We are all too painfully aware that we’re in the midst of unprecedented times. The COVID-19 pandemic has us ‘locked down’ at home, with no contact with family and friends who don’t live with us in our own homes.
Many of us have the joy of a garden (some large, some small, and most somewhere in-between); and some might have a balcony or a window-box. But for others, no garden of their own might have meant frequent forays to any number of gardens previously opened to the public.
Over the past two weeks I have ‘unlocked’ the garden gates of Stockton Bury Gardens and Borde Hill Gardens, where the curators/owners/head gardeners have sent me exclusive pictures of their beautiful ‘locked’ gardens right now, in spring.
This week, once again, I unlock the gates of a personal favourite local garden; Knoll Gardens.
Knoll Gardens first opened to the public in the 1970s, when it was known as Wimborne Botanic Garden. In 1994, the garden became the charge of Neil Lucas and John & Janet Flude. Under Neil’s particularly green-fingers, Knoll Gardens quickly became internationally recognised for its stunning collection of ornamental grasses. The essence of Knoll Gardens is the naturalistic planting of the grasses, woven in a pattern seemingly handed to Neil by Mother Nature herself. A regular visitor to the garden, I cherish the totally immersive experience of wandering around this incredible space. Thriving plant communities demonstrating first-hand the importance of ‘right plant, right place’.
Knoll Gardens has an undisputed, international reputation for its stunning collection of ornamental grasses, which are planted in a manner which mimics nature. The garden itself is a striking, living catalogue for the award-winning nursery.
How would you sum up your garden in spring?
Knoll Gardens might be best known for its wonderful, modern collection of grasses and flowering perennials, especially in late summer and autumn when displayed amidst a kaleidoscope of stunningly coloured trees and shrubs. There is, however, a lot of interest at this time of year. Spring bulbs especially and some of the glorious spring flowering, woody plants such as Magnolia ‘Jane’ bring so much to the gardens. Neil tells me “Magnolia ‘Jane’ is a lovely selection which produces dark pink-purple, tulip shaped flowers that are delicately, lemon scented. Like so many of its kind its flowers come before the leaves on bare stems, which only adds to the wow factor of the display.”
Favourite spring plants in the garden?
Neil tries to have something in flower every day of the year. Partly because it’s great to see flowers every day and partly to supply food for early-season pollinators; the garden is already seeing many bees, more than a few of which are nesting in cracks or crevices or indeed in the bee hotel!
Different, but still fabulous is Acaciapravissima, which whilst not really hardy needs siting away from cold winds and frosts, but in a sheltered spot rewards with a most enthusiastic display a bright yellow, pom-pom flowers.
A favourite of Neil’s is Melianthusmajor, which in a mild winter retains its stems and leaves pretty much intact. Neil says “This then allows it to produce quite stunning flowers that I never fail to tire of. Like many flowers, possibly, it is at its most seductive when just on the point of opening; the promise of good things to come!”
Neil says “Being Knoll there are a good few grasses! There are several experimental ‘meadows’ composed of sometimes native sedges, such as Carexremota which provide an informal, loose meadow feel, and at this time of year are alive with spring bulbs such as Anemonenemorosa and the purple checkerboard flower of Fritillariameleagris. In the very difficult conditions of the gravel garden in full sun Ipheions have been in flower for some weeks and seem set to continue to do so.”
What’s new in the garden for spring?
The significant new project is the new ‘dry’ meadow complete with rain gardens. While still empty soil at the moment, the many grasses and perennials intended for here are lined up waiting for their chance to get planted.
With special thanks to Neil Lucas for his time and for allowing me to use these exclusive photographs.
I will be unlocking the garden gates of another garden next week.
From the title I’ve given this post I’m sort of tempted to start with ‘Once upon a time….’, but clearly there’s a significantly serious side to this tale.
Unless you’ve been locked away in your potting shed for the last few years, you’ll be hard pressed not to have noticed the significant media coverage of the gardening plague, known to us all as box blight. And yet for me, whilst being a professional gardener, out there day in, day out, I’d only seen it once in a client’s garden several years ago.
Imagine my dismay then, when, last week I saw what I thought to be the early signs of the bewildering blight on two stunning, well established box hedges in a clients’ garden.
Just one week later the box hedges were biscuit brown and almost completely defoliated. Upon closer inspection of the hedges’ bony carcasses, I was aware there was a wispy webbing wrapped around the skeletal stems of the plants. And then, crawling between the twisted twigs, tiny green and black caterpillars. Hundreds of tiny green and black caterpillars of varying sizes, some almost microscopic others about 3cm in length.
I remembered this had been covered on Gardeners’ World earlier in the year. More importantly I remembered that whilst obviously not box blight, the impact was significant and resulting in the probable death of the host plants.
The villain of the piece? Box Tree Caterpillar; or to address this diminutive devil correctly, Cydalima perspectalis. The caterpillars are the larvae of the Box Tree Moth; a highly invasive species of moth, native to Eastern Asia, which appears to have stowed away, secretively on plants imported into the UK. It was first recorded here in 2007.
The moth, generally white winged with a brown edging and an approximate 4cm wingspan lays its eggs on the underside of its host plants leaves, box (Buxus sempervirens). The newly hatched caterpillars are greenish-yellow, with black heads. As they age, they can grow to 4cm in length and have an olive green/yellow body with pairs of black spots running across and down the length of the body. The caterpillars feed frenziedly on the plant’s foliage and whole plants can be stripped of all foliage in a matter of days.
Early identification of Box Tree Caterpillars may prevent the certain devastation of infested plants. As gardeners regular inspections of box plants for brown patches of dieback (which will be more apparent on trimmed plants), the tell-tale silk webbing and/or an infestation of the caterpillars may put us ahead of the game. Hand picking the caterpillars from a plant isn’t an easy job, let alone practical. However, laying an old sheet around the base of the affected plant and shaking it gently will dislodge many of the pests, which must be disposed of.
It has been reported that birds including blue tits feed on the caterpillars. However, it is not clear if this predation will result in a reduction of box tree moth numbers. Furthermore, due to the rapid rate of defoliation, it would be unwise to leave caterpillars for birds to eat.
Extensive infestations can be treated with an insecticide. Thorough spray coverage is required if control is to be achieved and the spray itself must penetrate the silk webbing if it’s to be effective.
Several applications of a short persistence, organic contact insecticide containing natural pyrethrins (e.g. Bug Clear Gun for Fruit & Veg, Ecofective Bug Killer) may be necessary to give good control. Again the webbing must be penetrated.
More persistent contact insecticides include the synthetic pyrethroids lambda-cyhalothrin (e.g. Westland Resolva Pest Killer), deltamethrin (e.g. Provanto Ultimate Fruit & Vegetable Bug Killer) and cypermethrin (e.g. PY Bug Killer).