We moved into our house on the Nursery Centre thirty years ago but it wasn’t until 1991 that we had the garden laid out. Two plants that were put in at that time were ‘Davidia involucrata’ and ‘Enkainthus campanulatus’ – they are still there and growing into beautiful specimens.
The Davidia was about three or four foot high when it was planted and for the first three years suffered from die-back, we have an exposed site and it didn’t like that, but suddenly after that it took off and now it is about 18ft high with a spread of 6-8ft. I knew we would have to be patient with this tree as I had read that it would take up to twenty years for it to flower, but I knew it would be worth the wait.
Davidii involucrata is native to South Central and Southwest China and was discovered by the French missionary Father Armand David (1826-1900) in 1869 – Father David was also the first European to set eyes on a Panda. In 1904 the Davidia was introduced to the UK after the plant collector Ernest Wilson found a grove of them on one of his expeditions. It is said that on his way back to the UK he was shipwrecked but managed to save his precious Davidias.
There are many common names for the Davidia, ‘Hankerchief Tree’, ‘Dove Tree’ or ‘Ghost Tree’. In spring beautiful, heart-shaped, fresh green leaves appear on the Davidii which have a slight spicy or incense scent when emerging and look good all summer turning orange and yellow in autumn before they drop. During May and June it produces very unusual small, reddish-brown coloured flowers which are surrounded by a pair of creamy-white bracts in rows along the branches. It is these bracts that look like pinched handkerchiefs or the fluttering wings of white doves. It prefers deep, fertile, moist but well-drained soil in a sheltered position in full sun or partial shade. Our tree first flowered after twenty four years in 2015, it didn’t flower last year but this year has quite a few flowers. There is a fantastic old specimen of a Davidia involucrata in Rowallane Gardens which is only two miles from us.
Our Enkianthus campanulatus is stunning at the moment and just a mass of flowers. This is an easy to grow shrub and can withstand hard pruning but we have never cut ours and at the moment it is around 6ft high and 4ft wide. This plant is easy to grow, likes full sun or partial shade and a moist, well-drained acid to neutral soil. During May and June pendulous clusters of delicate, bell-shaped cream flowers which have pink veins and margins appear – these can be used for cutting. The oval, mid- green leaves of spring and summer turn fiery shades of red, orange and yellow in autumn – the best autumn colour is achieved if grown in acid soil. The plant hunter Charles Maries introduced this shrub to the UK in 1880 from Japan and it received the Award of Merit in 1890 and the Award of Garden Merit in 1984.
Nothing says spring like a cherry tree in full bloom and the cherry tree that says it best is Prunus ‘Kanzan’. The sight of this cherry tree in full bloom with a sprinkling of petals underneath the canopy can be stunning. Prunus ‘Kanzan’ was introduced around 1913 and has received many horticultural awards over the years. It usually flowers in mid-late spring and is one of the most popular cherry trees planted. Deep pink buds open to clusters of double, stunning pink flowers which are shown off beautifully against the emerging bronze foliage which turns to green during summer then orange, yellow and bronze in autumn. This is a great tree for planting along lanes and avenues but do not plant it in paved areas. Classed as a small tree it will ultimately reach around 20ft.
Our ornamental crab apples are covered in buds and the flowers are just starting to open and are a great addition to any garden as they start to flower just as many of the cherry trees are going over. Malus ‘Red Sentinel’ is one of the best crab apples producing masses of pink buds which open to apple blossom white flowers with a slight fragrance in late spring followed by an abundance of blood-red crab apples which will stay on the tree all autumn and into winter. Bright green summer leaves turn shades of gold and yellow before falling.
We have three other varieties on the nursery centre. Malus ‘Everest’ has deep pink buds which open to apple blossom white flowers and are followed by crab apples which are flushed with yellow, orange and red. The flowers of Malus’Gorgeous’ are more narrow sometimes giving a more star like appearance and are followed by cherry-like, glossy, bright red crab apples which have high levels of pectin. Malus ‘Profusion’ has red buds which open to deep pink flowers which are set off well against purple-red spring foliage which fades to purple-green in summer. Clusters of small, maroon coloured crab apples are carried through autumn and well into winter. Although the crab apples carried by these trees can taste sour they are excellent for making crab apple jelly. As the flowers are very open they are very accessible to bees and other pollinators and the birds love the crab apples in autumn and winter. They are happy in full sun or partial shade in fertile, well drained soil and are very hardy. They are considered a small tree reaching around 20ft.
Dicentra spectablis is an old fashioned, cottage garden plant with flowers that are fascinating when looked at close up. Often called ‘Bleeding Heart’ it has a couple of other common names which are ‘Dutchman’s Breeches’ and ‘Lady in the Bath’ – you can see the lady if you hold the flower upside down. Dicentras are native to Asia and North America and were introduced to England around 1816; they were lost then reintroduced in 1846 by a Scottish botanist called Robert Fortune. Bleeding Heart will carry its flowers for many weeks during spring and is most suited to moist soil in partial shade or in a woodland garden. The soft green, fern-like foliage will die back in summer. This plant may be old fashioned but will certainly grace any garden.
Spring has arrived and already the plants on our Nursery Centre are bursting into life with Primroses, Dwarf Daffodils, Witch Hazels and a lovely batch of Double Primroses all looking fantastic.
