has chosen to supply a specially made 1800 mm diameter container with a built in water reservoir and hidden castors for a large Ficus nitida tree. The Ficus nitida is a tropical or sub tropical evergreen species belonging to the family Moraceae (mulberry or fig family) and is common throughout many parts of the US, Asia and Australasia. They have been known to survive frosts but with foliage damage.

I remember seeing the Ficus trees growing in the street along Rodeo Drive in Beverley Hills, California. Just before you say "name dropper!" let me explain that I didn't dare go in to any of the shops there because there were no price tags on show! I recall that there were large scale (sap sucking) insects on the tree trunks and as the trees were so large, it would have been impossible to remove them all.

Many US citizens have a love/hate relationship with the Ficus nitida as they are known to have invasive roots and are a bit plain looking. They do, however, have lush foliage and a large canopy which is ideal for shade in the hotter regions. The roots could possibly be invasive due to watering habits. Lightly watering surrounding plants may encourage the Ficus roots to grow nearer the surface.

There is a bright yellow variety available: 'high noon' although I haven't seen it used in offices.

I have used ball top Ficus nitida in office plant displays and found that like the Ficus benjamina, they do really well in a bright position. They are easy to trim in to shape and last for many years. An office landscapers favourite type of plant!

The Edinburgh botanic garden was founded in 1670 at St. Anne's Yard, near Holyrood Palace, by Dr. Robert Sibbald and Dr. Andrew Balfour. It is the second oldest botanic garden in Britain after Oxford's. In 1763, the garden's collections were moved away from the city's pollution to a site on the road to Leith, and the garden moved to its present location at Inverleith in 1820. The Temperate Palm House, which remains the tallest in Britain to the present day, was built in 1858.
The botanic garden at Benmore became the first Regional Garden of the RBGE in 1929. It was followed by the gardens at Logan and Dawyck in 1969 and 1978.

A new visitor centre, the John Hope Gateway Visitor Centre is currently under construction. The Gateway will open to the public later this summer, offering visitor facilities, interpretation, an improved shop, a new restaurant as well as temporary and permanent exhibition spaces.

Monday, 15 June 2009

Dandelion removal and recycling.

Q. How do you eradicate dandelions from your garden?
A. Get a tortoise.

My children have a tortoise each. They were around a year old when we bought them and they have doubled in size in around 14 months. The tortoises, not the children. Like all tortoises nowadays they came from a certified dealer and had their own official certificates. They were expensive at around £150.00 each but as they live for such a long time, that works out to around £1.00 per tortoise per annum!

We had tortoises when we were little but they were mature specimens. I’m sure my father told me that they were that size when he was young so they may have been 60 to 70 years old. They were with my parents for many years, but sadly one died four years ago. The tortoise, not the parent. The other one was given to a local wildlife park as my parents went away too often for them to be cared for properly.

Tortoises eat a large range of plants, fruit and vegetables although it seems that dandelions are their favourite. Our garden is totally devoid of dandelions as they are all picked and recycled as food as soon as they have any decent shoots. If you want a garden free of dandelions but don’t want a tortoise then just pretend you have one.

I took my daughter’s friend home the other day and was delighted to see that her garden had quite a few of the luscious weeds. People always laugh a little when I ask whether I can pick their dandelions but are always grateful for the extra weed removal service.

If you have weeds growing on paved areas, the best way to keep them at bay is to spray with weed killers available from most garden centres. Spray as soon as the new weed shoots appear. Little and often is the best method here and when I say often I mean every month or so. Use appropriate masks and gloves when applying. Large weeds should be removed by hand to avoid unsightly brown vegetation. Either that or get a tortoise.

I have found Sodium Chlorate a very effective and economical weed killer. The recommended application method usually involves dissolving the granules in a watering can (keeping that can for weeds only) and pouring the solution over the affected area. I have found that using a hand pumped sprayer with the nozzle adjusted to drizzle as opposed to fine spray works really well and the amount you need is minimal, which saves both money and the environment. Remember; use appropriate masks and gloves when applying.

For weed control on beds in which you will be planting, another product I have used successfully is Weedol2. The product neutralises as soon as the solution touches the soil and the bed can be planted as soon as the soils has dried. Often in minutes!

On the other hand, if you enjoy having an aching back, just dig them all out by hand!

Saturday, 13 June 2009


No, not a term of abuse inside a correctional institution but a common response to the question “What type of lawn do you have?” To many householders, grass is grass full stop. It will look reasonable (from a distance) when mowed but upon close inspection, most home lawns will have a selection of weeds and clover and the odd patch of coarse grass. Lawns shaded by tall trees and buildings and those with poor drainage will probably have quite a bit of moss too.

We could call this a ‘normal’ lawn. The other types being the golf green type lawn, the luxury lawn and, sadly, the worn out lawn. For most people the perfect lawn would be the type seen on the golf course green: close cropped, weed free, and a beautiful colour. These lawns are achievable at home although the work involved in the initial preparation and the continued maintenance may be excessive unless you want to practise putting every night, have too much time on your hands or have a form of obsessive compulsive disorder.

There are different types of lawn grass with finer Bents and Fescues being chosen for the golf course and luxury lawn “Kids, get off the lawn!” and Meadow Grasses and Ryegrass being mixed with Bents and Fescues to provide a more hard wearing utility lawn “Kids, why don’t you play in the garden!”

