HOW TO GROW TULIPS




When it come to tulips most people will naturally think of the famous tulip fields of Holland. But you may be surprised to find out that Tulips are not a native plant to the Netherlands, in fact, they are not even close!

The story of the tulip began over a thousand years ago, when Turkish entrepreneurs had begun cultivating the wild tulips that grew in the Persian region, and traded them throughout the Ottoman Empire.

So how is it then, that although originating from a hot, dry mountainous environment, tulips manage to thrive in Holland.

At a first glance the Dutch landscape seems at odds with such an environmentally specific crop - especially with its almost uniquely characteristic landscape.

The Dutch terrain is at and - in many areas - below sea level, it’s extremely flat and the winters are particularly wet. But the reason why tulips do so well in Holland is because of their land reclamation policy. By introducing an effective drainage system based on the Archimedes screw and powered by windmills, they inadvertently created a soil that kept the bulbs in an almost perfect and constant environment.

Tulip cultivation

So we know that Tulips are native to mountainous areas with temperate climates, however what is often overlooked is their need for a period of cool dormancy -  known as vernalization. Therefore while tulips will happily thrive in climates with long, cool springs, and dry summers.

Tulip bulbs are often imported to warm-winter areas of the world from cold-winter areas, but they are planted in the autumn to be treated as annuals. You can get round this by lifting the bulbs once the leaves begin to die back so that they can be dried out over the winter period.

Tulip bulbs are typically planted around November - but this can be as late as January - into well-drained soils. The depth is normally 4 to 8 inches deep depending on the type planted. Do not plant tulips deeper than 6 inches deep in heavy soil.

In those parts of the world that do not have long cool springs and dry summers, the tulip bulb can be planted up to 12 inches deep. This extra depth will provides some insulation from the heat of summer, and tends to encourage the plants to regenerate one large, floriferous bulb each year, instead of many smaller, non-blooming ones. This can also extend the life of a tulip plant in warmer-winter areas by a few years, but it does not stave off both the degradation in bulb size and the eventual death of the plant due to the lack of vernalization.

Tulips thrive on alkaline soil so you have acidic soil apply 3-4 oz of of ground limestone per square yard before planting.

Dead-head your tulips once the first petals begin to fall., leaving the stems and leaves to feed the bulbs as they die back. Remember to remove fallen petals as these can harbour disease.

Ideally, lift the bulbs once the leaves begin to turn yellow but if the beds are required for summer bedding displays then the tulips can be lifted earlier and replanted in rows elsewhere and lifted again after the leaves have died down.

Once lifted, plant the bulbs in shallow boxes and store in a dry shed or greenhouse. The leaves can be removes once the they and the stems become dry and brittle, together with the roots, old scales and any remaining soil.

For further reading click onto:
LOST TULIPS OF THE DUTCH GOLDEN AGE - SEMPER AUGUSTUS AND THE VICEROI
OLD, BROKEN, AND UNUSUAL DUTCH TULIP VARIETIES
Top Tips for Tulip Care
TULIP HISTORY AND POPULAR VARIETIES

HOW TO GROW LAVENDER FROM SEED





Lavender is without doubt one of the most popular of all hardy shrubs, and why not? Tolerant of drought, heat, poor soils and most pests and diseases, not only does will lavender flower its heart out, it is a fantastic source of nectar for pollinating insects!

However, purchasing lavender plants can end up being expensive. But fear not! Lavenders are very easy to propagate. Both from cuttings and from seed.

Growing lavender from seed

Lavender can be sow at any time of year so long as you have the use of a propagator. Otherwise, sow lavender seed from April onwards making sure that they are kept in a warm place to maintain an optimum temperature of 15-18 degrees Celsius.

To begin with, lavender seed can be sown in trays, pots or modular trays. Choose a good quality seed compost such as John Innes 'Seed and Cutting', but you may wish to mix in some horticultural grit or perlite to improve the drainage further.


Moisten the soil until it is damp, not wet, and then place the seeds one at a time on the surface. Now give the seeds with a light sprinkling of compost, making sure that all the seeds are covered. Remember not to pack the soil down on top of the seed.

Once the seeds are sown it is essential that they are kept moist. Striking the balance right between over watering the seedlings and under watering will make all the difference to the success of your plantings. Using a spray bottle is the best way to achieve the right balance.


After sowing, either place into a propagator kept at 15-18 Celsius or seal your pots/trays  in a polythene bag and leave at also at 15-18 Celsius. Keep them in a bright position, but out of direct sun during the hottest part of the day.