One of the first Rhododendrons to flower in the spring is Rhododendron x ‘Praecox’ – the name ‘Praecox’ means ‘very early’ in Latin and it certainly lives up to its name. Long lipstick shaped buds of violet-purple open to masses of funnel shaped pinkish purple flowers in early spring and are borne on the tips of the branches and contrast well against its small, glossy, dark green leaves. This Rhododendron was bred by a nurseryman named Isaac Davies of Brook Lane Nursery in Ormskirk, Lancashire back in 1855 when he crossed two Rhododendrons – they were ‘Rhododendron ciliatum’ which had been discovered in the Himalayas by Joseph Hooker in 1850 and ‘Rhododendron dauricum’ which was a native of Russia but had been growing in British gardens since 1760. Rhododendron ‘Praecox’ was introduced to gardens in 1861. This plant will slowly grow to around three foot with a bushy habit and is evergreen or semi-evergreen – in a hard winter it may lose some of its leaves. This shrub prefers well-drained, acid soil in full sun or partial shade and in a position where it will not be reached by early morning sun.
A good perennial for early spring flowers are the ‘Lenten Roses’ or to give them their proper name ‘Helleborus orientalis’ they are a relative of the Christmas Rose ‘Helleborus niger’ but flower later and have flowers with some lovely combinations of pinks, purples, creams and greeny-white with many being double or semi-double. The flowers first appear in late winter into spring and usually during lent, hence the name Lenten. They are native to Greece and Turkey and were discovered by the French Botanist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck in 1789. Their nodding heads, which can be up to two inches across, are borne above large, deep-green, leathery leaves which make good ground cover and are perfect for planting under deciduous trees as they like winter sun but the shade of the trees during summer. They prefer a heavy, neutral to alkaline soil and do not like to be disturbed or divided – allow to naturalise or collect young seedlings from the base of the plant.
A spring bedding plant which I don’t think we use often enough nowadays is the humble forget-me-not. The variety we have is Myosotis sylvatica ‘Mon Amie Blue’ and is so pretty with its clusters of tiny blue flowers with yellow centres sitting above small, hairy grey-green leaves. The name Myosotis comes from the Greek and means ‘Mouse’s Ear’ Forget-me-nots are short-lived perennials or biennials but can self-seed and come back for many years and they look great when planted en masse with spring bulbs. There is much history and folklore around the Forget-me-not, in a German legend it is said that when God was naming all the flowers a tiny one cried out “Forget-me-not O Lord”, Gods reply was “That shall be your name”.
It’s been such a weird winter – so mild up until Christmas and then a dreary, cold January but already I can notice a stretch in the days. There is an old saying “If the cat in February lies in the sun, it will creep back to the grate in March” so let’s hope we get rid of any bad weather this month and hopefully we will have a beautiful spring to come.
There have been a couple of my Grape Hyacinths, ‘Muscari’, flowering from before Christmas in our garden – they’re a bit mixed up - their flowering time is early to mid-spring. ‘Muscari’ are not related to hyacinths at all they are members of the Lily family and are native to Greece and South West Asia. They were cultivated in Greek and Roman times but have been grown in the Britain since 1576 and would have been well known to the Elizabethans. There is an old myth that the first grape hyacinths sprung from the ground where a dragon’s blood had been spilled. The name Muscari comes the Greek word ‘moschos’ which means ‘musk’ and refers to the musky scent of the striking blue flowers. They have also been called ‘Starch Lillies’ as some say that the aroma smells like wet starch but others say in days gone by that the bulbs were pulped and mixed with water to form a jelly like substance which was used for stiffening linen.
The most popular variety of grape hyacinth is ‘Muscari americanum’ and it is a very easy to grow bulb. They can be bought in autumn in bulb form or in spring in pots. They are not fussy, growing in sun or partial shade and are happy in most soil conditions and are great for naturalising under trees. The tiny, mostly blue, grape-like flowers appear in cluster on spikes above green, grass-like foliage. If cut for a bud vase they can last for up to a week.
Garrya elliptica is a lovely but slightly unusual winter flowering shrub. Its common name is ‘Silk Tassel Bush’ due to the fact that from December to March clusters of long, slender tassels with a silky, grey sheen hang from the branches. Garrya is an evergreen and a native of the West Indies, Mexico and the South West United States. It was introduced to the UK by David Douglas in 1828. This is a great plant for covering a north or east facing wall or as a free standing shrub in a sheltered position, the leaves will scorch if it is exposed to cold winds. They prefer full sun or partial shade and will thrive in any soil as long as it is free draining. The leaves are slightly wavy and are grey-green in colour. There are male and female plants but mostly the plants that are for sale are male as they have the longer, showier catkins. The male catkins have pale yellow pollen and the female plants will carry little brown berries. Prune immediately after flowering to maintain a good shape or to remove any wind damaged branches.
A lovely autumn has come to a quick end – its pouring down and we are moving quickly into winter. Hopefully we will have some bright, crisp, winter days as it is still a great time for planting.
Bare-root hedging plants are usually available around the end of November. Trees, shrubs and roses can be planted and at this time of the year, you don’t need to worry about watering and deciduous shrubs and trees can be moved once they have lost their leaves.
