HOW TO GROW NATIVE WILD PRIMROSES AND POLYANTHUS FROM SEED


Image credit - Alex Brown http://www.flickr.com/photos/alexbrn/


These elegant native wildflowers are slowly disappearing from the English countryside and although it's illegal to collect plant from the wild it is legal to collect their seed for use in propagation. If you have access to plants from cultivated stock them you can also propagate from them by division after they have finished flowering in the autumn.

When propagating primroses or polyanthus from seed it's important to try and collect your seed as soon as it ripens, this will be sometime around August and September. You can identify good quality seed as it should feel firm, and covered with a slightly slippery film. If you can, sow immediately after collection - that way you can get germination as soon as possible - somewhere between 4 to 6 weeks - otherwise you will need to store it refrigerated in an airtight container and sow in the spring. If you collect the seed later than that then dormancy would have set in and the seed will need a period of cold temperature - stratification - to break the dormancy.

The optimum period for stratification is about 4 weeks at a temperature of about 5 degrees Celsius. Any longer and the seed may revert back to dormancy.Once you have your seed, rather than use a standard seed tray try to use a deeper container, something around 4 inches deep as this will help prevent your compost mix from drying out. This is important as low moisture level can reduce primula seed viability. Take a good seed compost like John Innes seed and potting and mix in a quarter of its volume of vermiculite - although some people advocate a completely soilless seed compost for better results.

Fill the tray to within an inch of its top then give it a light watering. Next, finely spray the surface with a copper fungicide such as cheshunt compound.Sow the seed thinly and evenly, and leave uncovered. In fact the seeds from most primula varieties should never be covered with any depth of soil as they will need the light as a trigger for germination. Slowly immerse the container till the surface is wet, but do not allow water to seep over the edge of the container. Then, when you lift the container from the water the seed should be sitting tight against the soil. If you are feeling cautious spray the surface again with the copper compound.

Now place the whole container inside a clear plastic bag and secure it closed with a loose knot or plastic-covered wire. This will then make additional watering unnecessary until after the seeds have germinated. Although this may well seem to be an odd technique, this is also done to prevent the compost from drying out reducing the failure of germination.

Another technique which can be employed to prevent poor germination is to add a 1/4" layer of wet sphagnum moss on top of the seed compost before sowing. The seeds can be sown directly on to this. Again water the container form the base and not from above, and instead of placing the container into a closed plastic bag try using an empty, same-size seed tray, turned upside down to act as a cover - you may need to weigh it down to prevent it falling off.

When the first seeds begin to sprout, water again with Benlate and then apply a very thin layer of seed compost over the seeds. Replace the covering tray until the seedlings come up through the compost. Then remove the cover replacing it with either fine netting, polythene, or a glass cloche for protection.Once the first set of true leaves have developed the plants can be transplanted out into a good quality, free draining multi-purpose compost - again you may need to add vermiculite as a quarter of your mix . Keep them well-watered and in partial shade till they're ready to plant out into the garden. Keep an eye out for aphids.

OLD ENGLISH PLANTS - Polyanthus ‘Gold Lace’




Polyanthus ‘Gold Lace’ is one of those varieties that always catches the eye. Its ‘auricular’ style of flower - unusual for polyanthus varieties - is both bold and intricate, but don’t let its delicately patterned flower fool you because the Gold Lace Polyanthus is as tough as old boots and extremely winter hardy.

Dating back to the mid-1600’s, Polyanthus ‘Gold Lace’ is a true historical gem; in fact it was once held in high regard and considered to be the ‘Florists’ polyanthus.

This was during a time (18th and 19th centuries) when the word ‘florist’ was used to described enthusiasts of a limited range of flowers who, having grown their speciality flower to perfection, showed it in keen competition against those grown by their fellow florists. A passion which is still followed by breeders in the United States today.

It has unfortunately fallen in and out of favour over the centuries since it made its first appearance and, for a time, was at risk of disappearing completely. Luckily, its unusual flowers are back in favour, a breath of fresh air when compared to the blousey hybrids that are more commonly sold.

They can be grown from seed sown during the first half of the year – any time between January and June, but don’t expect to see any flowers until the following year. They are just as easy to grow from seed as any of the common garden primroses and polyanthus, its only requirements is that they are raised in a damp, well drained soil in a sunny to semi-shaded position.The Polyanthus ‘Gold Lace’ is also environmentally friendly as it is attractive to both bees and butterflies.

HOW TO GROW SUNFLOWER ‘VELVET QUEEN'




In the United Kingdom sunflowers are generally not seen as anything other than a large and perhaps ‘clumsy’ flower, however their popularity has seen them travel the globe and they are now available in many different sizes and colour forms.

