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Archives for January 8, 2018

Garden makeover: from old paddock to formal rose parterre

Westgrove, Pat Jones’ formal rose garden, has featured in Nelmac Garden Marlborough.

Gardening wasn’t always Pat’s passion; rather, a responsibility thrust upon her when she married into a mixed cropping farming family.

“I had married into a garden but I wasn’t a gardener. After a while, I couldn’t stand the lawns and beds going to ruin so I got stuck in. I have been a gardener ever since.” 

So began 50-odd years of planning, creating and crafting country plots. The farm garden featured in Nelmac Garden Marlborough over many years, and sat on a 50ha block owned by her late husband Peter.

As retirement beckoned, they planned to build a new house around the corner, but Peter died a month before construction was due to start. Pat decided to proceed nonetheless, moved in a year later and started designing a new semi-formal garden on the site of an old paddock. This garden has also featured in Blenheim’s annual garden festival. 

View of the formal garden towards Pat's house, built by Roger Hogg.

View of the formal garden towards Pat’s house, built by Roger Hogg.

Anne Dotchin’s dazzling English-style garden in the sun
Rotherham rhodo romance
Riverside retreat in Whanganui


Years of living and farming in the area had schooled Pat in the importance of irrigation.

The first piece of infrastructure she had installed was a pop-up irrigation system in 13 stations around the property, with water drawn from the farm well. “Every single plant and blade of grass in the garden was brand new and there was no way I’d waste all that money through lack of water or was going to drag a hose around every day.”

During dry spells, Pat turns the system on at dusk and it runs all night, cycling through all 13 stations. 

Pat Jones tends to a 'Coconut Ice' rose trained around a marble column.

Pat Jones tends to a ‘Coconut Ice’ rose trained around a marble column.

Other than the early excavations and hard landscaping, the garden design and planting were all her own work. “It was extremely satisfying, how it all came together. I have been thrilled with the style and size of it. I like to think of it as a mixture of formal and informal, with symmetry the key feature,” she says. 

The centrepiece is the circular formal rose garden. After the house was finished, Pat had the builder put in the central footpath of exposed aggregate, followed by the steps. Next came the rose garden, with its parallel rings of ‘Margaret Merril’ and the pink Floribunda ‘Leonardo da Vinci’ playing piggy-in-the-middle. 

Pat describes the effect as the garden holding its arms out to the visitor as they descend from the house, with the shrubbery embracing the circle garden from the other side. Clipped teucrium balls and standards lend a silvery structure to the scene. ‘Margaret Merril’ reappears in a line of standards alongside the footpath. 

'Iceberg' roses climb through star jasmine.

‘Iceberg’ roses climb through star jasmine.

“If I was only allowed one rose, it would be ‘Margaret Merril’, because it’s a really good doer, it picks well, the perfume is to die for, it’s white and fits in with the mauve and pinks,” Pat says.

‘Burgundy Iceberg’ is another crowd-pleaser. “Everyone asked about that during the garden festival. Everything bloomed early this year, and we think that’s because of the unusually mild, wet winter.” 

The late British garden designer Gertrude Jekyll described pink, purple, mauve, silver and white as colours that work in “quiet harmony”, and it is these shades that align with Pat’s love of order. “They just work for my mind. I like yellows and orange in other people’s gardens, but in my own I’m comfortable with these more classic colours – and I’ve got them inside the house as well!” 

A vineyard-themed pergola entrance by Classic Gates.

A vineyard-themed pergola entrance by Classic Gates.

Perhaps accustomed to blackspot and other diseases common in more humid parts of the country, visitors often comment on the plants’ superb health. “Roses do well here in the climate. I don’t know whether it’s because they spray in the vineyard across the fence, but I don’t seem to have too much of a problem with disease. I’m a farmer’s wife so I use Roundup on weeds, and all the air movement around the garden helps too.” 

The roses are shown to their best advantage in early summer, of course, but Pat planted Westgrove as a year-round garden. Box hedging, teucrium balls, hydrangeas and various conifers provide evergreen structure; liquidambar and copper beech blaze on the boundary in autumn; and Magnolia stellata, michelia, camellias and rhododendrons flower through winter.