A small tree that would brighten any winters day is the Cotoneaster ‘Hybridus Pendulus’ or weeping Cotoneaster. This tree ticks all the boxes. It has glossy, dark green leaves which make a great backdrop for the clusters of tiny white flowers that cover the stems in late spring followed by bunches of waxy, bright red berries in autumn and winter. This tree looks most beautiful when hit by winter sun on a cold, bright day when the berries seem to glisten along the arching branches. The weeping Cotoneaster is a great tree for wildlife; the bees love the flowers and the birds enjoy the berries. Cotoneaster ‘Hybridus Pendulus’ is tough and suitable for many conditions although it will not tolerate marshy or waterlogged soil. It is happy in full sun or partial shade and can be pruned in late spring or summer without fear. In a very severe winter this little tree may lose most of it leaves but in a normal year it will be evergreen or semi-evergreen. ‘Hybridus Pendulus can be grown in a large pot or container if looked after properly.
A slightly more unusual plant for the front of borders or for containers is Nandina domestica ‘Obsessed’. This plant is a new variety of the Sacred or Heavenly Bamboo and can provide year round interest in the garden or the patio. It is a compact, evergreen plant with bright red foliage as the new leaves emerge in spring fading to green and then turning red again in the autumn. Clusters of white flowers appear during summer. They prefer moist but well drained soil, in full sun or partial shade and just a wee bit of shelter from the worst of the east winds.
Nandinas are native to eastern Asia, from the Himalayas to Japan and are related to the Berberis family. Despite its common name of sacred or heavenly bamboo it is not a bamboo but gets the name because of its slim canes and cut foliage. For centuries Nandinas have been grown in Chinese and Japanese gardens where they are supposed to guard against nightmares and they are often used to decorate temples or houses. It was first introduced to Britain when a William Kerr sent the first plants to London from Canton in 1804. In a good year Nandina domestica will produce clusters of red berries which will last from autumn to spring however Nandina domestica ‘Obsessed’ does not produce berries.
‘In the garden, autumn is indeed the crowning glory of the year’, is part of a quotation that was written by the author Rose G. Kingsley (1845-1925). She was right every garden needs some autumn colour.
One of the most beautiful shrubs is Cotinus coggygria and would be a crowning glory in any garden. The two most popular varieties are ‘Grace’ and ‘Royal Purple’ and their common name is ‘smoke Tree’. Cotinus coggygria is native to central and southern Europe, the Himalayas and China and was introduced to Britain around 1656. In the middle ages it was used in southern Europe as a dye, especially for wool and silk as the yellow shade had a reddish tone. It was also used to mix with other dyes to create many other varieties of colours. Cotinus coggygria can be classed as large shrubs or small trees often growing to over 10ft but they can be pruned to keep in check.
In 1978 a propagator, who worked for Hillier’s Nursery in England, raised Cotinus ‘Grace’ he named it after his wife. In spring and summer it has green leaves with a purple tinge, in July and August fluffy plumes of purplish-pink flowers appear and give the appearance of smoke, hence its common name of ‘Smoke Bush’. The foliage takes on brilliant shades of orange and red in the autumn time, especially if grown in a sunny position. Cotinus coggygria ‘Royal Purple’ has much deeper purple-red leaves in spring, large feathery pink flowers in summer and brilliant red shades in autumn. Cotinus likes to be planted in a sunny position, in moist but well drained soil that is not too rich. They can be cut hard back in early-spring but you may not get any flowers or alternatively just cut back some of the oldest branches.
If you have room for something bigger the ‘American Red Oak’ has beautiful autumn foliage. Quercus rubra, to give it its proper name, can live for 500 years and its rate of growth is around 20ft in 10 years making it one of the fastest growing oaks. It has deeply lobed leaves which turn lovely shades of yellow, red and brown before falling in autumn. It is native to North America and southern Canada and helps give some of the colour to the Appalachian Mountains in the autumn. The red oak is very important to timber production in North America and is also used for veneer. The ‘Red Oak’ will grow in almost any position as long as the soil is acid and moist but well-drained.
To give an autumn look to the front of borders or for containers why not try Physalis alkekengi common name ‘Chinese Lantern Bush’. This plant is a perennial and will grow to approximately 2ft. In summer small creamy-white flowers appear over bushy, mounded, green leaves. As the flowers fade pods appear which are green at first but soon develop to bright orange lanterns each one containing a ripening berry. These plants will grow in sun or shade and prefer a well drained soil. The lanterns make great dried flowers. Pick the stems as soon as the orange colour develops on the lanterns; strip off the leaves and leave to hang upside down in a warm, dark room. Great for Harvest of Halloween decorations.
September is a great month for planting, the soil is warm and there will almost certainly be rain so it’s great for getting plants established. It’s also a good month for establishing new lawns either by seed or turf and for getting the spring bulbs planted.
One of the best loved perennials for late-summer and into the autumn are the Japanese Anemones or to give them their proper name Anemone hupehensis. These Anemones are native to China although they are thought to have been naturalised in Japan hundreds of years ago. They were first introduced to England by Robert Fortune in 1844; he had found them in China often growing on graves. The name Anemone comes from the Greek and means ‘Daughter of the Wind’ giving the plants their common name of ‘Wind Flower’. Flowering in abundance from late-summer, they have saucer-shaped flowers in white or shades of pinks with prominent golden-yellow stamens and all above deeply divided dark green foliage. They are clump forming and are best grown at the back of the border as they mostly grow to around 3ft. They are happy in sun or part-shade with rich, moist but well drained soil. One of the best whites is Anemone ‘Honorine Jobert’, it has pure white flowers and showy golden stamens and perfect for brightening up a shady corner. ‘Serenade’ has beautiful, semi-double, rose-pink flowers with golden-yellow stamens. Other good pink varieties include ‘Queen Charlotte’ which has deep pink flowers and ‘Hadspen Abundance’ which has reddish-pink flowers. Japanese Anemones make excellent cut flowers – cut them in the early morning when the blooms are still closed and put in room-temperature water out of direct sunlight. In the Victorian language of flowers Anemones were used to represent a forsaken love.