It can take from between twelve and twenty-one days for germination to occur, but if nothing has happened after three weeks then place the seeds back into a refrigerator - not the freezer, for a further 3-6 weeks.

After this cold period is completed they can be placed back into their warm, light environment the recommended germination temperature. However, examine regularly whilst in the fridge and remove immediately the seeds show signs of germinating.

When the seedlings are large enough to handle, transplant them into 3 inch pots using John Innes 'No 2' compost. Use a dibber and avoid disrupting the root system as much as possible. Grow on in a cold frame and plant outside in to their final position the following spring.

For related articles click onto:
HOW TO GROW RUDBECKIA FROM SEED
Rosmarinus officinalis 'Prostratus'
The Golden Foxtail lily - Eremurus bungei
WINTERSWEET - Chimonanthus praecox

WHAT IS LAVENDER OIL?




Lavender oil is an substance that has been manufactured which has long been used in ancient medicines. Produced and stored in tiny glands at the base of each floret, lavender oil is an essential oil obtained by the relatively simple process of steam distillation.

Today, lavender oil is still used in the production of perfume, and for the practice of aromatherapy. The scent alone has a calming effect which may aid in relaxation and the reduction of anxiety and stress. In fact, the name lavender come from the Latin word 'Lavare' which means 'to wash', due to its 'cleansing' aroma.

Furthermore, a couple of drops of lavender oil on your pillow can help to induce sleep if you are experiencing problems 'dropping off'.

Over the centuries, lavender oil has been used to treat a variety of common ailments, such as sunburn and sunstroke. It can also be used in massage oil mixtures, which may be effective in the relief of joint and muscle pain, or even in chest rub mixtures for the relief of asthmatic and bronchitic spasm. It is also said to treat head lice when used in a hair rinse mixture, or on a fine comb to eliminate nits.

One study suggests application of lavender essential oil instead of povidone-iodine for episiotomy wound care.

The benefits of lavender oil 

Nervous System: Lavender essential oil has a calming scent which makes it an excellent tonic for the nerves. Therefore, it helps in treating migraines, headaches, anxiety, depression, nervous tension and emotional stress. The refreshing aroma removes nervous exhaustion and restlessness and increases mental activity.

Sleep: Lavender essential oil induces sleep and hence it is often recommended for insomnia.

Pain Relief: Lavender essential oil is also an excellent remedy for various types of pains including those caused by sore muscles, tense muscles, muscular aches, rheumatism, sprains, backache and lumbago. A regular massage with lavender oil provides relief from pain in the joints.

Urine Flow: Lavender essential oil is good for urinary disorders as it stimulates urine production. It helps in restoring hormonal balance and reduces cystitis or inflammation of the urinary bladder. It also reduces any associated cramps.

Respiratory Disorders: Lavender oil is extensively used for various respiratory problems including throat infections, flu, cough, cold, asthma, sinus congestion, bronchitis, whooping cough, laryngitis, and tonsillitis. The oil is either used in the form of vapour or applied on the skin of neck, chest and back. It is also added in many vaporizers and inhalers used for cold and coughs.

Blood Circulation: Lavender essential oil is also good for improving blood circulation in the body. It also lowers blood pressure and is used for hypertension.

Digestion: Lavender oil is useful for digestion as it increases the mobility of the intestine. The oil also stimulates the production of gastric juices and bile and thus aids in treating indigestion, stomach pain, colic, flatulence, vomiting and diarrhoea.

Immunity: Regular use of lavender essential oil provides resistance to diseases.

Skin Care: The health benefits of lavender oil for the skin can be attributed to its antiseptic and anti-fungal properties. It is used to treat various skin disorders such as acne, wrinkles, psoriasis, and other inflammations. It heals wounds, cuts, burns, and sunburns rapidly as it aids in the formation of scar tissues. Lavender oil is added to chamomile to treat eczema.

Hair Care: Lavender essential oil is useful for the hair care as it can be very effective on lice and lice eggs or nits.

Other health benefits of lavender essential oil include its ability to treat leucorrhoea. It is also effective against insect bites. The oil is also used to repel mosquitoes and moths. You will find many mosquito repellents containing lavender oil as one of the ingredients.

As with many other essential oils, pregnant and breastfeeding women should avoid using lavender essential oil. It is also recommended that diabetics stay away from lavender oil. It may also cause allergic reactions to people having sensitive skin. Some people may also experience nausea, vomiting and headaches due to usage of lavender oil. 

Also, be aware though that according to a 2005 study "although it was recently reported that lavender oil, and its major constituent linalyl acetate, are toxic to human skin cells in vitro. Contact dermatitis to lavender oil appears to occur at only a very low frequency.