The shrubbery is underplanted with ericas and winter roses, and irises and paeonies are highlights of the front border. 

A row of standard 'Burgundy Iceberg' oversees a profusion of mauve wallflowers, a prism of clipped teucrium and ...

A row of standard ‘Burgundy Iceberg’ oversees a profusion
of mauve wallflowers, a prism of clipped teucrium and spheroid clipped Lonicera nitida.

The hedges used to be Japanese box (Buxus microphylla) before buxus blight hit. Thousands of plants had to be pulled out and professionally disposed of, an event Pat describes as “major and upsetting”. They were replaced with English box (Buxus sempervirens), and Pat is crossing her fingers that it is indeed everlasting and the fungal disease stays away.

“I preferred Japanese box though because it stays a lovely green all year round, whereas the English box gets a yellowing look if frosted in full morning sun.”  

Any formal garden requires scrupulous maintenance, and for the past 25 years, one of Pat’s friends has come for one day each week to help tend the garden. Every whitebait season, however, she disappears upriver for weeks at a time and is replaced by a young man handy with a hedge trimmer. 

A row of limbed up hornbeams points towards a marble column festooned with the rose 'Coconut Ice'.

A row of limbed up hornbeams points towards a marble column festooned with the rose ‘Coconut Ice’.

Trimming is a team effort, Pat says: “There’s a lot of clipping and topiary. We’ve got a few spirals, and it’s very satisfying – they look good even in the middle of winter, adding structure and form.”

Another favourite plant is Viola ‘Maggie Mott’, whose gentle mauve form is sprinkled through the rose garden and in the small, sheltered courtyard. 

Pat is not keen on natives, but has a few pittosporums in pots, again trimmed to within an inch of their lives, and Astelia chathamica ‘Silver Spear’, because its pearlescent hue works so well with pale purple. Artichokes appear in both the shrubbery and perennial garden, adding structure and more splashes of mauve when in bloom. 

Pat put in two rows of hornbeam hedges, but they looked “a bit boring”, so she limbed up the inside row, lined the base of the trunk with boulders and placed two statues depicting the seasons on each side. The hornbeam leaves go brown and completely dry, but hang on all through winter until new growth pushes off the old. 

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Homemade fertiliser for bigger, better roses
Why roses fail to grow – and how to fix them

Spectacular views through to the Richmond Ranges were wanting, so Pat exercised her maternal privileges. “I asked my son-in-law to take out a row of grapes opposite the bridge so that you could see the ranges when walking down through the rose garden.” 

Row 76 is no more, but the long-distance vista is worth it. “When I’m upstairs in the house, it’s just terrific looking down on the garden and beyond. The hills change all the time.”

This view is framed by a sinuous, grape-themed gate made by Classic Gates in Blenheim. Pat had a lot of input into the design. “It curves under and there are two fixed panels on either side, so even if it’s open, you can still enjoy the landscape.”

Water features help to convey a sense of an oasis on the dry plains. On the drive up to the house, visitors cross a bridge over a spring-fed pond, framed by two huge willows but no other bog plants. “I like the clear view out the front,” says Pat. 

A fountain in the rose garden reinforces and enhances the classic layout, and a wall-mounted water feature in the shape of a lion watches over the courtyard. “My grandchildren gave him to me for Christmas one year, so I named him Aslan.” 

Like any keen gardener, Pat is undeterred by the hot, dry Marlborough climate and rather likes to push the boundaries of planting possibilities. “Some people have said to me, ‘You’ll never grow rhodos there,’ but if I want to grow something, I’ll try it. For the most part, things have worked.”

'Leonardo da Vinci' roses.

‘Leonardo da Vinci’ roses.

However, the soil has been an ongoing challenge. “It’s a mixture of pretty hard clay and sand. The sea used to be all the way back here centuries ago, so we had to use a lot of gypsum to break things down as we were planting. But the soil here has been farmed for years, and worked up and fertilised, so I can grow most things, and the fact I’ve got water makes all the difference.” 