The golf course green needs excellent drainage and this is usually built in with the correct slope and plenty of sand in the soil layer before the lawn is even laid. The luxury lawn is achievable with slightly less effort although homeowners with children and/or dogs shouldn’t attempt to create one of these unless they want the other parents at school whispering “Did you know that the children aren’t even allowed to play on the lawn!”

I have heard people mention that they want re-turf to improve the appearance of their lawn. This will provide an instant lush lawn but it may be short lived if there are underlying problems with drainage. Before resorting to that relatively major turfing exercise, there are easy steps that you can take to remedy the problems and improve the grass. Re-engineering your home lawn to build in sufficient soakaways is not really feasible but there are ways to improve the drainage at home such as aeration with a petrol driven lawn aerator. This will remove plugs of soil that can then be filled with sand. If you have a lawn that is always waterlogged, you will definitely have to do that slightly labour intensive stage first.

If you have been a bit lazy in the past and have regularly left the grass to grow to around six inches before you cut it then you may well have to hire a scarifier to scrape out all the old thatch that is lying on top of the soil. You will need to do this if the thatch is more that around a quarter of an inch thick.

If you don’t need to improve the drainage or scarify the lawn, go straight to your computer and search for lawn sand or more specifically GEM Weed & Feed + Mosskiller. This should be done in the spring to mid-Summer, by the way. Order enough for your lawn and include the drop spreader tool in your purchase. You may be tempted to save some money and spread the lawn sand by hand but you won’t be able to get an even distribution and spreading too thickly in some areas will lead to scorching and a slower recovery. You will be using the drop spreader every year so consider that cost will effectively be spread over a number of years.

Choose a dry day to apply the lawn sand, preferably four or five days after the grass has been cut to allow the weeds to grow back a little. This ensures that the lawn sand gets trapped on the leaves of the weeds. I was going to suggest that you choose a three or four day period of dry weather but in Britain we can’t really plan for that!

As usual, follow the instructions on the packet which will tell you to mark out lines with string so you know that you are not overdosing any particular area. March up and down with the drop spreader, covering the entire lawn. Avoid walking on the grass until the lawn sand has been left on for a couple of days. If it hasn’t rained after that time, water the lawn.

Within a few days you will notice that the weeds and moss will have blackened and withered. You may see areas of grass that have died off due to an over-zealous application of lawn sand but this will recover. If there is a lot of moss that has turned black this will have to be removed using a scarifier. Within a couple of weeks the grass will have deepened in colour. After another few weeks, you will have noticed that the lawn has markedly improved. Any patches of bare soil can be dressed with some grass seed and it doesn’t hurt to lightly sprinkle grass seed all over the remaining lawn. Don’t do this too soon after applying the lawn sand as the chemicals will stop the seed from germinating properly and don’t apply too thickly as the grass will suffer from damping off which is mould growth in densely sown seeds.

Sowing grass seed a bit like watching the proverbial pot. You are tempted to look at it every day but can’t see a thing going on. After around a week you get bored and forget about it. Then, lo and behold, at around the ten day mark there are loads of lovely bright green shoots! Marvellous. You have finally grown something in the garden! Remember to avoid cutting too low for the first couple of cuts and remember that in order to keep the grass looking green you will have to water it every two to three days during the hot weather. This is a must if there are large trees around the perimeter as they will take all the moisture from the soil.

Monday, 1 June 2009

Lucky you.

Lucky bamboo seems to be sold everywhere at the moment. Why they call it lucky escapes me. Why they call it bamboo escapes me too. It is in fact a member of the Dracaena family: Dracaena sanderiana. In its popular houseplant form, D.sanderiana has white or gold stripes along the leaves and grows in a bush like shape. When used as ‘lucky bamboo’ the plain green variety is usually used in a variety of forms and shapes.

One type of arrangement comprises three or four concentric circles of stems in a decorative style dish or bowl, the outer circle being the shortest and the inner circles increasing in height towards the middle. This method can be taken to extreme as shown in the picture!

Other arrangements are lattice shaped and woven style in numerous permutations. The forming of lattices is relatively simple and can usually be achieved in a short space of time but when it comes to spiral ‘lucky bamboo’ the turnaround time is a bit longer. It can take up to six months to form one loop of the spiral!

There are two factors that determine the spiralling in the stem. Firstly, the Dracaenas are encouraged to grow towards the light by the use of strategic shading. Secondly, the plants reaction to gravity is utilised. The Dracaenas always try to grow perpendicular to the Earth. I have seen this happen when large Dracaena stuedneri plants used in office displays have been laying down in the back of a company vehicle. They were too tall to stand up in the vehicle if you were wondering. If left for 2-3 days, the top six to eight inches of foliage turns at a right angle to the original stem. When taken out of the vehicle and placed upright, the angled stem turns back towards the heavens leaving a little kink.

The lucky bamboo doesn’t often flower but when it does, it forms a little flower spike or inflorescence. I wanted to explain exactly which type of flower this is but couldn’t decide between determinate inflorescence with acropetal maturation and determinate inflorescence with divergent maturation. So I didn’t bother.
Draceanas are favoured by interior landscapers as they are very tolerant of low light levels. I have often seen flower spikes on the aforementioned D.stuedneri in offices. They last for around three weeks and when open, they smell exactly like hyacinths!