Another autumn flowering perennial but not so widely known is Liriope muscari, common name ‘Lilyturf’ or ‘Monkey Grass’, and is native to China, Korea, Japan and Vietnam where they grow on shady slopes and on the floor of bamboo forests. The variety we have is Liriope muscari ‘Big Blue’ and it looks like a grass with its dark green, strappy leaves which are evergreen. However in late-summer or autumn long-lasting spikes of deep-violet flowers appear above the grass-like foliage. The flowers look like the ‘Grape Hyacinths’ that flower in spring. This plant make great ground cover as it forms slow, spreading mounds of evergreen foliage and looks good when planted in groups. It can be used under trees as long as the soil is not too dry or on banks or in the border – it can be very effective when used to edge pathways. Liriopes thrive in partial or full shade although they will tolerate a sunny spot if the soil is moist but the leaves may yellow if in a very hot, sunny site. They prefer a neutral to acid, well drained soil and are happy in a pot or container if the right compost is used. In late winter or early spring cut back any damaged foliage to encourage new growth.
August is a time of hot days and holidays – a time for enjoying your garden and congratulating yourself on the results of your hard work throughout the year – but August can be a month when the garden starts to take on a tired, drab look, too much greenery and not enough colour. The Anglo-Saxons called August ‘Weod Monath’ which translates to ‘Weed Month’ and is thought to relate not only to weeds but all vegetation which grew quickly during this month. However there are still many varieties of plants which can extend the colour of your borders into late-summer.
Heleniums are a much loved, traditional cottage-garden perennial that has daisy-like flowers in shades of yellow, orange and dark red which look well against its bright-green foliage. They have a at least two common names – ‘Helen’s Flower’ after Helen of Troy or ‘Sneezeweed’ due to the fact that Native American’s dried the leaves to make a type of snuff which caused extreme sneezing. Most Heleniums will grow to between three and four feet and look best at the back of the border planted in groups. They will flower from mid-summer into early autumn, the bees and the butterflies love them and they are also good as a cut flower. Give them a spot where they get plenty of sunshine and moist but well-drained soil. This year we have a new variety which only grows to 12-18 inches high with a 24 inch spread, it’s named Helenium ’Short ‘n’ Sassy’ and is a recent introduction from a nursery called Skagit Gardens inc. in Mount Vernon, USA. It has bright orange and gold flowers with a chocolate brown centre and a compact, mounding habit. Not only can this Helenium be grown in borders but because of its compact habit it will do well in containers.
One of my favourite perennials is Campanula lactiflora ‘Pritchard’s Variety’ – we have had it in our garden for many years and it never fails to disappoint. Its common name is ‘Milky Bellflower’ due to its bell-shaped flowers and the milky sap in the stems. Campanula lactiflora are native to Iran, Turkey and the Caucasus area and come in white, pink or blue flowers – ‘Pritchard’s Variety’ has the most beautiful conical shaped clusters of violet-blue flowers from July to September above deep-green, lance-shaped leaves. It grows to about three foot high with a two foot spread on strong stems – I have never needed to stake ours – and prefers full sun to partial shade and fertile, moist but well-drained soil. Just watch out for slug damage when the leaves start to emerge in early spring. I have found this plant to be very hardy and it should be a ‘must have’ plant for any herbaceous border. Plant it in drifts for a great effect or in the mixed border and many of the gardening books will say that it combines well with old-fashioned roses.
After raining all morning the sun has just come out and the smell of the Garden Pinks we have sitting outside the front of our shop is just lovely.
Garden Pinks, or to give them their proper name Dianthus caryophyllus, are a very close relation to the carnation and have been cultivated for centuries. Their clove-like fragrance can evoke memories of favourite gardens or gardens that we knew in childhood. Pinks come in a variety of colours, mainly pink of course, but also white, reds, peaches and yellows and many have darker centres or petals edged with contrasting colours. My favourite are the red and white ones that not only smell like clove but look like clove-rock sweets. Dianthus means divine flower and they certainly live up to this if planted in a warm, sunny position in a free-draining alkaline to neutral soil – they do not like acid soil. They prefer clean air; many hundreds of varieties bred by Scottish weavers in the 18th and 19th centuries are thought to have been lost when the air became polluted due to the industrial revolution. In days gone by the fragrant flowers were used to spice up wine.
Another close relation to the Garden Pinks is Sweet William or Dianthus barbatus. These short-lived perennials have sweet smelling flowers which attract butterflies and bees. The flowers are edible and can be used to flavour cakes or for decoration and can also be used in salads. Although we like to think that Sweet William is named after King William III, it is supposed to have been named in honour of Prince William the Duke of Cumberland after his victory at the Battle of Culloden and it is for this reason that it is said that some Scots call it Stinking Billy.
