Category Archives: Gardening

Vertical gardens: DIY panels

Vertical gardens have been around for decades in Modernist landscaping. Now you can bring them to your own home with these vertical garden DIY panels by Flora Grubb. I love succulents, and these installations are modern and beautiful.

You would have to ensure you have the right plants for your climate, and the right wall, but given a bit of thought I am sure different plants would be very successful.

And if you’re very crafty, you may be able to build the wall system at home from scratch.


Pruning a mature apple or pear tree

Pruning our mature and neglected pear tree has been on the to do list for ages. Having done a bit of research, we decided now is the time.

I stumbled upon a super fact sheet created by the Ohio State University Extension programme – they allow their material to be copied given appropriate credit. And credit is indeed due! I paraphrase their suggestions here.

—    A good fruit tree should not make a good shade tree!
—    Prune late in the dormant season to minimize cold injury.
—    Prune heavily on neglected/vigorous trees, less so on less vigorous cultivars.
—    Make all heading back cuts just beyond a bud or branch.
—    Make all thinning cuts just beyond the base of the branch being removed.
—    Avoid pruning too close (See Figure 1.)
—    Don’t prune a “shade tree” back to a fruit tree in one year. Do it over a few.
—    Wound dressings are unnecessary for trees pruned in dormant season.
—    Match pruning tools to the size wood being removed. Shears for twigs, loppers for branches, and a saw for larger limbs.

How to prune a mature apple or pear tree

Figure 1. Flesh cuts heal slowly; so leave the collar.

How to prune a mature apple or pear tree

Figure 2. Pictured from above, space scaffold branches to allow access.

How to prune a mature apple or pear tree

Figure 3. The suggested pruning cuts.

And finally they add: backyard trees are rarely over-pruned, but inexperienced growers often procrastinate on pruning for fear of damaging trees. ‘Topping’ or shearing a fruit tree is about the worst thing that can be done, but even that may result in better fruit for a year or two. Ultimately shearing will produce a dense crown that inhibits access for sunlight, sprays, and harvest, and invites weak structure and breakage. As long as pruning cuts are made to remove, head back, or thin as the examples illustrated and discussed, no nightmares are necessary. Don’t use hedge shears. ‘Just do it.’

And with those final words of encouragement, we went for it. Here is the tree first thing in the morning:

Pruning mature pear tree - before and after

And here is the result, a bit obscured by the trees in background.

Pruning mature pear tree - before and after

And now to tidy up the mess we’ve made.

Mountain out of a mole hill

Drat. We have worked hard on getting our lawn looking good. We have delighted at the vast population of earthworms we benefit from. Nice lawn + earthworms = heaven for moles. Our neighbour says a shotgun is the only way, I think we’re happier using the phone book and calling someone in.



Two new modern pots

RB and I were delighted to finally find two pots we love for which we have had our eyes peeled for months. The first is for three giant phalaenopsis orchids, and the second is for the Acer palmatum ‘beni kawa’ we received as a house-warming gift (thanks mom and Richard!). The pots were found at the amazing Absolute Flowers in Maida Vale, and at £60/£100 were relatively reasonable compared to their other gorgeous but pricey merchandise.



Orchid care: cutting the flower spike

Anyone who knows me would say that orchids are my favourite flower, and they would be right. They grow wild in my country of birth, Brazil, they provide prolific and long-lasting blooms, and they offer the owner a good challenge. This gorgeous pot of four phalaenopsis, or moth orchids, was given to me as a gift back in early February, and is still in bloom.


Most often I notice people leave the flower stems on the plant until they become a brittle dead branch. It seems to be the biggest mystery – what do I do when the flower stems start dying? The main answer is, don’t throw the plant away!

You can see in the middle of the shot above that there are a few blooms fading. Here is another view of the fading stem that hasn’t died all the way back yet.


The plant is still feeding the stem, and is using energy to push nutrients and water all the way up to the dying flowers. Cutting a stem when it is fading can redirect the energies and force out a new flower shoot. Cut it above a healthy looking node that still looks alive. This one is the second from the bottom, being cut with my uber-sharp Masakuni shears.


With a little luck, you will soon have a new flower shoot like these two examples below. But if not, don’t be disappointed. If the stem dies all the way back, cut it to the bottom and with good care you will get another shoot from the base of the plant, although it can often take a few months.



It is helpful to remember that in their natural habitat, orchids grow in trees under a canopy and obtain their water through the air. That goes a little way to help explain the various things to keep in mind when growing orchids:

– orchids love bright but, crucially, indirect sunlight
– they like a permanent home, so may be unhappy at first – resist moving often
– they should be planted in bark and never soil, which rots the roots
– orchids want moisture, but never to be waterlogged – water sparingly
– there is no hard and fast watering rule, as conditions vary so much
– when watering, allow water to run freely through the pot, or mist regularly
– orchids require feeding, but sparingly – read the orchid food label
– exposed roots are okay, but re-pot if bark breaks down or plant outgrows pot
– a slight drop in evening temperature over 2-4 weeks can trigger new flowering

This is certainly not an exhaustive study on orchid care, and it is biased towards the phalaenopsis family as it is the easist to grow and most prolificly sold. Orchid care varies by family and for anyone interested in more information I would recommend The Orchid Expert, an inexpensive and simple guide to growing orchids.

