snakeshead fritillaries

Spring is sprung

March is the month where the garden really starts to wake up, although the recent warm
weather has felt more like May than mid-March. Yellow is very much the colour of March,
mostly provided by the many thousands of Daffodils that can be seen naturalised in lawns, verges
and meadows.
They form the background to a riot of secondary blues, whites, and purples. Here on
Exmoor the Pulmonaria ‘Trevi Fountain’ is at its peak, providing a rich source of food for
passing bees, whilst Magnolias provide a rich palette of whites and pinks. Whilst the purples
are provided by the last of the Hellebore flowers and the exotic looking flowers of the
Snakeshead Fritillaries (Fritillaria meleagris) This is naturalised in some grass by the HQ stream,
where the damp ground provides ideal conditions for it.

Late March is the ideal time to finish off tidying up beds, be sure to cut back any
remaining flower stems from last year before this year’s growth starts, and if possible apply
a good mulch of organic material to the bed. This helps feed the soil, suppress weeds and
retain moisture in the soil.

winter plant subscription

Winter scents

How can you keep garden interest throughout winter?

Many gardens will have one or two winter flowering shrubs in them. Viburnum bodnantense Dawn, Hamamelis (witch hazel) and Mahonias are some of the most common, however, there are others, including Sarcococca (christamas box), Chimonanthus (winter sweet), and Daphnes.

Some have striking coloured flowers, the witch hazels in particular with their striking spidery yellow or orange flowers, whilst others exhibit pale shades of yellow and white, The flowers of the Sarccoca are tiny and almost insignificant, and those of the winter sweet hang down on bare branches. However, the thing that unites them all is the fact that they all have striking scents, often strong and sweet, but all very rich.

 

Viburnum bodnantense Dawn will flower from October to March with pink flowers on its bare stems. Its rich scent will fill a garden with scent on all but the windiest of days. Chimonanthus, the aptly named winter sweet will fill a room with a sweet scent if a branch or two is brought inside or if it is planted under a window. It has small pale yellow flowers which hang down from its bare stems. However for me, the star of any winter garden is Daphne Bohula Jaqueline Postill. This semi-evergreen shrub has masses of tiny star-shaped pink flowers from the beginning of January through to late March and has a scent all of its own.

 

So why do plants put so much energy into producing such a strong scent in the depths of winter?

They have evolved this as the best technique to attract the few pollinators that are around in the cold, dark days of winter. Bees in search of nectar on a warm day are attracted to the strong sweet smell of a Daphne or Christmas box. So, if you wish to maintain a garden which is beneficial to insects all through the year, it is essential to include one or two of these in your garden.

 

Our January GardeningBoxes included the pet-friendly Mahonia aquifolium ‘Apollo’ – sign up for your subscription now!

Outdoor gardening subscriptions

Who are GardeningBoxes?

Moving to a garden filled with mature trees and shrubs in 2017 we knew we had a big project on our hands to create the attractive display of flowers and foliage that we were after. Luckily Matt is an R.H.S qualified Gardener who has over 20 years’ experience of transforming gardens.

 

Co-founder James had previously experienced disappointment and frustration with his gardening attempts as he had bought plants badly suited to past gardens, which had failed to thrive and often disappeared without a trace.

 

And so, GardeningBoxes was born to help our customers overcome these challenges, by allowing us to select the right plants for the right place for your garden! Plus give you videos and articles to help you create your ideal garden.

 

With our access to fantastic West Country Growers we are able to produce plants for all types of gardens from sunny to shady, heavy to sandy soil, and pet friendly too. Our monthly gardening subscription means that you can gradually fill areas of your garden and stop deliveries once you are happy with the display.

 

Can gardening ever be green?

 

Like many industries, horticulture needs to improve its’ environmental credentials, and we are doing all that we can to minimise the impact of our business. Our growers use predominantly peat-free compost, and our packaging is almost all compostable or recyclable, being made of cardboard, paper-based packing tape, bamboo plant supports, and paper-based packing. The plant pots themselves continue to be made of plastic until a cost-effective alternative becomes available, however, these can be used multiple times so why not use these to start off seeds or small plants yourself, or pass them along to a youth group or school who can use them in a project.