English Lavender is another very fragrant plant and likes the same conditions as the Garden Pinks. Ideal for around the patio it can be grown in sunny borders and is very suitable for pots and containers. Although called English Lavender this plant is native to the Mediterranean area, east Africa, Asia and southeast India. The foliage is often greyish-blue and during summer the tall, blue flower spikes appear. In ancient Egypt Lavender was use as a perfume and in mummification. It is said Cleopatra wore it as a scent and in ancient Rome the Romans used it in their baths. Lavender is a natural insect repellent and is often grown around roses to repel harmful insects whilst attracting bees.
Our Peony Roses are looking good right now with plenty of buds appearing. Another old plant it has its origins in China over two thousand years ago, it is said to have been grown in the UK since before the Battle of Hastings. Their botanical name is Paeonia and they take their name from the Greek Physician Paeon. In days gone by they were mainly used for their medicinal qualities and were grown in the kitchen gardens of monasteries and nunneries. Their seeds were used to flavour meat and when soaked in wines were used as a remedy for those suffering from nightmares. They also like the same conditions as Garden Pinks and Lavender but don’t plant them too deep or they will not flower.
This is a great time of the year when everything is bursting into life on our Nursery Centre and the colour is fantastic.
Our Clematis montanas are budded and just starting to open. A member of the buttercup family this is a good climber is you need a wall covered quickly or something to scramble up a tree. They flower in abundance in May and June and are hardy and easy to grow. Clematis montana is a native of Afghanistan, the Himalayan region and the east of China. It was discovered in Nepal in 1818 and introduced to gardens in Britain by Lady Amherst around 1831. Its common name is Anemone Clematis as the flowers look very like the Japanese Anemones that flower in the autumn. There are many varieties of this climber available now, mostly in shades of pink, a few of the varieties we have are ‘Rubens Superb’ and ‘Warwickshire Rose’ which are rose pink ‘, ‘Tetrarose’ has rose-mauve flowers with greeny-bronze foliage, ‘Elizabeth’ and ‘Fragrant Spring’ have soft-pink flowers, ‘Christine’ has white flowers and a recent introduction is ‘Primrose Star’ which has creamy-white, semi-double flowers – an added bonus is that many of these Clematis have fragrant flowers which some books describe as vanilla-like. These plants are tolerant of any aspect and like a good, deep, moisture-retentive, well-drained soil. Pruning should take place after flowering.
Japanese Azaleas are a must for any garden large or small. They can be planted in groups to give a stunning effect or in smaller garden borders and are just as happy growing in a pot – as long as ericaceous compost is used. They will usually grow to 2ft-3ft high and wide, depending on the variety and come in an array of colours. Two of my favourites are ‘Johanna’ which has orange-red flowers and ‘Arabesk’ which has red flowers, both of these plants have glossy-green young foliage which then turns a bronze-green colour and looks great in the autumn and winter as Japanese Azaleas are evergreen. We have many varieties and they prefer an acid soil and partial shade although they will tolerate some full sun during the day. Avoid planting directly under trees but they can be planted at the edge of the tree canopy.
Hanging baskets and pots for summer colour can be planted up now and grown on in the glasshouse or conservatory. This helps them to get established before they are put outside at the end of May.
A must for any spring border are the Aquilegias. Their common names are ‘Columbine’ or ‘Granny’s Bonnets’ and they are a charming, old-fashioned perennial. They have bonnet shaped flowers with long spurs which gracefully nod above ferny foliage and self-seed freely. The flowers come in many colours and mixtures of colours. Some of the varieties we have at the moment are ‘Spring Magic Blue & White’, ‘Spring Magic Rose & White’, ‘Spring Magic Yellow’ and ‘Woodside’ which has bonnets of lilac to chocolate-maroon above boldly marked gold variegated foliage.
Main crop seed potatoes such as ‘Maris Piper’ and ‘King Edward’ can be planted now.
It’s all systems go at our Nursery Centre in Saintfield now that spring has sprung and most customers feel that there is loads to do in their gardens as it was too wet to get out during the winter.
This is the best time for alpines and we have a fantastic range of the most popular and some more unusual varieties. One of the old favourites has to be Aubrieta; it’s easy to grow, evergreen and fully hardy. They take their name from Claude Aubriet (1688-1743) who was a French flower painter and are native to southern Europe and east to central Asia. The four petalled flowers come in shades of purples, lilacs and reds and are fabulous at the front of a border, trailing down a wall or covering a sunny bank. They prefer full sun and a well-drained soil and after flowering give them a trim to encourage new growth – this will keep them looking fresh and stop them from becoming straggly.
Our alpine Rhododendrons are just starting to break into colour – they are usually the first to flower and are the smallest Rhododendrons often being mistaken for Azaleas. They are hardy, compact and evergreen with a mound forming, spreading habit. Their leaves are small and if you rub your hands over varieties such as ‘Ramapo’ or ‘Purple Gem’ (both have purple flowers) you will pick up the scent of their aromatic leaves. These plants come in all colours and give a fantastic display. At the moment we have varieties such as ‘Razorbill’ (light rose), ‘Ginny Gee’ (pink and white), ‘Cream Crest’, ‘Princess Anne (yellow) or ‘Gristede’ (purple-blue). They give a very impressive show of flowers. Most of the alpine Rhododendrons will grow to two foot high with a two to three foot spread. They are happiest in free-draining, acid soil and are very suitable for growing in pots as long as you use an ericaceous or lime-free compost.