Although the most common forms that come to mind are the tall, striking, golden/ yellow varieties, there are now many ‘dwarf’, multi-flowered forms which are themselves becoming increasingly popular, in particular the gorgeous ‘Black Magic’ and the magnificent Sunflower ‘Velvet Queen’

Sunflower ‘Velvet Queen’ has stunning 6 inch flower heads in an opulent shade of rich crimson. Like is taller, better known relatives, ‘Velvet Queen’ can grow to a reasonable size but no more than about 6 ft. Flowers should appear from June until October, but remove any dying flowers to encourage further flowering. If they are gathered before they are fully open, they will also make excellent cut flowers. It is also one of the earliest sunflowers to come into bloom

Sunflower seeds are best grown outdoors sown directly into a prepared seed bed. In truth, they will germinate with very little help, but to get the best out of them they will need to be planted into a nutrient rich soil, so add plenty of well rotted farm manure to the ground a few weeks prior to sowing, digging it in deeply. Try to avoid planting into light sandy soils – especially for the taller specimens – as they can be prone to blowing over in strong winds. After planting, it’s worth covering the newly sown seed with some kind of an open mesh, as birds, squirrels and other animals are more than capable of digging them up for a quick and easy meal. Depending upon your average day temperatures you can expect to see your germinating seedlings to appear anytime between 14 and 21 days

If you want to get a head start on the year then begin by planting your sunflowers indoors. This will need to be done about 6 weeks before the threat of late frosts are over – for most places that will be from mid to late February. Use individual pots containing a good quality seed compost, planting two seeds per pot. Cover the seed with ½ an inch of compost and water so that the compost is damp throughout. Now cover with clear plastic to help keep the compost moist and humid. As soon as the seeds begin to germinate the plastic will need to be removed in order to prevent fungal rots. A week or so later the seedlings can be thinned out to strongest specimen as they begin to show through the compost.

When planting them in the garden perhaps the most important thing to be aware off is the plant's sensitivity to light and its ability to ‘track’ the sun as it travels across the sky. It is this ability that the plant has to do this – and of course its resemblance to the sun and its rays - which is why in English speaking cultures it has been given the name the sunflower. With this in mind make sure that you plant your sunflower seed in that part of the garden that is facing the sun, otherwise you will spend that year looking at the back of those outrageous flower heads instead of being able to get the full frontal effect- as it were!

Experience has shown that sunflowers can tolerate a certain amount of shade such as an east facing border, however they will grow their best in full sun.

HOW TO GROW WATERCRESS FROM SEED



Although the natural habitat of watercress is amongst slow moving bodies of water, their seed can be germinated in pots much like any other plants seed. In fact they are so easy to grow they can even be started off indoors. The only thing you need to make sure of – apart from keeping them soaked at all times – is that you are using an alkaline compost. This type of compost can easily be made up by mixing 1 part limestone grit to 2 parts John Innes seed compost.

Start by using plastic pots which have had small holes (approximately 3-4mm in diameter) drilled into the sides. Fill them with the compost mix and push 3 or 4 seeds – evenly spread - into the surface to around about an inch deep. Fill a suitable, high-sided container with water and place the sown pots into it. Leave the water level so that it is about ½ to 1 inch below the soil level. Place the container outside in a bright position, but out of direct sunlight and extremes of temperature. The important thing to remember here is to ensure the soil remains soaked at all times and to change the water for fresh each day to avoid fungal infections. You can expect to see the new seedlings emerging any time from 7-10 days.

After a further 2-3 more weeks in the pot, the seedlings should be big enough to be transplanted in to their permanent positions. The best times of year for this would be at the end of spring and beginning of autumn as this will give them plenty of time to establish before they need to cope with the extremes of summer and winter temperatures. However, so long as their final position allows them to be covered by at least a few inches of water throughout the year, they can be planted at almost any time.

Ideally, you would be planting into a shallow river or small stream. Just dig a few holes in the sides of the stream bed, making sure the holes are roughly a foot apart. Make sure that when planted, the leaves of your watercress are comfortably floating on the waters surface.

If the body of water they are being kept in is enclosed - such as a large pond - and fed by a re-circulating pump, then as the watercress plants naturalise they can be propagated by simply breaking off sections of plants - making sure that they have a healthy root system attached – and allowing them to just to float around on the waters surface. There are normally enough nutrients present in the water (especially if you are keeping fish) for the plants to continue growing without the need to take root and receive its nutrients from the soil.

Harvest your watercress leaves as and when you need them from the end of spring and onward into early summer. You will have to wait for late autumn however if you wish to harvest any more, as the leaves will become bitter and inedible once the plant comes into flower.

HOW TO GROW SUNFLOWER ‘BLACK MAGIC’





In the United Kingdom sunflowers are generally not seen as anything other than a large and perhaps ‘clumsy’ flower, however their popularity has seen them travel the globe and they are now available in many different sizes and colour forms.

Although the most common forms that come to mind are the tall, striking, golden/ yellow varieties, there are now many ‘dwarf’, multi-flowered forms which are themselves becoming increasingly popular, in particular the stunning mixed shades of ‘Calypso’ and the sumptuous ‘Black Magic’.

Sunflower 'Black Magic' is one of the darkest of all the sunflowers available, with a dwarf, spreading habit growing to no more than about 4 feet in height. Flowers should appear from June until October, but remove dying flowers to encourage further flowering.

Sunflower seeds are best grown outdoors sown directly into a prepared seed bed. In truth, they will germinate with very little help, but to get the best out of them they will need to be planted into a nutrient rich soil, so add plenty of well rotted farm manure to the ground a few weeks prior to sowing, digging it in deeply.