Pea straw is her go-to mulch. “At the farm I used to put grass clippings and plant matter in the compost but now I’ve got a ride-on mower it mulches the lawn as I go and the whole lawn takes 90 minutes.”

The epicentre of the 2016 Kaikōura quake was about 150km away. “It came out of the blue in the middle of the night, with no warning whatsoever,” Pat recalls. “Practically all of the statuary fell over: the four seasons panels, the marble columns and big urns.” 

'Burgundy Iceberg' rose.

‘Burgundy Iceberg’ rose.

Luckily, their fall was cushioned by the abundant box hedging or grass, with only a couple of breakages. Since then, Pat has hammered in reinforcing rods and secured them with wire ropes. 

Unusually for a country gardener, Pat isn’t one for edibles. “I hate cooking and live on my own, so have only a few lettuces and silverbeet in the courtyard garden. I don’t like picking them though, because it spoils the look,” she laughs. 

Also in the courtyard are espaliered fruit trees: two grafted varieties each of apples, nectarines, plums and peaches. “They look really pretty in blossom, fruit prolifically and take up very little room.”

 – NZ Gardener

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Organic off-grid: the quarter-acre dream like you’ve never seen it before

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Gardening trends 2018: tough shrubs, seaweed and nematodes could be in your future

Seaweed products are a good source of potassium, magnesium and trace elements and are useful for organic gardeners wishing to avoid synthetic fertilisers or fertilisers made from animal products. Seaweed and seaweed fertilisers are usually a sustainable, renewable resource. Mr Fothergill’s found demand so strong this winter, it had to order an extra shipping container of Seasol, containing 18,900 one-litre bottles. 

Demand for organic fertilisers and chemicals is slowly increasing (although “naturals” still only account for less than 10 per cent of the market). Big companies such as Westland, Scotts and SBM all launched new ranges at industry trade show Glee in September. Vegan and “clean” eating trends could be helping to drive this, as a more radically environmental generation of gardeners takes to growing food. 

New diseases

Two of the big questions for 2018 are, once again, how will Brexit affect British gardeners and will the continental plant disease Xylella fastidiosa reach these shores? As the UK strengthens its borders against plant pests and diseases to try to prevent another ash dieback or Dutch elm disease ravaging the countryside, we could see an increase in UK plant production. A Brexit-led rise in import costs could also encourage greater self-sufficiency.

“Save the Oak” could be the new save the elm or ash campaign. The Government’s Animal and Plant Health Agency and the new Action Oak Partnership, which includes Kew and the National Trust, are to exhibit at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show to push the message that threats such as xylella, honey fungus, mildews and oak processionary moth are putting Britain’s national tree in peril. 

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10 gardening trends set to blossom in 2018

Transform your garden with these themes and plants predicted to dominate in the coming 12 months.

Mindful gardening promises to continue to grow, as more and more Brits turn to tending their allotments, herbaceous borders and houseplants as a way of boosting mental health and wellbeing, while cacti and succulents look set to adorn all the coolest shelves and windowsills (and Instagram feeds) – and wood decking is coming back in fashion.

Here, garden designers, writers and retailers predict 10 of the growing trends in gardens in 2018…

1. Mindfulness

Mindfulness – the ancient Buddhist tradition of immersing yourself in the present moment – is set to have a strong influence over how we design and appreciate our gardens in 2018.

Gardeners may focus on incorporating elements which stimulate the senses, like accents of calming blues and energising yellows, pots of strongly-scented therapeutic lavender and a water feature to create a relaxing ambience.

2. Low-maintenance gardening

Young designers are also predicting the move towards low-maintenance gardening is set to continue.

Joe Perkins, one of six designers who will be displaying show gardens at the first ever Ascot Spring Garden Show in April, said: “Conifers are coming back into fashion now, which are low-maintenance and provide structure throughout the year.”

3. Arid planting

“Arid planting, using specimens like yuccas and tropical houseplants in greenhouses, is also very much of the moment. Gardens are always the first to react to environmental concerns, so for a lot of people, if they can plant something that won’t require a lot of water, they will see that as a bonus for practical reasons as well,” added Joe.