For related articles click onto:
HOW TO TAKE LAVENDER CUTTINGS

HOW TO GROW BOUGAINVILLEA






Any country that has anything warmer that even a mild Mediterranean climate will be able to grow the fantastic Bougainvillea. And even in colder regions they can be successfully grown as a house plant.

What appear to be brilliantly coloured flowers are in fact papery bracts. The true flowers are almost insignificant, generally white, and in a cluster of three, but this doesn't matter as the bracts are so bright and persistent that they out-last and out-perform most other flowering plants - let alone other climbers!

What is a Bougainvillea?

Bougainvillea are a genus of flowering plants native to South America from Brazil west to Perú and south to southern Argentina (Chubut Province).

They are thorny, woody vines that will growing anywhere from 3 ft to 40 ft tall, and use their thorns to scrambling over other plants in order to reach the strongest sunlight. The thorns are sometimes strangely tipped with a black, waxy substance.

They are evergreen where rainfall occurs all year, or deciduous if there is a dry season. The Bougainvillea also makes an excellent hot season plant, and its drought tolerance makes it ideal for warm climates year-round. Its high salt tolerance makes it a natural choice for colour in coastal regions

Bougainvillea are relatively pest-free plants, but may suffer from worms, snails and aphids. The larvae of some Lepidoptera species also use them as food plants.

How to grow Bougainvillea

Bougainvilleas grow best in dry soil, in very bright full sun, and with frequent fertilization.  Before planting, dig in plenty of organic matter.

When choosing an area to plant your bougainvillea, remember that higher ground is best as water will drain away from the roots.

They require little water once established, and in fact will not do well at all if over-watered.

Watering

Be aware that the amount of watering needed to keep bougainvillea in tip-top condition is going to be directly related to the climate, soil type, plant size and weather conditions.  Bougainvillea are drought-tolerant plants, and require very little water once established.

As a rule of thumb, bring the soil to visual dryness between watering.

You might be surprised to know that wilting is the best indicator that watering is needed, but don't leave you bougainvillea in that condition for too long.

If you let your bougainvillea get bone-dry it will cause bracts and foliage to drop.

When it is time to water, do so thoroughly – making sure that every inch of the root system gets watered.

For more information click onto:

WHAT IS A YUCCA?






Yuccas have been grown as popular house and garden plants for may years now. Easy to grow, they are pest and disease resistant and able to cope with a reasonable amount of neglect. This of course almost makes for the perfect plant - apart from the spikes!

There is a popular, but erroneous belief that Yuccas only flower every seven years, and then die after flowers. This is not true.

Of course, there is more than one species of Yucca and species that are generally available from your local plant retailer can range from fully cold hardy Yucca filamentosa to the tropical Yucca elephantipes. Get them mixed up and you could end up with an expensive and 'melted' plant display.

What is a Yucca?

Yucca is a genus of perennial shrubs and trees from the family Asparagaceae - subfamily Agavoideae. There are 49 species in this family, and they are notable for their rosettes of evergreen, tough, sword-shaped leaves, and large terminal panicles of white or whitish flowers.

The hardy species need sunny, sheltered sites, and make good specimen or accent plants.

The tender species are usually grown as foliage plants in the home or greenhouse.

They are native to the hot and dry regions of North America, Central America, South America, and the Caribbean.  It is known in the Midwest United States as 'ghosts in the graveyard', as it is commonly found growing in rural graveyards and when in bloom the flowers appear as floating apparitions.

Yuccas are not just grown for their ornamental appeal, they can also be grown as an edible crop because many species bear edible parts, including fruits, seeds, flowers, and flowering stems. Be that as it may, don't go around eating bits of yucca without knowing exactly what you are doing.

How to grow Yucca

The hardy species can be planted outside in April or October in any ordinary, well drained garden soil and preferably in a sheltered position that receives sunlight most of the day. they will even poor, sandy soils.

Tender species can be grown in 6 - 10 inch pots using a good quality compost such as John Innes No 2 or 3. Potting on to larger pots is normally done in spring or early summer. Maintain a minimum over-night temperature of 13-16 degrees Celsius. They can be placed in a sunny position but may need to protected from scorching during the hottest times of the year with some shading .


For related articles click onto:

WHAT IS A DRAGONFLY?




A dragonfly is a flying insect characterized by large multifaceted eyes, two pairs of strong transparent wings, and an elongated body. Like any other insect, dragonflies also possess six legs, but most species are unable to walk on them with any competence.