Try to avoid planting into light sandy soils – especially for the taller specimens – as they can be prone to blowing over in strong winds. After planting, it’s worth covering the newly sown seed with some kind of an open mesh, as birds, squirrels and other animals are more than capable of digging them up for a quick and easy meal. Depending upon your average day temperatures you can expect to see your germinating seedlings to appear anytime between 14 and 21 days

If you want to get a head start on the year then begin by planting your sunflowers indoors. This will need to be done about 6 weeks before the threat of late frosts are over – for most places that will be from mid to late February.

Use individual pots containing a good quality seed compost, planting two seeds per pot. Cover the seed with ½ an inch of compost and water so that the compost is damp throughout. Now cover with clear plastic to help keep the compost moist and humid. As soon as the seeds begin to germinate the plastic will need to be removed in order to prevent fungal rots. A week or so later the seedlings can be thinned out to strongest specimen as they begin to show through the compost. However there is no need to waste these weaker specimens as they can still be re-planted outside - again at 18 inches apart should you require - but they may take longer to flower and show less blooms.

When planting them in the garden perhaps the most important thing to be aware off is the plants sensitivity to light and its ability to ‘track’ the sun as it travels across the sky. It is this ability that the plant has to do this – and of course its resemblance to the sun and its rays - which is why in English speaking cultures it has been given the name the sunflower. With this in mind make sure that you plant your sunflower seed in that part of the garden that is facing the sun, otherwise you will spend that year looking at the back of those outrageous flower heads instead of being able to get the full frontal effect- as it were!

Experience has shown that sunflowers can tolerate a certain amount of shade such as an east facing border, however they will grow their best in full sun.

HOW TO GROW SUNFLOWERS FROM SEED



In the United Kingdom sunflowers are generally not seen as anything other than a large and perhaps ‘clumsy’ flower, but in most other countries they are also highly valued as a food plant. As a native to the Americas, the popularity of sunflowers has seen them travel the globe and they are now available in many different sizes and colour forms. The most popular – and mainly bought by parents on behalf of their children - are the giant cultivars such as the popular ‘Giant Single’. However there are many ‘dwarf’, multi-flowered forms that are becoming increasingly popular, in particular the stunning mixed shades of ‘Calypso’ and the magnificent, velvety ‘Black Magic’.
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Click onto Sunflower 'Black Magic' for more information.

Sunflower seeds are best grown outdoors sown directly into a prepared seed bed. In truth, they will germinate with very little help, but to get the best out of them they will need to be planted into a nutrient rich soil, so add plenty of well rotted farm manure to the ground a few weeks prior to sowing, digging it in deeply.

Try to avoid planting into light sandy soils – especially for the taller specimens – as they can be prone to blowing over in strong winds. After planting, it’s worth covering the newly sown seed with some kind of an open mesh, as birds, squirrels and other animals are more than capable of digging them up for a quick and easy meal.

If you want to get a head start on the year then begin by planting your sunflowers indoors. This will need to be done about 6 weeks before the threat of late frosts are over – for most places that will be from mid to late February.

Use individual pots containing a good quality seed compost, planting two seeds per pot. Cover the seed with ½ an inch of compost and water so that the compost is damp throughout.

Now cover with clear plastic to help keep the compost moist and humid. As soon as the seeds begin to germinate the plastic will need to be removed in order to prevent fungal rots. A week or so later the seedlings can be thinned out to strongest specimen as they begin to show through the compost.

When planting them in the garden perhaps the most important thing to be aware off is the plants sensitivity to light and its ability to ‘track’ the sun as it travels across the sky. It is this ability that the plant has to do this – and of course its resemblance to the sun and its rays - which is why in English speaking cultures it has been given the name the sunflower.

With this in mind make sure that you plant your sunflower seed in that part of the garden that is facing the sun, otherwise you will spend that year looking at the back of those outrageous flower heads instead of being able to get the full frontal effect- as it were!

Experience has shown that sunflowers can tolerate a certain amount of shade such as an east facing border, however they will grow their best in full sun.
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HOW TO GROW THE HIMALAYAN BLUE POPPY - Meconopsis betonicifolia - FROM SEED



The Himalayan Blue Poppy - Meconopsis betonicifolia is one of those plants that captures the imagination, but will usually let you down once you start trying to grow it yourself. The problem with the Himalayan Blue Poppy is that most people try and raise it under normal garden conditions making no allowances to adjust its local environment so that it mimics its native conditions.

The same is true when it come to growing it from seed. Originating from the lush, mountainous regions of south-eastern Tibet, this almost magical plant requires a cool, sheltered position in order to perform. However, the trick with this particular plant is to prepare its seed prior to sowing.

The best time of year to start propagation is from early Feb to the end of March, however many growers will prefer to start in the autumn. So long as you can provide cool bright conditions during germination and somewhere to grow on that isn't subject to extremes of temperature then it is actually possible to germinate Meconopsis seeds at any time of year.

Strange as it may seem, the seeds need to first be ‘sown’ onto damp kitchen (paper) towel. Use a good quality towel as it needs to be properly soaked first and then wrung out without destroying it before placing the seeds on it evenly. Carefully role up the damp towel and place it inside a plastic bag sealing the end, then put the whole thing into the salad compartment of a fridge for four weeks in order to break the seeds dormancy.