“You can get plenty of colour with dry planting. You can go for strong colours such as orange geums, which are easy, you can let them go and they will flower for a long time. Arid planting doesn’t have to mean all cacti and desert.”

4. Japanese art of wabi-sabi

The Japanese art of wabi-sabi – an acceptance of the natural cycle of growth, decay and death – is now catching on in the Western world, according to research by The Greenhouse People.

The key here is balancing nature and nurture, and allowing yourself to relax and reflect on the beauty of your garden’s natural imperfections. Overgrown perennials, moss-covered stones, rusty iron gates and weathered pots are suddenly bang on-trend.

5. Purple power

Colour experts Pantone have created a 2018 ‘Verdure’ palette to experiment with in the garden, featuring colours naturally found in lush vegetation and woodlands, including berry-infused purple, red wood, eggshell blue and foliage green.

Gardeners may be creating accents of colour with clay pot and purple-coloured flowering herbs like lavender, rosemary and Thai basil.

6. Indoor hanging planters

Not seen much since the 70s, indoor hanging planters are also making a comeback as a quirky way of displaying houseplants.

7. Decking

Garden designer Kate Gould, who will also be creating a show garden at the Ascot show, reckons that as far as hard landscaping is concerned, there’s more of a push towards sleeker stone than old York stone, while decking, which fell out of favour for a while, is now coming back.

“People thought of the blue-painted wood and Ground Force, but a good hardwood deck is lovely, in the colour of wood!” she said.

8. Shrub show-stoppers

Continuing the low-maintenance theme, Kate adds: “Bring back the shrub. They are more low-maintenance, more permanent, certainly if you live in a garden in the city where you don’t want to change that much around; they are absolutely brilliant. They are the backbone of the garden that gives it its permanence and structure.”

Spring-flowering favourites include rhododendrons, pieris and camellias – all the acid lovers – as well as early flowering choisyas and lilacs.

9. Trees

Trees are also in big demand. “Talk to any designer and we are a big fan of multi-stem trees because they give you a lot of interest,” said Kate. “Amelanchiers, parrotias or cercis are great, but If you’ve significant access issues with getting into properties, the single stemmed tree is always better.”

10. Cacti and succulents

Marcus Eyles, head of horticulture at Dobbies Garden Centres, predicts succulents and cacti will continue to increase in popularity, while tropical plants and living walls will provide colour and interest in more sheltered spaces.

Social media is going some way to driving trends, he points out, as people post more pictures of their plants to inspire others.

Kate added: “Look at social media and it’s bringing people back to nature and arts and crafts and plants. Audiences can see something magical about growing plants and aspire to it.”

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Winter is the perfect time to re-configure your garden

The ancient Mayan calendar recently drew to an end, and we came to understand that this really meant a whole new cycle would begin. A gardener experiences the years in a cyclical way, in many respects — moving through seasons of planting, growing and planning. As 2018 begins, we can look back at how things were at this point in winters past. A review of past notes and conversations with other Master Gardeners gives us some great pointers on actively engaging with our gardens in the winter, and on the more passive garden-related activities that can occupy us while huddled indoors over a hot cup of tea.

With the blanket of snow on the ground, it is easy to appreciate the colors and textures of winter. There are hundreds of shrub and tree varieties to appreciate for varying colors of green, gray, blue or brown. Truly, there is a stunning array of colors, shapes and sizes out there, looking at versatile holly plants with dark green foliage and colorful berries. In contrast to evergreens, textural interest offered by ornamental grasses is stunning during this season. In winter, they are well known for both their graceful shapes and their dried plumes. Trees with peeling or multi-colored bark add interest to the winter landscape, such as river birch, Chinese elm or paperbark maple. In designing your plan, place your winter-interest plants where you can appreciate them both coming and going from your home and from within.