Dragonflies are among the fastest flying insects in the world. In fact, Robert John Tillyard FRS (31 January 1881 – 13 January 1937) - an English/Australian entomologist and geologist, claimed to have recorded the Southern Giant Darner flying at nearly 60 miles per hour in a rough field measurement.

However, large dragonflies - like the hawkers - have been reliably measured at a maximum speed of 22–34 mph, with average cruising speed of about 10 mph.

What do dragonflies eat?

Dragonflies are important predators that eat predominately small insects such as mosquitoes, flies, bees, ants, wasps, and very rarely butterflies. They are usually found around marshes, lakes, ponds, streams, and wetlands because their larvae, known as 'nymphs', are aquatic. They are an almost global predator with some 5680 different species known in the world today.

Though dragonflies are predators, they themselves are subject to predation by birds, lizards, frogs, spiders, fish, water bugs, and even larger dragonfly species.

Dragonfly life-cycle 

Female dragonflies lay eggs in or near water, often on floating or emergent plants. When laying eggs, some species will submerge themselves completely in order to lay their eggs on a good surface. The eggs then hatch into nymphs. Most of a dragonfly's life is spent underwater in the nymph form,  using extendible jaws to catch other invertebrates - often mosquito larvae, and even larger prey such as tadpoles and fish.

They breathe through gills in their rectum, and can rapidly propel themselves by suddenly expelling water through the anus - lovely! Some nymphs even hunt on land, an aptitude that could easily have been more common in ancient times when terrestrial predators were clumsier.

The larval stage of large dragonflies may last as long as five years. In smaller species, this stage can last anywhere between two months and three years.

When the larva is ready to metamorphose into an adult, it will climb up a reed or other emergent plant. Exposure to air causes the larva to begin breathing. The skin splits at a weak spot behind the head and the adult dragonfly crawls out of its larval skin, pumps up its wings, and flies off to feed on midges and flies.

In flight the adult dragonfly can propel itself in six directions; upward, downward, forward, back, and side to side. The adult stage of larger species of dragonfly can last as long as five or six months.

Dragonflies can sometimes be mistaken for damselflies, which are morphologically similar; however, adults can be differentiated by the fact that the wings of most dragonflies are held away from, and perpendicular to the body when at rest.


For more information click onto:

WHAT IS VITAMIN B





Vitamin B isn't just a single vitamin but a group of water-soluble vitamins that play important roles in cell metabolism. Research showed that while they are chemically distinct, B vitamins often coexist in the same foods.

Vitamin B was once thought to be a single nutrient that existed in extracts of rice, liver, or yeast, but researchers later discovered that these extracts contained 8 separate vitamins and as a group are now referred to as vitamin B complex. These were then given distinguishing numbers.


The B vitamins are:

B1 (thiamine)
B2 (riboflavin)
B3 (niacin)
B5 (pantothenic acid)
B6
B7 (biotin)
B12
Folic acid


Each member of the B-complex has a unique structure and performs unique functions in the human body. Vitamins B1, B2, B3, and biotin participate in different aspects of energy production, vitamin B6 is essential for amino acid metabolism, and vitamin B12 and folic acid facilitate steps required for cell division and also help form red blood cells. . Each of these vitamins has many additional functions. However, contrary to popular belief, no functions require all B-complex vitamins simultaneously.

Thiamine (vitamin B1), pantothenic acid (vitamin B5), and other B vitamins have all been shown to play a role in wound healing. For this reason, some healthcare practitioners recommend a high-potency B vitamin supplement to promote wound healing.

Foods rich in B vitamins

B vitamins are particularly concentrated in meat, fish and dairy such as turkey, liver and tuna. Good sources for B vitamins include kombucha, whole grains, potatoes, bananas, lentils, chili peppers, tempeh, beans, nutritional yeast, brewer's yeast (yummy marmite) , and molasses.

Although the yeast used to make beer results in beers being a source of B vitamins, their bio-availability ranges from poor to negative as drinking ethanol inhibits absorption of thiamine (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), biotin (B7), and folic acid (B9). Nowadays,  Many cereals and some breads have added B vitamins.

The B12 vitamin is of note because it is not available from plant products. This makes B12 deficiency a legitimate concern for vegans.

Vitamin B deficiency

Vitamin B12 deficiency or hypocobalaminemia is a low blood level of vitamin B12. It can cause permanent damage to nervous tissue if left untreated long enough. Vitamin B12 itself was discovered through investigation of pernicious anemia, which is an autoimmune disease that destroys parietal cells in the stomach that secrete intrinsic factor. Pernicious anemia, if left untreated, is usually fatal within three years. Once identified, however, the condition can be treated successfully, although it cannot be cured and ongoing treatment is required.