Image credit - http://www.srgc.org.uk/
After this cold treatment period, prepare a seed or plug tray using a good quality ericaceous seed compost. If this is unavailable make up your own seed compost mix using equal parts of horticultural grit/perlite: John Innes Seed compost: and Ericaceous compost. Once done, thoroughly water and allow to drain.

Remove the seed from the paper towel and gently press it into the surface of wet seed compost, but unlike most other seeds – do not cover with an additional layer of compost or grit. Meconopsis seed require light to initiate germination but do not place the tray in direct sun light as bright conditions are more than enough. Place the tray into a cool room with temperatures of no more than 18 degrees Celsius. Maintaining a level of constant dampness is very important and at no point should your growing medium dry out.

You may wish to cover your tray with a sheet of clear plastic to help maintain humidity but this must be removed at the first signs of germination to prevent the incidence of fungal rots. When it comes to watering, water the tray either from the base or by gently misting from the top, but remember; DON'T LET THE COMPOST DRY OUT!


Image credit - http://www.leadupthegardenpath.com/
Germination should occur between 2 and 4 weeks and as soon as the plants develop their second set of ‘true’ leavers they will be ready for transplanting - even though they may be no more than ½ inch across.

Holding the plants by a single leaf, gently tease the seedlings apart causing as little disturbance to the root system as possible. Plant the seedlings into individual pots containing a good quality ericaceous compost. You may wish to mix in some horticultural grit or perlite at this time to help improve the drainage.

Meconopsis plants are strong feeders and even at this stage they can begin feeding with a half dose of general liquid fertiliser. If conditions are suitable the young seedlings can now be transferred outside but make sure that they are protected from heavy rain, direct sunlight and slugs.

Once they get to about about 6 inches in height they can be planted outside into their permanent positions, but remember, throughout this entire growth period – DO NOT LET THEM DRY OUT!

The soil should be dug over deeply adding plenty of humus rich and ericaceous (lime-free) compost. As mentioned before, Meconopsis also have high nutrient requirements so it’s worth mixing in some well-rotted farm manure as well as periodically feeding with a dose of balanced fertilizer as the plant becomes established.

Try and avoid any competition from tree roots, and the area should be partially shaded – preferably from deciduous plants - so as to protect the plants from mid-day summer heat, but also allowing plenty of winter light.

HOW TO GROW HARDY PASSION FLOWERS FROM SEED




The sublime climbing passion flower - Passiflora caerulea is not only a true summer gem for the English garden, it is also one of the easiest plants to grow.

Evergreen in all but the coldest regions (although they generally suffer some cold damage), the passion flower is one of those plants that really gets close to offering that elusive all year round effect.

It begins in late spring with the production of extravagant, deeply lobed, glossy green leaves and these are followed a month or so later by a proliferation of showy, creamy-white flowers, delicately centred by purple-blue zoned coronas. Given a half-decent summer you can also expect the passion flower to produce its golden, egg-shaped fruits. Not only are they edible, but the plant will continue to turn out those beautifully exotic flowers for as long as the warm weather will hold. 

Plant it against a sheltered south-facing and you can’t help but bring a touch of the tropics to your garden.
Like most true species plants, Passion flowers will grow true from seed. Unfortunately, as their true ‘roots’ lie in the tropics there was no need to evolve seed capable of surviving harsh seasonal changes and so their long term viability is not as good as what you would expect from northern European plants. That being said, so long as the seed is reasonably fresh there are few tried and tested techniques that can be used to dramatically improve the viability of passion flower seed that has been subject to storage.


The main problem with passion flower seeds is their dormancy period which can be anywhere from 2 -12 months if the seed isn't germinated straight from the fruit. Perhaps the best method to break this dormancy as well as improve overall germination is to lightly sandpaper the seeds on either one or both sides using a fine sandpaper, and then to soak them in tepid water for around 24 hours. Any seeds found floating will not be viable and can be discarded. Prepare a seed tray using a good quality seed compost, planting each seeds no more than ¼ of an each deep. You may wish to mix in a couple of handfuls of perlite or horticultural grit at this stage to help with drainage. Gently water the seeds in, then cover with clear plastic to maintain humidity. Remember that the plastic must be removed at the first sign of germination to prevent fungal rots appearing. Keep an eye on watering as the compost must remain moist during the germination period.

Temperature is the critical factor here which would ideally be at 20 degrees Celsius for 16 hours a day with an additional 8 hour period at 30 degrees Celsius. Without specialist equipment this becomes impractical but if you time your season right (ie sow at the beginning of the warmest months) or use either a standard soil warming cable or thermostatically controlled propagator, then a constant temperature of 26 degrees Celsius should do the trick. When using this technique on fresh seed you can expect germination within two to four weeks, but older seed will take between four and eight weeks. Do get too worried if yours are taking longer as periods of 12 to 48 weeks are not exceptional. As soon as the new seedlings start to show through, keep them out of direct sunlight until the second set of ‘true’ leaves have appeared. Now the seedling can be transplanted on into 9cm pots and grown on for 2 -3 weeks before planting outside.