In order to appreciate the colors of winter, we first must plan. Work on garden design in the comfort of your living room, dreaming of that perfect garden as you evaluate what worked and what didn’t in the past. Even without fancy kits or aids, you could begin by simply charting those bulbs you planted before winter set in — then complete your map by locating each plant as you recall or see its place in the garden. To enhance the visual effect, go one step farther and categorize spring, summer and fall bloomers. Creating plastic or acetate sheets for each season that overlay each other can facilitate forming an overall view of the entire area. A winter sheet with shrubbery and trees would provide background for all other pages. This would be a perfect time to attend master gardener sessions and get expert help with your gardening questions.

Winter is the perfect season to envision “garden structures.” These are the elements of the garden that don’t grow there. This is the best time for making plans as well as viewing your landscape and making decisions about what wonderful effects you want to create in your garden next year. When the leaves fall and the flowers are gone, you can see the bare bones of your garden and imagine just where a nice arbor or water feature might go. These additions might be natural, such as placing large contrasting rocks, or might be entirely constructed. Arbors, fountains or even chairs can enhance the beauty of the plants themselves. A man-made fence or a natural hedge of shrubs is often used to screen off areas that are more work-oriented, such as a driveway or the area where you keep the garbage cans or your heat pump.

Another touch of color in the winter garden can come with the presence of birds. As gardeners it is important for us to support the welfare of the feathered creatures who remain during the cold months. Once snow covers the ground, natural seeds are covered and berries and crab apples are gone. The food you provide for the birds that inhabit your area is important to the bird’s ability to maintain their 108 degree body temperature necessary for survival. We can provide fatty foods such as suet or peanut butter. If you buy a pre-mixed bag of seeds, look for those high in sunflower seeds and white proso millet. Avoid those containing fillers like wheat seeds and milo.

As another winter cycle passes, we can look forward to the seasons to come, without losing sight of the pleasures available to us in the winter garden and the activities that surround it.

For additional information on the Master Gardener program, contact Nebraska Extension, West Central Research and Extension Center at 308-532-2683. Like the Facebook page at

2018 Master Gardener sessions are from 6 to 8 p.m. on Tuesdays beginning Jan. 16 at Nebraska Extension, 348 West State Farm Road, North Platte.

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Why not Detroit? Rock star garden designer Piet Oudolf planning Belle Isle creation

Piet Oudolf, a rock star of garden design, was on Belle Isle Thursday musing about creating the greatest of all gardens. 

The world-renowned Dutch designer known in America for High Line park on an elevated rail corridor in New York City and the urban Chicago oasis of Lurie Garden is starting to conceive one of his dynamic gardens in a spot he chose beneath the Carillon tower on Belle Isle.

The Garden Club of Michigan — which invited him in a “why not Detroit” and a “why not Oudolf” moment — is beyond excited about the garden which will require more than $2.7 million in fundraising.

Piet Oudolf, a world renowned garden designer, is pictured at the site of his next project on Belle Isle in Detroit Thursday, Jan. 4, 2018.

Dax Melmer /

Windsor Star

“For many people he is the rock star garden designer in the world,” said Maura Campbell, former president of the Garden Club of Michigan, who confessed she didn’t know who this “Pete” fellow was at first. 

“He has raving fans, groupies if you want, just the most amazing people who are really excited.”

Oudolf spent a day and a half touring Detroit last year before choosing the empty spot on Belle Isle for a 1.5-acre garden in front of the Nancy Brown Peace Carillon and between the Remick Band Shell and the Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory.

Piet Oudolf, a world renowned garden designer, is pictured at the site of his next project on Belle Isle in Detroit Thursday, Jan. 4, 2018.

Dax Melmer /

Windsor Star

“I try to make it the greatest of all gardens, for sure,” he said Thursday without being specific on his vision.

The 73-year-old said he was already intrigued by Detroit which is undergoing its own renewal. He hopes visitors will be inspired and excited by his complex garden design with native and non-native plants. His gardens are less about decoration and more about native grasses and perennials in a living work of art.

Oduolf, who started a nursery at his home in the Netherlands in the 1980s before becoming a top designer and part of the New Perennials movement, aims to create a more natural but dynamic look that will interest visitors in all seasons. He wants people to leave feeling like they’ve seen something they’ve never experienced and feeling inspired to think differently about gardening.