Gooseberry mildew

When we moved in to our new house we were delighted to inherit dozens of currant and gooseberry bushes. I should have taken more heed of my vintage gardening book, How to Prune Fruit Trees, as the gooseberry bushes were in no fit shape to render mature fruits. They have developed a furry white powder mildew, also known as American gooseberry mildew.


These bushes are very old and seem to have remained unpruned for a few years. We will tackle the mildew in a number of steps:

– Remove infected branches now
– In winter, remove all old wood branches down to the ground
– Keep this year’s branches, as they will provide fruit next year
– Aim for goblet shaped bush with ample circulation between branches
– Resist temptation to leave branches, resulting in more but smaller fruit
– In Spring remove all but 3 strongest shoots, removing others
– Keep ground free of weeds and well mulched
– If all else fails, re-plant with resistant varieties like Invicta


Have you had any experience with white furry mildew on your gooseberries?

The new, more contemporary flower bed

A few weeks ago RB and I decided it was time to give an old, tired, 40-foot flower bed a total overhaul. From a combination of readers’ ideas and our own research and favourites, here is what we came up with.


The colour scheme is deep maroons contrasting with bright greens, with highlights of magenta, purple and orange floating throughout. The base colours are provided by heuchera* obsidian, leucothoe zeblid, and skimmia japonica, with added structure from the grasses imperata cylindrica ‘red baron’.

At first I was hesitant about Frances’ recommendation to look at grasses, but it had stuck in my mind and when we found these they clicked straight into the colour system, turning bright red as the year goes on.



The drama comes from many bright green euphorbias ‘black bird’ and ‘martini’, plus the colour from astrantias, knautias* and circiums. Three rheum ‘ace of hearts’ will provide architectural punctuation along the ends of the lower slope of the bed, growing up to 8 feet tall. Their leaves are green on one side and red on the other, providing a fluttering effect with a breeze.




We are particularly delighted that the new flower bed has been a big hit with the bees, which are contentedly bobbing from one flower to the next and back again. They love the knautias, astrantias and heucheras.



Special thanks go to Frances of Faire Garden (to whom we’ll be sending the book!) as well as other readers who dropped us a note, and Lynda Bradford at Orchard Nursery in West Sussex for having such a gorgeous and immaculate nursury as well as knowledge, patience and a smile.

And of course, to RB, who did all the digging!

*Ever wondered how to pronounce heuchera or knautia? HUGH-ker-uh and naughtier (as in more naughty)  in British English, and WHO-ker-uh and nadia (like the name) in North American. At least, that’s how it is in our Ameri/Brit household.

Your ideas? Competition. Free prize!

Many months ago I ordered a load of books including The Modern Garden by Jane Brown, of which I accidentally ordered 2 copies. Sending it back is pointless, as you lose out twice on shipping and by the end recoup only little.


So I had an idea. RB and I decided to dig up a large bed that was filled with old-fashioned shrubs and plants, and generally looked tired. Much of it was tall as well, which blocked the view of the garden below from the house.


We are now debating what to plant in the bed. We want to limit the plants to 1-metre in height, and we would ideally like to have 3 to 4 varieties that are multiplied across in quantities of 10 to 20. The soil is fairly heavy, a bit on the acid side, well drained and gets full sun all day. We are in South East England.


Some plants we like include: gaura, masterwort/astrantia, japanese anemones, bugbane (although perhaps not suitable for site/soil we like the effect), culver’s root, spurge/euphorbias, and groundcover like pachysandra, all of which don’t really marry very well. It wants to be contemporary. We loved the Laurent-Perrier 2008 show garden at Chelsea Flower Show for example.

So here’s the deal: we need some ideas! Preferably ideas with links or photos. You can post your ideas in the comments section and if you want to follow up with photos send them to mail at (replacing at with @).

The person sending the best advice will be sent the book as a prize, and as a thank you. The advice will also be featured in a follow-up post on this website.

Good luck!

Spring flower arrangements

Perhaps arrangement is too strong a word, and I should say ‘branches in a vase’. I love to take long flowering branches and make dramatic displays. Here are a few recent ones.


Magnolia stellata. It only lasted a weekend but looked great, if a bit white wedding, especially with the glass tea light holders.


These yellow flowers grow 7 feet high in our garden. I am not fond of yellow, although I like the height and ethereal nature of these.


Spring blossom in tiny vases decorate the dining table.


Ornamental quince give a more Japanese look.

Straightening a tree

Last October I took this photo because I love the drama you get in Autumn. I have always been keen to use this window as a frame for a special outdoor sculpture, but until RB and I win the lottery and can afford a Giacometti, Antony Gormley or similar, I will have to work with what nature gave us.


I decided this tree could do with straightening and tidying up to become more of a specimen, something to provide foreground interest without overly obscuring the background. Here is the tree this morning after a bit of work:


I am a fan of tidy tree trunks, which is what always strikes me when I go to parks and professionally landscaped gardens. I removed the spindly branches from the bottom all the way up to them main canopy of this small tree, and then simply used a support to get it to sit relatively vertical. Although it isn’t quite straight, I am hoping its shape will improve over time. More importantly it has provided a sculptural subject for the window, and I’m pleased with that.