There is a history of poor flowering with passion flowers grown from seed as it can take many years before some individual move from their non-flowering, juvenile stage to their flowering mature stage. This can be as long as 8 years and in rare cases the seedlings may never flower. With this in mind it is worth planting out between 4 and 6 plants with a view to keeping just 1 or 2 specimens later on depending on your preferences. Expect there to be a normal amount of variability between the seedlings, but you may be surprised at just how different they are!

DROUGHT RESISTANT PLANTS AND GARDENING




With the promise of another hot summer our gardens are once again at risk from another wave of hose pipe bans. Apart from recycling old bath and rain water there are two other ways of dealing with this. Either use plants that suit the environment or manipulate the environment to suit your plants - the first way is easier.

When it comes to choice, the plants themselves can offer clues to their suitability recognised by their various coping strategies. Keep an eye out for leaves that are either succulent or have a silvery sheen caused by specialist hairs or scales. These hairs reflect heat and light, retaining a thin blanket of humid air around the leaf which reduces water loss. The scales work in a similar way but also act as a barrier protecting juvenile growth. Commonly witnessed on Elaeagnus and dwarf Rhododendrons species these scales are often mistaken for disease and sometimes removed often causing more harm than good. However if you want to be sure of buying the right plants, check out below for my list of recommend plants for hot and dry conditions.Alternatively if you want a quick fix, try planting African summer bedding. Cultivars of Gazinias, Mesembryanthemums, Osteospermums, and Geraniums will all give a tough, drought tolerant, yet spectacular show of colour throughout the summer.

Of course you can always cheat by manipulating the local environment to suit your required conditions. This is all about keeping as much water in the ground as possible so that there is enough available to sustain healthy growth.Although commonly used to prevent weed growth, landscape fabric or the more heavy duty Mypex is an extremely effective control against soil water loss through evaporation. In addition Polyacrylamide crystals or ‘Swell Gel’ – a product of the nappy industry – is also used as a popular method for retaining moisture in hanging basket composts. Used sparingly and it can be mixed in with your usual compost when planting out in the garden, however use too much and over watering can cause your newly planted stock to lift straight out the ground.The harsh growing conditions of summer can be exaggerated in beds sited next to brick walls so its one to keep an eye on. Once heated by the sun, these walls can act like enormous wicks drawing moisture from the soil and turning it into unsustainable dust. To prevent this, dig the soil away from the wall and then line where it touches the soil with heavy duty plastic. The soil can then be dug back into place although organic matter will probably need to be added in order to rejuvenate it.
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HARDY PLANTS FOR DRY, SUNNY BORDERS

Below are just a selection of the most popular varieties of plants that are suitable for planting in hot, dry beds. However, with all of these plants, they need to be established first before they left to defend for themselves - and that will of course mean some watering, especially for young and newly planted plants. Usually by the second year they can pretty much fend for themselves but remember they are not desert plants, so if you want them to thrive instead of merely survive, water them - just don't over-water them!

Acaena species......................Achillia species
Armeria maritima................Berginia species
Ceanothus species................Cherianthus species
Cistus species........................Convolvulous
Cytisus species......................Dianthus species
Eryngium species..................Gallardia species
Genista lydia..........................Hypericum species
Junipers species....................Lavander species
Mahonia species....................Miscanthus species
Hardy ornamental Sages......Rosemary species
Santolina chamaecyperus....Sedum species
Sempervirens species...........Stachy byzantina - lambs ears
Tamarix..................................Thymus species
Verbascum species................Weigelia species
Yucca species
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HOW TO GROW BANANAS OUTSIDE IN THE UK.



Ornamental bananas are usually best kept within the warm, sunny confines of a south facing conservatory, but there are a couple of examples that could be considered as being 'almost' hardy and well worth the little extra effort involved in growing outside. The best cultivar for consideration is the Musa basjoo and can even be left outside to over-winter if given suitable protection from hard frosts. The closely related Ensete ventricosa (sometimes known as Musa ensete) is also worth a try. Even though it is not as hardy, it is far more ornamental by comparison. However, this variety should not be left to over-winter outside - even with adequate protection - unless you live in the mildest of regions. For the stunning red coloured form choose Ensete ventricosa 'Maurellii'.

Position and soil type is what is most important with regards to the successful cultivation of ornamental bananas. You will want to try and position your plant in a sunny site which has a certain amount of protection during the height of summer - not only from the drying affects of the sun, but also to protect the leaves from damage by strong winds. This will also help to maintain humidity levels which are important for healthy growth. The soil will need to be slightly acidic, and well drained - particularly important for overwintering - with a high organic matter content. Your banana plant will also need plenty of water through the growing season including a regular spraying of the foliage, but refrain from doing this during the hottest part of the day to avoid leaf scorching. Bananas are renown for heavy feeding and so a good tip for successful growth is to add plenty of mulch throughout the growing season. It may also be worth adding a couple of doses of 'sulphate of potash', once at the beginning of the growing season with a second during the height of the summer.
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When the plants are growing strongly, they should be fed with a liquid fertilizer whenever they are watered - except in winter. However, keep an eye on the condition of you plant as regular feeding may cause damage if plants are in poor condition.
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Clearly one of the most defining features of the banana tree - apart from its large and distinctive tropical leaves - are its fruit, and although it is possible for this species to bear fruit in this country - given a long and hot summer - try and resist the urge to eat them as they are in fact inedible.