Piet Oudolf, a world renowned garden designer, talks about his next project on Belle Isle, during a press availability in the Flynn Pavillion in Detroit Thursday, Jan. 4, 2018.

Dax Melmer /

Windsor Star

“It’s always new,” he said. “If I go out in my own gardens, every day is new.”

The Garden Club of Michigan raised $150,000 for the design. Now it needs to raise the estimated $600,000 cost to install it in 2019 and another $2 million for maintenance.

In the 1880s, what’s now considered the Jewel of Detroit — Belle Isle — was inspired by Frederick Law Olmsted who designed Central Park in New York City. Olmsted’s design for the 982-acre Detroit River island was never fully developed because it was considered too elaborate.

Piet Oudolf, a world renowned garden designer, talks about his next project on Belle Isle, during a press availability in the Flynn Pavillion in Detroit Thursday, Jan. 4, 2018.

Dax Melmer /

Windsor Star

Michele Hodges, president of Belle Isle Conservancy, said it is an honour to have a modern-day Olmsted.

In New York, Oudolf was the plant designer for High Line park and the waterfront Battery Park.

He was also the designer of Lurie Garden in Millennium Park in Chicago, which Campbell said attracted 20 million visitors with about half saying they took in Lurie Garden. Belle Isle has four million visitors a year and hopes to attract more from both sides of the border.

Campbell can’t put a number on the economic impact in Detroit where Oudolf is willing to design another garden along the waterfront. People heard of Oudolf and wondered if the Ambassador Bridge, if decommissioned, could become a larger version of his High Line design.

“It would be really cool,” Campbell said.

Displays detailing information about Piet Oudolf’s next garden, which will be located on Belle Isle, are pictured during a press availability in the Flynn Pavillion in Detroit Thursday, Jan. 4, 2018.

Dax Melmer /

Windsor Star

Piet Oudolf, a world renowned garden designer, talks about his next project on Belle Isle, during a press availability in the Flynn Pavillion in Detroit Thursday, Jan. 4, 2018.

Dax Melmer /

Windsor Star


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Gardening: Tips on planting out your potted Christmas trees …

It’s time to take down your Christmas tree, but if you have a potted conifer with roots, what do you do with it?

Luckily, here are five top tips from the plant experts Lubera if you plan to plant it out in your garden.

Compact Oriental spruce aurea. Picture: Lubera.

Compact Oriental spruce aurea. Picture: Lubera.

1. As always, right plant, right place is crucial.

Potted Christmas trees need to develop freely, without having to be constantly cut back, which will ruin its natural shape.

2. Find out the mature size of your potted tree.

Some conifers are massive and really aren’t suitable for a small or even average-sized garden – make sure you provide enough space.

Alberta spruce conica perfecta. Picture: Lubera.

Alberta spruce conica perfecta. Picture: Lubera.

Dwarf conifers don’t like a lot of competition – due to their low growth, they can disappear between other plants and get bare completely or on one side with lack of light and nutrients.

3. Dwarf coniferous plants, including the compactly growing Christmas trees, work best individually or in small groups with other slow-growing plants.

Columnar conifers are well suited in pairs for marking entrances.

4. Most conifers are undemanding, needing a sunny or partially shaded site, with neutral or slightly acidic soil.

They tolerate waterlogging poorly, so the soil must be well-drained, but not get too dry.

5. When planting, shake out the root ball, which makes it easier for roots to penetrate the new soil around it and anchor the tree into the soil.

Plant at the same level as in the pot.

For more information on how to plant out your Christmas tree in the garden, visit


l For more information, plus cook what you grow, recipes, environmental news and more, log on to (now smartphone friendly), follow me on Twitter @MandyCanUDigIt or you can like me on ny Facebook page at Mandycanudigit


Prune apple and pear trees – at least get rid of any branch that’s dead, damaged, diseased or rubbing on another one. Then spray your trees with winter wash or home-made garlic spray, which will kill insect eggs.

Mulch borders with leaf mould, compost, well rotted manure, or even old gro-bags, at least two inches thick.

Plant lily bulbs in pots and in borders during mild spells.