 

The benefits of perennials

The traditional view of perennial plants is of a large Victorian herbaceous border, however, these days people are finding ever more creative ways to use them. Perennial plants are wonderfully versatile either in a traditional bed, or mixed with a selection of shrubs and other plants such as grasses. They make wonderful border plants around lawned areas, and can be planted in raised beds or containers for a more modern aesthetic. By selecting suitable plants it is possible to have a perennial of one type or another in flower from February through to late October and even November in a mild year. Additionally, many are grown for their ornamental foliage which provides colour and texture outside of the flowering season.

 

As well as this long period of interest they are also regarded as being low maintenance; a tidy up after the winter to remove last years’ dead foliage is recommended, some form of staking or support for the flower heads of plants such as Peonies and Delphiniums, and possibly a cut back after flowering to encourage some new fresh growth and the possibility of a second set of flowers in some cases. A well-stocked bed has the benefit that the perennials will compete with weed growth, reducing the need for this chore. For the first summer after planting it is worth making sure they are well watered to enable them to establish healthy root systems – in subsequent years many of these plants will be able to tolerate fairly dry conditions, as their roots can tap into water lower in the soil.

 

Perennials have another advantage in that many of them are highly attractive to bees and other pollinating insects. Pulmonaria and the hardy Geraniums produce early nectar in spring, through to the Sedums and Helianthemums in the autumn, a garden packed with these plants will provide nourishment for many months of the year. As well as this, the seed heads often have their own form of interest in the autumn. Peony seeds can look spectacular and Sedum seed heads covered in a hard frost can sparkle in the sun.

Our GardeningBox subscriptions are designed to provide an attractive mixture of perennial plants suited to your outdoor space.

Dog safe gardening

Pet Safe Gardening

It’s a fact – gardens and pets are two things that make people happy, so enjoying both at the same time is perfect, but how can we make sure that pets are safe in our outside spaces?

GardeningBoxes founder James is a vet with over 20 years’ experience, and any plants in GardeningBoxes deliveries which could be dangerous to animals have always been clearly marked.

But for extra peace of mind we have now launched our Pet Safe GardeningBoxes, so that customers can be completely confident that their gardening passion will not put their furry friends at risk – just select the Pet-Friendly option in the drop-down menu when you order your GardeningBox. We would still recommend discouraging pets from trying to eat any ornamental plants, as cleaning up the end result can take some of the joy out of the relationship!

 

James has provided a few more tips for pet-friendly gardening below!

 

1. Most animals will avoid eating anything particularly harmful, although a lot of plants can cause mild tummy upsets if eaten. Remember that puppies and kittens are especially prone to trying to nibble plants as they explore the world around them and their smaller size means that they may be more prone to toxins. A lot of plants are listed as ‘toxic’ online but are only associated with very mild symptoms, if any. However, if you are concerned your pet may have eaten a toxic plant do contact your vet sooner rather than later, preferably with clear identification of the plant. Do be careful with berries, bulbs, and fungi.

 

2. Certain types of plants are associated with serious toxicity, so be careful if you have these in the garden. Many species of lily can be toxic to cats, even if they just happen to groom themselves after getting pollen on their coat. Plants such as heliotrope are not immediately toxic, but can cause liver problems if ingested over a long period of time. If you notice your pet likes to chew on plants think about leaving an area of grass to grown longer, and encourage them to nibble this.  Distract them with games such as hunting for treats if they start to head for the ornamentals.

 

3. More common poisonings that we see involve human foods that pets, especially dogs, have managed to eat. Chocolate toxicity is well known, but vine fruit such as grapes, raisins, and sultanas seem to cause kidney issues in some dogs. Pets hoovering up wooden kebab skewers after barbecues is a particularly dangerous habit as the sharp tips can cause damage to the stomach. Do be careful if having picnics in the garden! Dog-safe fruits and vegetables include pieces of apple (seeds removed if possible), banana, and carrot.