WHAT ARE MYCORRHIZAL FUNGI?



Mycorrhiza fungi are a naturally occurring soil borne fungus that can have a highly beneficial symbiotic relationship with a host plant. In fact the word ‘mycorrhiza’ itself is made up of two Greek words meaning ‘fungus’ and ‘root’. This ‘symbiotic’ relationship is one in which both host plant and fungus receive some benefit.

These mycorrhizal fungi –as with all fungus - are unable to photosynthesise or metabolise its own carbon so instead, it harvests carbohydrates which have been manufactured by the host plant - removing them through the host plants root system. In exchange, the host plant benefits from the extensive mycelium (fungal root) structure which is created by the mycorrhiza fungi and is attached directly to its own root system.

From this mycelium structure the host plant is able to not only extend its reach by proxy; it will also receive essential nutrients and a greater availability of vital water. In effect the mycelium structure acts as an extensive secondary root system, not only promoting healthy and sustainable growth for the host plant but also enabling it to withstand the stress of drought and prevent some of the soil-borne fungal pathogens such as Phytopthora sp.and Armillaria sp. entering the roots.

Although the use of mycorrhizal fungi has been a relative newcomer to modern horticultural practice, examination of fossilised plants and studies of specific DNA sequences have shown that this symbiotic relationship has been in existence for over 400 million years.

HOW TO PROTECT AND OVER-WINTER BANANAS




There are only a couple of banana species that are hardy enough to over-winter in this country, but you would be foolish to leave them outside without any protection in all but the mildest parts of the country. Even so, while it is true that the plant may not die, you may well lose the highly ornamental single stem, and instead, be left with numerous small stems growing back through in the spring. Although this may still sound like an attractive prospect, in reality your prized banana will end up looking nothing more than a regular canna lily - minus any flower.


While the plants are still reasonable small you will be able to get away with having them planted in the ground while still in their pots. This will make it much easier - come late autumn/early winter - to lift and store in a frost free area. However there will be a time when its size makes this is no longer practical and the plant will need to be protected where it stands.

A tried and tested method of protection is to lag it with straw. To begin with, you will need to remove any dying or frost damaged leaves, as these can be a point of entry for fungal rots once the stem has been wrapped. The next thing to do is to create a large ring of chicken wire or heavy duty mesh around the stem - with the stem acting as the centre. Securely join the ends of the mesh together, then back fill with heaps of dry straw - compacting it well. Make sure that the entire plant is protected and leave no gaps with can allow the cold and wet to get in. Secure the mesh/wire to the ground and to the plant (making sure the plant isn't damaged), so that your good work isn't destroyed by unfavourable weather.

This protection can be removed come April or May, making sure that the threat of frosts are over before you do so.

If you only suffer from mild winters, you may be able to get away with a simple wrapping of large-bubble bubble wrap. You can bubble wrap the trunks in late October, and this can be left on until the end of March. Don't worry about protecting the leaves, because even if they get knocked back by a hard frost they will still grow back once the weather improves.

Try not over-winter in water-logged conditions as the root system can be prone to rot, and stop feeding at the same time you stop watering. One more thing, Musa basjoo is considerably hardier than it cousin Ensete ventricosa so protect accordingly.

HOW TO GROW PARSLEY FROM SEED INDOORS




Parsley, although one of the most popular culinary herbs in use today, is also one of the trickiest herbs to grow from seed. This is rather unfortunate as growing parsley from seed is the only way in which it can be propagated. In fact there is an old English saying

 ‘… parsley only grows when a woman rules the house…’

 and although I am not sure of the exact reasoning behind this statement, it must surely have something to do with the difficulties in germinating the seed.

Parsley seedlings
If you do manage to successfully germinate parsley seed, then there is another problem just waiting around the corner because parsley does not cope well with being transplanted. However by sowing either straight into plug trays, or directly outdoors into prepared seed beds, at least one of these obstacles can be avoided.

When growing indoors, the key to successful parsley is to give the seed a certain amount of heat treatment. You can either soak the seed overnight in warm water or supply basal heat to the sown plug trays using a soil warming cable. Fill a plug tray with a good quality seed compost, then tamper it down lightly, pressing the surface to make it flat. Water the seed tray before sowing, then allow it to drain thoroughly.

When ready, thinly sow the parsley seed over the of the compost and then cover with vermiculite to a depth of 2 mm. Cover the plug tray with a sheet of glass, perspex or cling-film to keep the moisture in, then place a sheet of paper over the top to keep direct sun off the seed. Place the tray onto a warm window sill or – if you are lucky enough - in a thermostatically controlled propagator set at a temperature of about 20 degrees Celsius. As soon as the new seedlings start to show, remove the cover.

Aromatic bunch of parsley
Once the seedlings have emerged - this can be any time from 3 and 8 weeks - water regularly and in addition, give them a good quality liquid feed such as a seaweed extract once a week. Without sufficient water the parsley can flower within its first season reducing its foliage growth. Cutting out the emerging flowering stalks will help with this but it is not ideal solution.