Our Bergenias are looking really well at the moment, they have many common names but we would know them as elephant’s ears or elephant’s lugs. These plants are native to Siberia and are a tough, evergreen perennial and they flower from March-May. They have broad, leather leaves which take on an attractive purple tinge in winter and the flowers are held on spikes above the foliage. The varieties we have are ‘Evening Glow’ (deep pink), ‘Hart’s Kristal’ (pale-pink) and ‘Bressingham White’. Use them to edge a garden path or border or plant in groups for ground cover. They are happy in sun or shade and in any soil.
If your lawn is looking a bit tired a combined fertiliser, mosskiller and weedkiller such as ‘Evergreen Complete’ can now be applied. This will green up the lawn, kill the weeds and turns the moss black – the moss will then have to be raked out.
If your patios, paths or decking has gone a bit green and mossy use some ‘Algon Organic Cleaner’. It can be put down on a dry day and you don’t need to scrub. It will start to clear the surface within a week and will stay actively cleaning for months.
In Ulster we just love our spuds be they fluffy or waxy everyone has their own ideas as to which are the best varieties. There are three types of seed potatoes – First Earlies, Second Earlies and Main Crops
Years ago an elderly gentleman who was a regular customer of mine told me that if you plant your seed potatoes on Paddy’s day you will be able to lift them on Billy’s day. He was talking about 1st Earlies and we always do see a bit of a rush by customers wanting to have them ready for planting on the 17th. However if the ground doesn’t dry out a bit they will have to go in later this spring. We find the most popular 1st Earlies are Homeguard which are fluffy and Sharpes Express which are waxy although we stock other varieties such as Ulster Sceptre, Duke of York, Pentland Javelin and many more.
Varieties such as British Queen, Charlotte, Maris Peer and Estima are 2nd Earlies and can be planted later and Main Crops which include varieties such as King Edward, Maris Piper, Kerr’s Pink and Desiree after that.
Seed potatoes will need time to chit (sprout) before planting out. Leave them in a cool, bright room but not in direct sunlight. Set them in egg boxes with the more rounded end which has the eyes to the top. When the shoots are about an inch long they are ready to plant. Potatoes will grow in most soil types but would prefer well-drained soil that is not too heavy and a good sunny position - try to avoid frost- prone sites. They can also be grown in large containers.
Our Camellias are covered in buds just now with the colours just starting to show. They are a must for any winter or spring garden with their glossy evergreen foliage and beautiful blooms in shades of red, pink and white. Flowers can be double, semi- double and single. Camellias were one of the Queen Mother’s favourite flowers and she was very fond of growing them.
Camellias are native to China, Taiwan, Southern Korea and Southern Japan and were first brought to the UK in the 18th Century. They were highly prized and their wealthy owners built heated glasshouses to house them but these turned out to be too hot and humid and many of the first plants died. In the Victorian age special Camellia houses were built – one built at Chatsworth House still exists with its original plants. However it was soon discovered that Camellias, although looking very exotic, were perfectly happy to grow outside and in cool conditions. Camellias dislike lime and grow best in a neutral or acid soil that is moist and free-draining. They are happiest in a semi-shaded position and will not tolerate an exposed, windy site or a waterlogged soil. Always plant to avoid south or east facing positions because the flowers may be spoilt by the early morning sun following frosty nights. They are happy to grow in pots but use and ericaceous/lime-free compost. It is important not to let Camellias dry out, especially if in pots, during summer as this is the time they make their buds for the following spring. When feeding it is best to use a rose fertiliser, tomato food or fertiliser especially for lime-hating plants.
Have you ever known such dark, dank, damp weather – not exactly weather to get you into the mood for gardening but things can only get better and already there are signs that spring is just around the corner.
I love to see the Snowdrops popping their heads up at this time of year. They always make me feel that we are almost at the end of the winter and spring is coming. The Snowdrop symbolises hope in flower language and there are many stories and myths surrounding them. One is that after Eve was banished from the Garden of Eden she sat weeping and an angel came to comfort her, it was snowing and the angel caught a snowflake in his hand, he blew on it and when it dropped to the ground it became a snowdrop and hope was born.
Snowdrops, proper name Galanthus, were brought back by soldiers from the Crimean War battlefields (1853-1856) they were so charmed by their nodding white heads and green markings they wanted some to plant in their own gardens. Snowdrops are tough and easy to grow. Divide Snowdrops once the flowers have faded and the foliage is withering back to increase the display. Many of our local National Trust properties like The Argory and Springhill have ‘Snowdrop walks’ in February.
Already there are signs of life on many of the deciduous shrubs in the garden and the evergreen shrubs, especially the variegated ones, brighten the dark days. A little shrub that is not well known and often overlooked is the Sarcococca also called ‘Winter Sweet’ or ‘Christmas Box’. The ones we have on the Nursery Centre at the moment are ‘Humilis’. They have glossy green, evergreen foliage and tiny clusters of creamy-white flowers along the stem which have the most incredible scent when they open in late winter. The variety ‘Humilis’ only grows to about 2ft and isn’t too fussy where it is planted as long as there is good drainage. Plant along the edge of pathways or in a pot at the door to make the most of the scent.
The Witch Hazels (Hamamelis) are another shrub with a fabulous smell when flowering. My favourite is a variety called ‘Arnold Promise’ which bears bright yellow, curled-up, spidery flowers on bare branches in late winter and has the smell of orange peel. The mid-green leaves have great autumn colour which is a bonus.