For related articles click onto:

WHAT IS A PARTERRE?




Put simply, a parterre is a formal garden constructed on a level surface consisting of multiple planting beds. They are usually edged in stone or tightly clipped hedging with gravel paths arranged to form a pleasing, and usually symmetrical pattern.

The compartments within the hedge or path are either open and in-filled with sand or closed and planted with flowers or herbs. Their design is such that their best effect is only really appreciated when seen from above.

French parterres originated in 15th-century. They were then developed - but not invented - in France by Claude Mollet,a member of the Mollet dynasty of French garden designers in the seventeenth century, and  first gardener to the French kings Henri IV, Louis XIII and the young Louis XIV.

However, Mollet is believed to have been the first introduce as an edging to his parterre patterns.

He likened them to 'un tapis de Turquie' - a Turkish carpet.

Mollets new designs didn't meet with everyone's approval as his new clipped box hedges met with resistance from certain garden patrons for its 'naughtie smell' - as the herbalist Gervase Markham described it.

Mollets inspiration in developing the 16th-century patterned compartments was the painter Etienne du Pérac, who returned from Italy to the château of Anet, where he and Mollet were working.

About 1595 Mollet introduced compartment-patterned parterres to royal gardens at Saint-Germain-en-Laye and Fontainebleau.

But the fully developed scrolling embroidery-like parterres en broderie' appear for the first time in Alexandre Francini’s engraved views of the revised planting plans at Fontainebleau and Saint-Germain-en-Laye in 1614.

Although they can still been seen today, their popularity reached a climax at Versailles from where they spread across to the Royal palaces of Europe such as Kensington Palace, England. Contrary to modern depictions of parterres, they do not require flowers to be displayed within them.

For related articles click onto:

HOW TO PRUNE AN APPLE TREE




The main reason why apple trees are pruned is to help form your desired tree shape in its early years. As your apple tree ages, pruning is used to maintain the trees open habit and to the balance between growth and fruiting.

Apple trees should be pruned annually when young, to form and maintain the trees shape. They should also be pruned to remove badly placed shoots before they grow into branches.

Winter pruning directs energy to the growth buds at the expense of fruit-forming buds, and should be kept to a minimum in the early years in order to regulate growth without delaying cropping unduly.

Early fruiting can be encouraged by bending outwards, and tying down shoots in order to open up the tree. This is because horizontal or pendulous branches produce more fruit buds.

Generally, pruning to encourage growth of apple trees is carried out in frost-free weather during the winter - between leaf-fall and bud-burst.

Summer pruning is confined to apple trees grown in a restricted form such as step, espalier or cordon. It is less stimulating to further growth and also removes unwanted shoots.

All cuts should be made cleanly and just above the selected bud in order to aid healing. Cut young shoots just above a growth bud facing in the direction in which growth is required. Large and unwanted branches should be cut out flush to the trunk. Small cuts usually heal easily, but large cuts should be pared with a knife and painted with a suitable wound healer.

Growth buds - which predominate on young trees - can be recognised as being pointed and closely pressed against the shoot. Unless they are at or near the ends of the growths of the previous year, or a pruning cut is made above them, they tend to stay dormant.

Notching, by removing a small wedge of bark and wood just above a bud can cause an otherwise dormant bud to grow. On the other hand, growth can be retarded by bud-nicking, which consists of making a deep incision just below a bud.

Growth buds may change into fruit buds during the following summer or die out in time. Fruit buds on the shoots increase as trees mature. they are often rounded and usually stand away from the shoot.    In the following season, leaves and flowers are produced and short stems form which become spurs. Certain apple varieties produce growths with fruit buds at their tips, for  example 'Tydemans Early, and 'Worcester Pearmain'. These varieties are known as tip bearing, and growth is erratic unless the buds are removed. Pruning cuts made above fruit buds often result in unsatisfactory growth, but this treatment should be caries out on weak growing trees..

Annual apple tree pruning involves the shortening of lateral and leading shoots. A leader is the shoot at the end of each branch. If the tree is growing strongly - 18 inches of more growth in the previous year - the leading shoots require no pruning, this is because up-right leaders make more growth than horizontal ones. If a leading shoot is badly placed and not continuing the general line of of the branch, it should be cut out in favour of a better placed lateral.

The best laterals or side shoots on young trees will later form the main branches. if left unpruned, fruit buds often form along part of the laterals, while pruning induces further growth.

Dead and diseased shoots and branches should be removed as soon as they are noticed. As should all crossing and congested stems in order to allow light in to all parts of the tree.