When the seedlings have grown their second pair of ‘true’ leaves, they can be pricked out leaving one strong seedling per plug. Two to three weeks later you can then transplant three plugs into one 9cm clean plastic pots in the same growing medium as used for sowing. From this point onwards, treat each pot as one plant.

When harvesting the leaves, take them from around the outside of the plants. Parsley is not a good herb for drying as it will quickly lose its flavour, so either use it fresh, or keep in a plastic bag for storing in the freezer.

For related article click onto the following links:
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HOW TO GROW CARAWAY FROM SEED
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HOW TO GROW PARSLEY FROM SEED IN OUTSIDE BEDS




While parsley is one of the most popular culinary herbs in use today, is also one of the trickiest herbs to grow from seed. This is rather unfortunate as growing parsley from seed is the only way in which it can be propagated. In fact there is an old English saying ‘… parsley only grows when a woman rules the house…’ and although I am not sure of the exact reasoning behind this statement, it must surely have something to do with the difficulties in germinating the seed.

If you do manage to successfully germinate parsley seed, there is another problem just waiting around the corner because parsley does not cope well with being transplanted. However by sowing either straight into plug trays or directly outdoors, at least one of these obstacles can be avoided.

If you decide to sow directly outside you need a suitably prepared seed bed. This can be started in the autumn (for a spring sowing) by adding plenty of well rotted manure and digging it deeply into the soil. This is important not only because parsley needs to be able to develop long tap roots, but it also has high nutritional requirements.

If you wish to crop parsley all year round you will need to prepare two different sites. The first (for harvesting during the summer) will need to be sited on a partially shaded - west or east facing – bed. Whereas for winter harvesting you will need to be growing parsley on a sheltered, south facing bed. For both sites the soil will need to be free-draining, yet also able to retain its moisture – a difficult combination to achieve but difficult soils can be improved by adding plenty of organic matter such as leaf mould or composted bark.

Germination is always very slow and during this period - anywhere between 3 and 8 weeks - the soil must be kept moist at all times otherwise the seed will not germinate. However try this tip for successful germination, soak the seeds overnight in warm water before sowing into shallow drills or alternatively, pour freshly boiled water along the seed drills just before planting. Whichever way you decide to use, once the seed is in place cover it very lightly with soil.
Depending on how early you start your crop you may wish to give it some protection such as a cloche to help maintain soil temperatures.

Once the seedlings begin to emerge, water regularly and give it a good quality liquid feed - such as a seaweed extract - once a week. Without sufficient water parsley can flower within its first season reducing its foliage growth and effecting its flavour. Cutting out the emerging flowering stalks will help with this, but it is not ideal solution.

When harvesting the leaves, take them from the outside of the plants as new growth occurs at the centre. Parsley is not a good herb for drying as it will quickly lose its flavour so either use it fresh, or keep in a plastic bag for storing in the freezer.

For related articles click onto the following links:
Buy Cilantro Seed
HOW TO GROW CARAWAY FROM SEED
How to Grow Chives
How to Overwinter herbs

HOW TO GROW OREGANO FROM SEED



Unlike many of the Mediterranean herbs you can grow in the garden today, oregano -'Origanum vulgare' is perhaps the hardiest. So tough is its constitution that, after being introduced to Great Britain by the Romans, it became naturalised in the wild and has remained something of a ‘wild flower' ever since across large parts of the country.

Unfortunately, as the centuries have passed, the British environment has had its effect on its European cousin. With our reduced levels of light, combined with lower average day temperatures and far more rain, our naturalised Origanum vulgare has had to evolve to cope with whatever the weather here could throw at it. Gone are the hairy leaves – one of the modifications that plants use to help them cope in hot, dry climates – and gone too are their highly scented leaves. The leaves of the English form are now reduced in essential oils by comparison and are now what you would call ‘aromatic’.

Although still suitable for culinary use you will be better off with plants grown from seed that has been sourced from the Mediterranean region. Even so, when it comes to growing Mediterranean herbs here in the English garden, oregano is not only one of the easiest; it also has centuries of form.

To grow oregano from seed is relatively simple, however there can be a problem working with the seed as it is very fine and difficult to handle. In order to get an even distribution of the seed you may wish to try adding it to some fine, dry sand, mixing the seed in well and then sowing the whole mix to achieve an even distribution.

Thinly sow the seed either indoors into plug trays from mid-April, or outdoors into a prepared and well drained, seed bed from the end of May onwards. When growing indoor, try to avoid standard seed trays as oregano has a long tap root system which is far better suited to the depth that a plug tray can provide. Secondly, experience has shown that oregano tend to be more prone to damping off when seed trays are used.

When sowing indoors, start about 6 weeks before the threat of late frosts are over. You may need to provide basal heat as oregano will need a roughly constant temperature of about 15 degrees Celsius. Once the newly germinated seedlings have started emerging through the compost, reduce their watering - again, to help prevent fungal infections. After another week or two, thin out the weakest seedlings allowing just one strong plant per plug. Then, once the seedlings have produced at least two sets of ‘true’ leaves they will be ready for transplanting. Pot them on into a free draining compost such as John Innes ‘Seed’ or use a good quality multi-purpose compost mixed 50:50 with perlite or horticultural grit. Once they have been grown on for 3-4 weeks, they can then be planted outside in their permanent position.