Deciduous grasses that were left uncut over winter and are now giving a straw-like appearance can be cut back in February to encourage the fresh young growth. Evergreen grasses will just need a tidy up. The withered stems of perennials can also be cut back.
February is the time of year to mulch Rhubarb crowns with well-rotted manure – be careful not to cover any shoots that are showing already.
We are gearing up for what will hopefully be a very busy spring for us on the Nursery Centre with new stock arriving all the time. The seed potatoes have just arrived.
If you're looking for a plant for that difficult shaded area Hostas could be the answer. Coming in a multitude of varieties they are hardy and easy to grow - with lush green leaves in shades of pale-greens to dark greens and blue-greens many with gold, creamy-white or white streaks or margins.
Hostas originated in China, Korea and Japan where they are known as Giboshi. In the British Isles their common name is Plantain Lilies. They were brought to Europe in the 1700's and were named in honour of the Austrian Botanist Nicholas Thomas Host.
In mid-late summer, flowers are produced on stems which are taller than the leaf mound and come in shades of lavender and violet and also white.
Hostas prefer a fertile, moisture retentive soil in light to moderated shade. If the soil is too dry they will fail to survive. Mulching will help to keep the soil moist. If the soil is water-logged it can cause rot. Top-dress in late winter with a general purpose fertiliser. You can increase your stock of Hostas by division between autumn and mid-spring.
If you prefer container gardening, Hostas will happily grow in pots. Use a John Innes No. 2 or No 3 compost and feed with a liquid general purpose fertilser once a month during the growing season and don't forget to keep them well watered.
Slugs and snails can be a problem where Hostas are grown, stripping the foliage early in the season. They can be controlled by using traditional slug pellets, wool pellets or slug clear liquid. Many gardeners find beer traps useful or a ring of sharp sand around the plant. If your Hostas are in pots copper slug tape can be wrapped around the pots to deter slugs and snails. Deer are particularly fond of Hostas. Brown or scorched leaves are common where soils are dry or the plants are exposed to too much sunshine.
Although Cotoneaster is planted widely and in most gardens one of the most beautiful and hardworking varieties is Cotoneaster frigidus 'Cornubia'.
Cotoneaster frigidus 'Cornubia' can be grown as a small tree and can be very useful in any garden. This semi-evergreen tree has a bushy, rounded head of dark green, long, narrow, veined leaves and is very hardy and happy in almost any situation.
In May and early June masses of small white or pale-pink, open, flat-petaled flowers are shown off against the dark foliage and are loved by bees. As the year progresses into autumn and winter the branches are laden with heavy clusters of large cardinal-red berries which are nutritious for and extremely popular with garden birds especially blackbirds and thrushes.
This tree will look most beautiful though when hit by winter sun on a cold, bright day when the berries seem to glisten along the arching branches.
Cotoneaster frigidus 'Cornubia' requires very little attention but can be pruned back if required without fear of injury.
Whether it's the large showy heads of the mophead or the more delicate, flatter heads of the lacecaps they are a most valuable plant in any garden for mid - to late summer colour. First discovered in Japan the name Hydrangea comes from the Greek and loosely translates to 'Water Jar' or 'Water Barrel' reflecting its need for plenty of water.
The most popular and widespread Hydrangeas are the macrophyllas with the large mophead flowers or the lacecaps which have large sterile florets placed around the central fertile flowers and will grow slightly larger. They have flowers of red, pink, blue, violet and white and with their amazing and almost unique ability to change colour to all shades in-between. This is caused by the PH and mineral content of the soil, but even types of fertilisers and light levels can contribute. Colour variations are inevitable and can all add to the plants charm with sometimes many colours on the one plant.
If blue flowers are preferred there must be an acid soil and the presence of aluminium. Where the soil is acid to neutral mauve flowers may appear and on alkaline soil pink or red flowers. Tap water can also affect the colour of the flowers with some gardeners only watering with rain water. White flowers will remain white regardless of PH levels.
The climbing Hydrangea - Hydrangea anomala petiolaris - has white flowers, is self-clinging, very hardy and useful on a shaded north-facing wall.
Hydrangea paniculata has large panicles of white sometimes fading to pink flowers. They flower on their new wood so can be pruned hard in early spring. There are varieties such as 'Limelight', 'Pinky Winky' and 'Kyushi'.
Hydrangeas thrive in moist but well -drained soil in a cool semi-shaded position. Avoid cold east-facing sites as cold winds could damage young spring shoots and also sunny, dry spots. Hydrangeas will also perform well in pots and containers. Hydrangea paniculata varieties can be grown in a sunny position.
In the Victorian flower language of flowers one meaning of the Hydrangea flower was that of 'coldness and heartlessness'. However a bouquet of the flower could also mean 'thank you for understanding'. Some suggest that the flower represents anything that is heartfelt and in some countries is the flower for a 4th wedding anniversary.
Summer is almost here - the gardens are looking lovely so why not just add that finishing touch with a hanging basket. A beautiful hanging basket can enhance the look of your home, can brighten up that dull wall or fence and add height to your garden. They are great for sunny situations but can also add colour to shaded areas, with the right choice of plants.
Our hanging baskets are now ready - and they are gorgeous. We use only the best quality cutting raised basket plants, not cheaper seed raised bedding plants, thus ensuring you get a top quality basket. If looked after well they can last right through summer. We have containers and window boxes planted as well so you can have even more instant colour.