As mature trees make annual growth, the number of fruit buds increases. Some of these may need to be reduced or you will receive a heavy crop of only small fruit. As apple trees grow larger, less attention may be given to leaders and laterals , and pruning can be confined to the removal of complete branches in November. Pruning should always be done before a winter wash is applied.

For related articles click onto:
Bomarea caldasii

WHEN TO PRUNE WISTERIA?




Wisteria are a genus of flowering plants from the pea family - yes, the 'pea' family -  that includes ten species of woody climbing vines native to the Eastern United States and then further afield to China, Korea, and Japan. Some species are popular ornamental plants, especially in England, China and Japan.

The English botanist Thomas Nuttall who discovered the wisteria for the Western world named the genus in memory of Dr. Caspar Wistar (1761–1818)

Wisteria are one of the most floriferous and coveted of all climbers. And because they are normally purchased as grafted stock they are also one of the most expensive. With that in mind you will want to get the most out of yours and if you get the pruning right your wisteria will flower its heart out.

However, when it comes to pruning, wisteria is unlike other plants. Why? Because wisteria will need pruning twice a year. Once in July or August, and then again in January or February.

Summer pruning 

Cut back the whippy green shoots of the current year’s growth to five or six leaves after flowering in July or August.

This controls the size of the wisteria, preventing it getting into guttering and windows, and encourages it to form flower buds rather than green growth.

Winter pruning 

Cut back the same growths to two or three buds in January or February  when the plant is dormant and leafless.

This tidies it up before the growing season starts and ensure the flowers will not be obscured by leaves.

For related articles click onto:
HOW TO GROW THE SNAIL VINE FROM SEED

HOW TO PRUNE HYDRANGEA




It is easy to become confused about how to prune hydrangeas, and there are a number of reasons for this. First is down to their dead-looking appearance in winter - just where do your start? Second, is a hydrangeas failure to bloom in summer - should you have pruned it last year? And third is because it is a shrub that absolutely thrives on being correctly pruned. In fact you can go as far and say that - get your pruning technique right - you can improve the vigour of most hydrangeas and increase the size of its flowers.

The trouble is that if they are happy where they are and performing well, hydrangeas can live a long, floriferous life without ever feeling the cold blade of a pair of secateurs. Get it wrong though, and you can end up with a year without flowers.

Pruning Hydrangeas

Most pruning on Hydrangeas is carried out in late winter or early spring. However, the climbing hydrangea - Hydrangea petiolaris, is pruned after flowering in summer.

Simple dead-heading

Removing the dead blooms on mophead hydrangeas can, in mild areas, be undertaken just after flowering, but it is best to leave them on the plant over winter to provide some frost protection for the tender growth buds below.

Ideally, remove the dead flower heads in early spring, cutting back to the first strong, healthy pair of buds lower down the stem

Lacecap varieties are hardier, and the old flower heads can be cut back after flowering to the second pair of leaves below the head in order to prevent seed developing. If the seeds develop they will saps energy from the plant which will reduce its ability to provide a decent display of flowers the following year

Pruning established mopheads and lacecaps

Cut out one or two of the oldest stems at the base to encourage the production of new, replacement growth that will produce a better display of flowers.

In fact, you my be surprised to know that poor or neglected plants can be entirely renovated by cutting off all the stems at the base.

However, this will remove all the flowers for that summer, and the new stems will not bloom until the following year.

Be that as it may, this is normally a fair price to pay.

Pruning climbing hydrangeas

Climbing hydrangeas should have any over long shoots cut back immediately after flowering.

Most of their flowers will be produced towards the top of the plant, so try to leave as much of this wood 'un-pruned' as possible.

Established plants will tolerate hard pruning in spring, but avoid extensively cutting back all in one go as this is likely to reduce flowering for the next couple of summers.

To prevent flower loss, stagger drastic pruning over three or four years, reducing the size of the plant gradually.

Pruning other hydrangea species

Hydrangea serrata can be pruned in the same way as mophead and lacecap hydrangeas

Hydrangea paniculata and H. arborescens are treated differently. Although the only essential work is to remove dead wood in spring, these species hydrangeas will flower more prolifically when hard pruned.

Each spring, cut back last year’s stems to the lowest pair of healthy buds, creating a low framework of branches.

This usually results in a pruned framework of no more than 10 inches high but, if more height is required, cut to about 2 ft tall instead.

Most other hydrangea species, including H. aspera, H. quercifolia, H. sargentiana and H. villosa, need only minimal pruning in spring to remove dead and over-long stems.