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HOW TO GROW BASIL FROM SEED



Fresh basil is a wonderfully sweet, and aromatic herb.  If you have ever had the opportunity to taste a few freshly picked leaves straight from the mother plant then you will understand why it is one of the most popular of all the culinary herbs.

Luckily, given the right conditions basil is easy to grow from seed, but because basil needs a reasonably high, and stable temperature to initiate germination it is one of the latest edible crops to be sown and therefore tends to be forgotten. With that in mind, it is always best to sow basil seed indoors - irrespective of whether it will end up being planted up outside or not.

Sowing basil seed indoors

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Fill a seed tray – almost to the top – with a moist seed and potting compost, and then thinly sow your basil seeds over the surface. Give them a light covering of compost and gently water in before transferring to a bright, warm room. Try not to allow the compost to dry out, but equally, do not over water. You can consider placing a plastic cover over the top of the seed tray to help maintain moisture and humidity, but this must be removed as soon as the new seedlings emerge to prevent fungal infection.

Once the seedlings have emerged through the compost keep them in a light position but out of direct sunlight. After the second set of ‘true’ leaves have fully formed, transplant each seedling into 3 inch pots allowing no more than four plants per pot. After a couple of weeks - when the young plants have had time to establish - they can be gradually made accustom to outside conditions if that is to be their final position. Harden them off for a couple of weeks or so before planting outside, but only do so one the threat of frost is over. Choose a sunny, sheltered site for best results allowing 12 inches between each group of plants. The young tender leaves can be harvest any time, so long as the plant is big and strong enough,  any time from May until September.

Sowing basil seeds outdoors

Surprisingly, basil are easy to grow outside, even in northern European countries! You just have to wait until overnight temperatures remain at a minimum of 10 degrees Celsius.

The benefit to growing basil seed directly outside is that you do not suffer delays in growth when basil grown under protection and in a commercial compost mix are planted outside into soil. It takes time of the roots to adapt to the new environment and this delay is known as root shock.

Of course, by choosing to wait until later on in the year to sow your seed your basil crop will have a shorter growing season.

To begin with, you will need to prepare an area of free draining soil, that receives as much sunlight as possible. Then make sure that it is free of weeds.

With regards to heavy soils, you can improve the drainage by creating a raised bed and add plenty of horticultural grit.  Do not add organic composts or fertilisers as this can encourage your basil to bolt and as a consequence, loose flavour.

Sow the seed lightly on the surface then gently agitate the soil surface in order to give the seeds a light covering. Water gently but thoroughly using a watering can with a rose or a hose with a soft, shower attachment. Water regularly but only once the soil surface has dried, and do not allow the seeds to become waterlogged.

Your basil seedlings should emerge within a couple of weeks, at which point you will need to keep an eye out for slugs. Thin out the seedlings where necessary and begin harvesting when the plants reach a height of about 3-4 inches.

NOTE:

As the plants continue to grow, remove any flower buds as they arise as this will signal a change in the flavour of the basil, making the leaves bitter and even unpalatable for some people. Flowering will also cause a significant reduction in the growth of new foliage, reducing the amount which can be used for cooking.

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HOW TO GROW CARAWAY FROM SEED
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HOW TO GROW BASIL FROM SEED INDOORS




If you are growing basil from seed just for the kitchen windowsill, then you are probably only going to need to have one or two potfuls around. That should be just enough to give you that convenient pinch of Mediterranean flavour for those flavoursome continental dishes.

given the right conditions basil is easy to grow from seed, but because Basil needs a reasonably high and stable temperature to initiate germination. With that in mind, it is always best to sow basil seed indoors irrespective of whether it will end up being planted up outside or not.

Start off with a couple of 4 inch, terracotta pots and fill them almost to the top with a moist seed and potting compost. You can also mix in a small handful of perlite or horticultural grit at this point to help with the drainage. Thinly sow your basil seeds over the compost surface at no more than 5-6 seeds per pot, then give them a light covering of compost and gently water in before transferring to a bright, warm room. Try not to allow the compost to dry out, but equally, do not over water.

A little tip,to help stop compost from leaching out from the drainage hole when you come to water your basil, put a tea bag in the bottom of the pot before adding the compost. That way the tea bag acts as a ‘filter’ only allowing the water to pass through.

To aid germination place a plastic bag or even some cling-film over the top of the pot to help the compost maintain its moisture and humidity, but this must be removed as soon as the new seedlings emerge to prevent fungal infection.

Once the seedlings have emerged through the compost, keep them in a light position but out of direct sunlight, then once the second set of ‘true’ leaves have fully formed, they can be moved to their final position, presumably a sunny part of the kitchen. Once the seedlings have reached a height of around 3 or 4 inches, pinch out the top most leaves as this will encourage the basil plant to produce lateral shoots, helping it to bush out.

As the plants continue to grow, remove any flower buds as they arise as this will signal a change in the flavour of the basil, making the leaves bitter and even unpalatable for some people. Flowering will also cause a significant reduction in the growth of new foliage, reducing the amount which can be used for cooking.

Buy Cilantro Seed
HOW TO GROW CARAWAY FROM SEED
How to Grow Chives
How to Overwinter herbs