Watering and feeding correctly is most important. As baskets are hanging in the air they will dry out more quickly that containers at ground level. The plants are growing vigorously and will need more water. Baskets and containers should be watered every day. Water during the evening to avoid evaporation and water into the compost not over the plants. Don't think that because it has rained you don't need to water - you do.
Feed once a week with a liquid fertiliser. The plants will love it and they will produce more flowers. Remove dead flower heads regularly, if the flowers set seed they will not produce flowers and trim if needed. Watch out for pests and diseases and spray at the first sign.
So here's to a sunny, warm, colourful summer.
The buds of our Skimmias are just opening and they smell gorgeous - the sweet scent just hits you as you walk by.
We have four varieties at the moment: Rubella, Fragrant Cloud, White Dwarf and Veitchii. The most popular variety has to be Rubella, it carries panicles of deep reddish-brown buds from mid-autumn until early spring when they open to fragrant, blush-pink clusters of flowers. Both White Dwarf and Fragrant Cloud have honey coloured buds opening to creamy, fragrant flowers. These plants also look great in pots and containers. Veitchii has smaller clusters of buds which open to white flowers but if these are pollinated by a male plant you get fantastic berries in autumn.
These evergreen plants are native to the Himalayas, Eastern Asia, China and Japan and are a valuable additon to any garden thriving in part or full shade and they prefer an acid soil. They have a mound forming habit. Most of the plants are male or female with the females bearing the berries and the males providing the pollen. The male plants are more showy and carry their buds and flowers in large panicles however the females come into their own in the autumn with large buches of shiny red berries. One male plant can pollinate up to five female plants.
Northern Ireland is renowned for its beautiful hedgerows. Not only do they act as boundaries but they are an ideal home for many species of birds, insects and mammals providing shelter and food. Most of our hedges in Northern Ireland are hawthorn (whitethorn), often with some blackthorn, whin, holly and beech. Most of these plants will give a stunning display of flowers in spring and provide berries or nuts in autumn for wildlife.
Hedges can be planted between October and March when the ground is not frozen.
A hedge around your boundary can reduce noise and provide shelter and security, give privacy from neighbours as well as being very attractive.
Varieties of hedging we have in stock include:- Beech - green leaf & purple leaf, Hawthorn, Blackthorn, Hornbeam, Holly, Privet - green leaf & golden variegated leaf, Rosa rugosa, Laurel and Amelanchier lamarckii.
Saintfield Nursery Centre will close on Christmas eve at 4pm and will be closed on Christmas Day and Boxing Day.
We will open on Friday 27th and Saturday 28th December for a half price Christmas Sale between the hours of 10am and 4pm. We will then close for the following week re-opening on 6th January when our half price sale will continue.
Everyone at Saintfield Nursery Centre would like to thank all our customers for their support in 2013 and wish them a very merry Christmas and a happy and healthy 2014.
We are now into December and it is time to think about those Christmas Decorations - the main one being the Christmas Tree. Real trees are as popular as ever, we all just love the look and the smell.This year we have three varieties of cut Christmas tree, Nordman Firs, Lodgepole Pines and Fraser Firs.
The Nordman Fir is one of the most important varieties of conifer grown for Christmas trees. It has beautiful dark green foliage with a lighter underneath and a good shape.It has a light pine scent. The needles are not sharp and the tree retains them well when it dries out. It is a native of Turkey.
Lodgepole Pines have an egg or flame shape with upright branches sometimes bearing cones. They have a natural pine scent and excellent needle retention. They are native to the Rocky Mountains and are called Lodgepole as the Native Americans used them as the structural poles for their Tipis.
The Fraser Fir has a pleasing shape and soft needles which have a mild fragrance. They have a great ability to retain their needles for a long time after the tree has been cut. They are native to the Appalachian Mountains. This variety of tree has been used more times in the White House as the President's Official Christmas Tree than any other variety.
To keep your Christmas Tree at its best do not place near an open fire or radiator. If possible cut off an inch or two from the bottom of the trunk and place in a stand with water.
Well our Indian summer has certainly ended. It’s dark, cold and very wet – I hope winter hasn’t come early. Now is the time to spare a few thoughts for our garden birds. Natural sources of food will be starting to run out and they always can do with a helping hand from us in our gardens.
It is amazing how quickly they become aware of the food that is put out for them and the variety and quantity of birds that can be attracted.
We have made up a hamper of birdfood and feeders worth over £70.00. Just enter our free draw everytime you purchase birdfood and it could be yours. Draw will take place on 30th November 2013.
Saintfield Nursery Centre are delighted to have been involved with Saintfield Town Regeneration Committee and their entry in the Ulster in Bloom competition.
Saintfield Nursery Centre work with the committee to ensure that the planters and baskets are all produced to the highest of standards and appropriate for the season and location. In addition Saintfield Nursery Centre sponsors and maintains the floral feature in the centre of the village.
This year (2013) the Village won the Most Improved Large Village category of the Ulster in Blooms Competition. We would like to congratulate the committee on this success and look forward to working with them again in 2014.
Saintfield Nurseries are delighted that we now have our all new web site live and up and running.
Designed and built to our specification with original, on-site, photographer the site is mobile friendly and features news and seasonal tips and tricks for your garden.
You can sign up to our mailing list to receive the tips and news as well as offers and other useful information on what is happening at Saintfield Garden Centre & Plant Nursery and what you could be doing in your garden.