For related articles click onto:

THE TASMANIAN TIGER



The Thylacine - more commonly known as the Tasmanian Tiger is a large carnivorous marsupial, now believed to be extinct. At one time the Thylacine was widespread over continental Australia, extending north to New Guinea and south to Tasmania. In recent times it was confined to Tasmania where its presence has not been established conclusively for more than seventy years. In Tasmania, the species was best known from the north and east coast and midland plains region rather than from the mountains of the south-west.

It was the last living member of its family, Thylacinidae;. However, specimens of other members of the family have been found in the fossil record. It was the only member of the family Thylacinidae to survive into modern times.

What did the Tasmanian tiger look like?

Descriptions of the Tasmanian tiger vary as evidence is restricted to preserved joey specimens, fossil records, skins and skeletal remains, black and white photographs and film of the animal in captivity, and accounts from the field.

The Thylacine was sandy yellowish-brown to grey in colour.

 Many European settlers drew direct comparisons with the hyena, because of its unusual stance and general demeanour. Its yellow-brown coat featured 13 to 21 distinctive dark stripes across its back, rump and the base of its tail, which earned the animal the nickname, - Tiger!

Although the large head was dog or wolf-like, the tail was short and stiff and the legs were relatively short. Its body hair was dense, short and soft, to 15mm in length.

It had short ears (about 80 mm long) that were erect, rounded and covered with short fur. Jaws were large and powerful and there were 46 teeth. Adult male Thylacine were larger on average than females.

The female Thylacine had a back-opening pouch. The litter size was up to four and the young were dependent on the mother until at least half-grown. Interestingly, males also had a back-opening, partial pouch.

 There was slight sexual dimorphism with the males being larger than females on average.

The thylacine's footprint is easy to distinguish from those of native and introduced species. Unlike foxes, cats, dogs, wombats or Tasmanian devils, thylacines had a very large rear pad and four obvious front pads, arranged in almost a straight line. The hind feet were similar to the forefeet but had four digits rather than five. Their claws were non-retractable.

The thylacine was noted as having a stiff and somewhat awkward gait, making it unable to run at high speed. It could also perform a bipedal hop, in a fashion similar to a kangaroo. This was demonstrated at various times by captive specimens. Furthermore, the thylacine was also able to balance on its hind legs and stand upright for brief periods.

Observers of the animal in the wild and in captivity noted that it would growl and hiss when agitated, often accompanied by a threat-yawn. During hunting it would emit a series of rapidly repeated guttural cough-like barks which were described as "yip-yap", "cay-yip" or "hop-hop-hop", probably for communication between the family pack members. It also had a long whining cry, probably for identification at distance, and a low snuffling noise used for communication between family members.

The early scientific studies suggested the thylacine possessed an acute sense of smell which enabled it to track prey, but scientific analysis of its brain structure has revealed that its olfactory bulbs were not well developed. It is likely to have relied on sight and sound when hunting instead. Some observers described it having a strong and distinctive smell, others described a faint, clean, animal odour, and some no odour at all. It is possible that the thylacine, like its relative, the Tasmanian devil, gave off an odour when agitated.

What did the Tasmanian tiger eat?

The Thylacine was mainly nocturnal or semi-nocturnal but was also out during the day. The Thylacine hunted singly or in pairs and mainly at night.

Thylacines preferred kangaroos and other marsupials, small rodents and birds. They were reported to have preyed on sheep and poultry after European colonisation, although the extent of this was almost certainly exaggerated. For example, a famous photo is now known to have been staged using a taxidermied Thylacine specimen with a dead chicken placed in its mouth.

Why did it become extinct?

Although the precise reasons for extinction of the Thylacine from mainland Australia are not known it appears to have declined as a result of competition with the Dingo and perhaps hunting pressure from humans. The Thylacine became extinct on the Australian mainland not less than 2000 years ago. Its decline and extinction in Tasmania was probably hastened by the introduction of dogs, but appears mainly due to direct human persecution as an alleged pest.

Furthermore, it has been suggested that in the early part of the Twentieth Century an extremely virulent disease began to spread first through the wild then captive populations. Exactly what this disease was remains unknown but it was described as being similar to but distinct from canine distemper.

Another theory points to the fact that, by the time the Thylacine was confined to the island of Tasmania, the remaining specimens did not have sufficient genetic diversity to sustain the population.

A similar problem is currently affecting the Tasmanian devil, resulting in the spread of the fatal DFTD, or Devil Facial Tumour Disease.

Click here for related articles:
WHAT DO CHEETAHS EAT
WHAT DO MOUNTAIN LIONS EAT?