 

4. Dogs can very quickly understand areas that they are allowed to play and areas that are out of bounds, so to keep them from trampling your plants encourage them to stay in permitted areas with games, treats, and praise. If they do happen to stray, a gentle encouragement back to their permitted area followed by praise is usually all that is necessary.

 

5. Avoid using non-organic slug and snail pellets – read our blog post for some ways to tackle garden pests. Slugs and snails, and their slime, can also be a source of infection with lungworm (Angiostrongylus vasorum) which can lead to serious complications – speak to your vet about a sensible worming plan. to avoid these risks.

 

We hope these quick tips enable you and your pets to enjoy your gardening!

Slug damage

Garden Pests!

Our gardens form part of an ecosystem and a multitude of creatures interact within them. Many are beneficial pollinators including bees and butterflies and lots of the perennials in your GardeningBox will provide valuable nectar for them. Slugs and snails play an important role in breaking down old and rotting vegetation but if they take a fancy to your garden plants how should you tackle them?

The drawback of many pesticides found in traditional slug pellets is that they can be highly toxic to other animals, including pets or species that prey on slugs, such as hedgehogs. The most dangerous metaldehyde was banned but the decision was subsequently reversed. Because of its effects on wildlife, our advice is never to use this chemical in your gardens.

Happily there are wildlife friendly options which we can use and are just as effective!

First of all, know your plants – the majority of perennials with tough woody growth such as peonies, anemones, and achillea, or shrubs such as prunus and philadelphus, are not attractive to slugs and snails and will rarely need protecting.

More delicate perennials such as hostas, echinacea, and helenium seem to be a favourite meal so we should protect them if possible.

 

The first option is copper tape or collars which can be placed over the crown of growing plants or a couple of inches below the rim of containers, and deters the advances of slugs and snails. Look out for these products in garden centres or online.

Coffee grounds and sheep’s wool products might also have some value in deterring these creatures.

 

If you are really suffering an invasion, a safe method of reducing populations is the use of a biological product (nemaslug®) which exposes slugs to a type of microscopic worm which parasitises and kills them. Because the worms are selective there is no danger to other animals.

 

Finally, beer traps or ‘slug pubs’ can be used to attract slugs and snails into a jar filled with beer, in which they take their last drink.

 

As a last resort, organically approved ferric phosphate containing pellets can be used to protect particularly susceptible plants and will kill slugs without posing a risk to birds and mammals.

 

In most cases a combination of different approaches will be required but in most cases it is quite possible to prevent slug damage without needing to resort to chemical agents.

 

Have you got any more tips for dealing with slugs and snails? Post in the comments below or let us know on Facebook.

 

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Garden plant subscriptions

Things to consider in starting your flowerbed

You may already have a flowerbed in your garden, perhaps it’s seen better days and you are rejuvenating it with your GardeningBox subscription. Look out for our videos on weeding and turning over a flowerbed ready for planting to get the ground in the best shape for your new plants.

Alternatively, you may be transforming an area of lawn into a bed or creating a raised bed. In this case, think about the amount of sun the area gets – you will be able to grow a wider variety of plants in sunny or mostly sunny areas of the garden (more than 3 hours of sun during the summer months). It is also advisable to avoid very wet and boggy areas or areas which bake dry unless you want to specialise in plants that will tolerate these conditions.

Think about siting your bed close to a seating area so that you can enjoy the scents of flowers as you sit and relax.

Consider the depth of the bed – can you reach all of the areas or will you need to walk into it to carry out weeding and cutting back? Once you have identified the perfect spot, lay out a hose or piece of rope to outline the shape of the bed. Try and aim for curves which flow into each other, rather than sudden changes of direction. Try changing the outline slightly until you find the one that works best for you and your space.

Once you are happy with the shape, take a look at our video on starting a flowerbed to see how to lay out the shape of the bed and remove the turf. Have a look at the turning over a flowerbed video and dig over the soil ready for planting, then once your GardeningBox arrives take a look at our monthly video for advice on planting your new plants.