Cut off old leaves of hellebores that produce flowers from ground level so you can see them. Watch out for hellebore leaf spot.

Start cutting back grasses that have been left for winter structure – the winds will have battered them by now.

During dry, mild spells, you can still lift and divide herbaceous perennials.

Inspect stored tubers of dahlias and cannas. Too damp and they will rot, too dry and they will die.

Some pots outside under eaves or balconies may need watering. Keep them moist (not too wet), and don’t let them dry out.

Plant bare root deciduous hedging, trees and roses, staking before planting, so you don’t damage the root ball. Move deciduous trees and shrubs, if the ground is not frozen or waterlogged.

Indoor forced bulbs for Christmas displays, which have finished flowering, can be left outside in a sheltered spot, to die down.

In a cold snap, place floats on the surface of ponds to keep them from freezing over – this can be fatal for fish and pond life. To make a hole in frozen ponds, hold a saucepan of hot water on the surface until melted through. Do NOT crack the ice.

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Gardening can be expensive, so ALAN TITCHMARSH offers money-saving advice

In other words, a lot of dull, cool days and a certain amount of rain (which suits most veg and hardy annuals).

But let’s not forget the water butts.

Not only are they real money savers for people with meters, they’re also valuable if there’s a dry spell just as soft fruit is swelling, the salad bed is full to bursting or patio containers are in full flower. 

Rainwater is always handy for watering pots of lime-hating plants, such as blueberries, citrus plants and a fair few conservatory exotics. It’s also worth using for orchids and houseplants that don’t like the chalk or the chlorine in tap water.

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This week’s gardening tips: Caring for a Christmas cactus, keep Oxalis under control

Flower seeds to sow now (the sooner the better): Alyssum, candytuft, forget-me-not, poppies, larkspur and cornflower. Plant transplants of snapdragon, pansy, viola, dianthus, calendula, diascia, nemesia, delphinium, columbine, hollyhock and annual phlox. Transplants are available at area nurseries now.

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Tips to encourage garden butterflies to visit

Joe Pye weed or eupatorium is a North American plant that can reach 2m in damp ground and is much visited by butterflies. It has feathery pale purple flowers at the tops of the stems. A shrubby relative of the Joe Pye weed, Eupatorium ligustrinoides, is as good as butterfly bush, though hard to find to buy, and it is only for mild gardens. From the Mediterranean region, red valerian is a good nectar source.

The native plant wild marjoram is very good for butterflies. Plants of the thyme family, such as thyme, catmint, teucrium and sage are also good nectar plants and all of these can be grown in well-drained soil in sunshine. Ice plant, or sedum, has small tubular flowers in broad clusters and is much visited by butterflies.

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Don’t prune freeze-damaged plants just yet: 5 tips for recovering your garden

The hard freezes of this past week have damaged our tropical plants. Gardeners trying to minimize maintenance — and those who consider covering and uncovering plants a major hassle — should consider reducing or even eliminating tropicals in their landscapes.

But for the rest of us, tropical plants are worth the extra effort. Their ability to thrive during the intense heat and humidity of summer and the beauty of their foliage and flowers ensure that many gardeners will put up with the effort needed to protect them in winter and the sad, brown foliage that results from freezes.

Despite its effect on tender tropicals, this week’s almost record cold has not been enough to damage hardier plants, such as azaleas and gardenias. This sometimes happens when temperatures plunge to the low teens. But on the north shore, temperatures in the 20s and upper teens this week have not damaged hardy trees, shrubs, ground covers and lawns. 

Also, many damaged tropicals will recover, especially if given protection. In New Orleans, temperatures stayed in the 20s. While the damage is extensive, if we don’t get anything worse, our landscapes should recover.

Despite how terrible this damage looks, it may be a benefit in disguise. With their exuberant growth, some tropicals seem determined to take over our yards. Few gardeners have the heart to prune back the plants to keep them under control because they bloom so frequently, and no one generally wants to cut back a plant in bloom. Now, nature has dealt with the situation for us by freezing back overgrown tropicals, and in many instances, we and our landscapes will be better off for it.

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