THE TRUMPET VINE



The exotic Campsis - more commonly known as the trumpet vine or trumpet creeper, is a genus of two species of deciduous climbing shrubs. One of which is hardy while the other is not reliably so. They are both vigorous with a somewhat vertical habit and are usually grown on walls where there are helpfully self-clinging - of course, you will need to supply some suitable apparatus for them to cling onto.

Campsis grandiflora

Campsis grandiflora
Campsis grandiflora is a native to the woodlands of China, and given a warm, protected aspect can reach a height of up to 30 ft.

It has mid-green, pinnate leaves and is the least hardy of the two species.

It produces 3 inch long trumpet-shaped flowers - hence the name - coloured deep orange to red.

These flowers are borne in August and September.

Campsis radicans 

Campsis radicans
Campsis radicans is a native to the woodlands of the south eastern United States.

It is the hardier of the two species, and can grow to a very impressive 40 ft in height.

Slightly different to its grandiflora cousin, campsis radicans produces a significant number of aerial roots.

It has light-green pinnate leaves, and  scarlet/orange trumpet shaped flowers.

These flowers slightly differ to Campsis grandiflora as they are more tubular and less wide at the mouth.

Campsis × tagliabuana 'Madame Galen'

 Campsis × tagliabuana 'Madame Galen'
However, an excellent and hardy hybrid between the two species exists that dates back to mid-19th century called Campsis × tagliabuana 'Madame Galen'. In cooler temperate regions this hybrid will require the shelter of a sunny wall to produce its spectacular flowers in abundance.

Madame Galen produces trumpet-shaped, orange to red flowers up to 3 in long that appear in loose clusters of 6 to 12. Like its parents, it is a woody, clinging, perennial vine that attaches itself to structures and climbs vigorously with aerial roots.

It bears dark-green deciduous leaves up to a foot long. Its flowers are very attractive to bees, butterflies and birds.  It is such a good plant that it has gained the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit.

For related articles click onto
HOW TO GROW THE VIRGINIA CREEPER

IS A MEERKAT A CAT?




The meerkat - Suricata suricatta, otherwise known as a suricate is a small mammal belonging to the mongoose family.

However the domestic cat -  Felis catus or Felis silvestris catus is a small usually furry, domesticated and carnivorous mammal. It is often called a house cat when kept as an indoor pet, or simply the cat when there is no need to distinguish it from other felids and felines.

Cats are valued by humans for companionship and their ability to hunt vermin and household pests. Of course this behaviour is unlike a meerkat, which is not related to a true cat except in that they are both mammals - like us. And humans aren't cats either, no matter how much surgery you can afford! And yes, I am looking straight at you Dennis Avner.

So, what is a meerkat

Meerkats are small burrowing mammals that belonging to the mongoose family. They live in the southern countries of Africa which is dominated by the Kalahari desert. The Kalahari has little rainfall and an arid climate with open plains. It is so large that it spreads over  South Africa, Namibia, Angola, Botswana, and Zimbabwe. Covering over one million square miles it is 10 times the size of Great Britain!

This land is covered by a porous or soft sand that in many places is found to be bright orange in colour. Meerkats like the soft sand when digging for food as it reduces the amount of energy they need to expel.

Conversely, they prefer compact sand to build their burrows with, which would collapse in softer sands.


Meerkats live in large underground networks with multiple entrances which they leave only during the day.

Meerkat groups utilize several different burrows and move from one to another throughout the day. Each burrow is an extensive tunnel-and-room system that remains cool even under the boiling African sun.

Meerkats are unusual but not unique in their behaviour as they display concern for the welfare of others within their colonies. One or more meerkats will stand sentry while while others are foraging or playing, so that they can warn them of approaching dangers. When a predator is spotted, the sentry meerkat will give a warning bark, and other members of the gang will run and hide in one of the many bolt holes spread across their territory.

The sentry meerkat is the first to reappear from the burrow and search for predators, constantly barking to keep the others underground. If there is no threat then the sentry meerkat will stop signalling and the others will feel safe enough to emerge.

Meer - facts!

1. According to African popular belief, the meerkat is also known as the sun angel, as it protects villages from the moon devil or the werewolf which is believed to attack stray cattle or lone tribesmen.

2. The word 'meerkat' is Dutch for 'lake cat', but the meerkat is not in the cat family, and neither are they attracted to lakes.

3. A group of meerkats is called a "mob", "gang" or "clan".  A meerkat clan often contains about 20 meerkats, but some super-families have 50 or more members.

4. In captivity, meerkats have an average life span of 12–14 years, and about half this in the wild.

5. Meerkats are immune to certain types of venom, including the very strong venom of the scorpions, unlike humans.

Click here for related articles: