Rose 'Black Baccara'
Rose 'Black Baccara'
If I am being completely honest there is no such thing as a black rose.

However, there are a few cultivated varieties that have taken advantage of the very dark red pigments that roses can produced.

There are a number of different varieties of these so-called black flowering roses - the most popular being 'Black Jade' and 'Black Baccara'.

 How to grow black roses

Black roses should be planted in sandy soil so if you feel that your soil is particularly heavy due to clay then you will need to improve the drainage by adding some horticultural grit or well rotted compost to the soil.

To preserve the deep colouration, plant out of direct sunlight to prevent the flowers from bleaching -  partial shade is preferable. Once planted, water in thoroughly.

During hot weather, black roses should be watered at least three times a week - sometimes more for newly planted stock, but avoid waterlogging the soil as this will only result in root damage which in extreme cases can result in the death of your roses.

Rosa  'Black Jade'
 Rosa 'Black Jade'
Using a good quality, well-rotted farm manure give your black roses a good thick mulch in the autumn, and once again in the spring. This will help to provide the nutrients needed to maintain healthy growth over the spring and summer.

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fugu fish
What are the world's most poisonous fish?

Sharks apart, the majority of fish species that can be a danger to humans are neither particularly aggressive or see humans as a potential meal. However, they can still be dangerous , even deadly, but for an altogether different reason. They are either venomous, and in the majority of cases sting when stepped on or manipulated, or they are are potentially dangerous when eaten - such as the infamous fugu.

That being said, below is a list of potentially deadly fish that you really should be aware of if you intend putting your foot anywhere near the sea - and not just the tropics!

Stingray (family Dasyatidae)

The Stingray
The Stingray
Clearly the clue is in the name. Stingrays inhabit shallow water, especially in the tropics but can be found in temperate regions as well.

The different species have a distinctive ray shape but their colouration often makes them hard to spot unless they are swimming. Stingrays defend themselves by lashing out with whip-like tails equipped with one or two spines.

Because the spines are barbed they can cause serious gashes; besides, they are venomous in about two-thirds of species. The spines are capable of penetrating wet-suits and shoe leather and have been known to cause serious injury, and even to kill people unlucky enough to have been stabbed in the chest (like the famous herpetologist, Steve Irwin).

Stingrays pose a risk mainly to people wading, who often get injured on the leg, as well as to careless fishers and divers who sometimes get lashed by a startled stingray as they swim above it. Prevention involves shuffling feet when wading. Wounds should be washed thoroughly with seawater and the spines removed carefully.

Scorpion fish or Zebrafish (family Scorpaenidae) 

lion fish
Scorpion fish are mostly marine fish that live mainly in the reefs in the Pacific and Indian oceans. The hundreds of species can measure anything between 30 and 90 cm (1-3 feet), are usually reddish in colouration and have long wavy fins and spines.

They inflict an intensely painful sting and include many of the world's most venomous species such as the Lionfish, or Turkey fish, Dragon fish, Scorpion fish, Fire fish, Firefish, Butterfly cod (family Scorpaenidae).

A Lionfish is any of several species of venomous marine fish in the genera Pterois, Parapterois, Brachypterois or Dendrochirus. Most lionfish inhabit the tropical Indo-Pacific region of the world, though some species can be found worldwide. Recently, lionfish have even been spotted in the warmer coral regions of the eastern Atlantic Ocean around the Azores and extending into the Mediterranean Sea, as well as in the Caribbean Sea.

Hands stung by lion fish
Lionfish sting
This introduction could be the result of the destruction of an aquarium in southern Florida, by Hurricane Andrew. Lionfish are coloured differently (red, green, red, navy green, brown, orange, yellow, black, maroon or white) but with a distinctive striped appearance with extremely long and separated spines. Like in the stonefish, the dorsal spines are highly venomous and divers and fishers should avoid any contact with these fish.

Fortunately, lionfish are not aggressive towards humans and prefer to keep their distance, when they are given a choice. Spines are used for defence only when the threatened fish faces its attacker in an upside down posture to expose them. For humans, stings are extremely painful and can cause headaches, vomiting and breathing difficulties; however, they are normally not deadly. Medical treatment is still advised, though, as it is difficult to tell how badly a person will react to the venom. A common treatment consists of soaking the stung area in hot water.

Rabbitfish, or Spinefoot, Chimaera, Siganus fish (family Siganidae, order Perciformes)

Rabbitfish are found predominantly on the reefs and shallow lagoons in the Pacific and Indian oceans, as well as in the eastern Mediterranean.

They are active during the day, some species being solitary, others living in schools. They average about 30 centimetres long (though some measure hardly 10 cm) and have small rabbit-like mouths, large dark eyes, generally bright colours or a complex pattern, and very sharp spines in their fins.

The spines are venomous and can inflict intense pain. These herbivorous fish, though, have a shy temperament (hence their name) and will only use their spines in defence. Their poison is not life-threatening to adult humans, but is likely to cause severe pain.

Weever fish, or Weaverfish (family Trachinidae, order Perciformes)

weever fish
Weever fish
The eight species of weever fish are found mostly in tropical waters, though the lesser weever (responsible for most human stings) has a wide distribution: from the southern North Sea to the Mediterranean; it is especially common around the south coast of the United Kingdom and Ireland, the Atlantic coast of France and Spain, and the northern coast of the Mediterranean.

These fairly slim fish are mainly brownish and measure about 30 cm. All their fins have venomous spines that cause a very painful wound. During the day, weevers bury themselves in sand, usually in shallow waters (especially in the case of the lesser weever), sometimes little more than damp sand, just showing their eyes, and snatch prey (small fish and shrimps) as it comes past.

weever fish lings on foot
Weever fish sting
The vast majority of injuries occur to the foot when victims accidentally step on a buried fish; stings are also commonly located on the hands and buttocks.

Stings are most common in the hours before and after low tide, so one possible precaution is to avoid bathing or paddling at these times. It is also recommended to wear sandals or wetsuit boots with a relatively hard sole (stings can penetrate wetsuit rubber soles), and to avoid sitting or "rolling" in the shallows.

Stings are extremely painful and cause a throbbing pain and swelling in the affected area, sometimes accompanied by a numbness, nausea, joint aches, headaches, abdominal cramps, lightheadedness ad urination and tremors. In rare cases, victims had more severe symptoms, such as abnormal heart rhythms, shortness of breath, weakness, seizures, decreased blood pressure, unconsciousness, and tissue degeneration.

Stonefish (family Synanceia)

Stonefish occur in the tropical waters of the Pacific and Indian oceans. These 30 cm-long (1 foot) fish are extremely well camouflaged as the lie on seabed, trying to ambush shrimps and small fish, looking exactly like an encrusted rock. They can be found from exposed sand and mud in tidal inlets to depths of 40m.

Their cryptic colouration and hunting technique make the Stonefish especially dangerous to humans. Indeed, to protect itself against bottom-feeding sharks and rays, these fish have developed 13 defensive spines along their backs. When stepped on, the pressure on the spines causes the sheath under them to shoot venom from their attached glands deep into the wound (It then takes a few weeks for the glands to regenerate and recharge.) The pain is excruciating and can last for hours. It can be accompanied by temporary paralysis, shock and sometimes even death. To avoid being stung, turn over rocks with caution and mostly wear thick-soled shoes and tread gently - spines may penetrate soles if a stonefish is jumped on.

Catfish (order Siluriformes)

striped ell catfish
Striped eel catfish
Catfish are a diverse group of bony fish. Named for their prominent barbels (though some species don't have any), which resemble a cat's whiskers, catfish range in size from the heaviest, the Mekong giant catfish from Southeast Asia and the longest, the wels catfish of Eurasia, to the tiny candiru (Vandellia cirrhosa) a parasitic species. Catfish species live in inland or coastal waters of every continent except Antarctica, but are particularly common and diverse in tropical South America, and to a lesser degree in Africa and Asia.

Catfish (with the exception of the electric catfish (Malapteruridae), when interfered with, produce three barbed spines which stick out at right angles from the back and side fins and can discharge a potent venom and inflict severe wounds (the whisker-like sense organs around their mouths are harmless). Stings from all these fish are painful and can lead to collapse and even death (especially with the striped eel catfish - Plotosus lineatus) in exceptional circumstances. The venom in the spines remains active for days, so discarded spines and even refrigerated specimens should be treated with caution.

Toadfish (family Batrachoididae, order Batrachoidiformes)

Toadfish are found in the tropical waters off the coasts of South and Central America. Most species are marine, but species in the Thalassophryne family, especially, occur in brackish water and even in freshwater habitats. Toadfish measure between 17.5 and 25 cm (roughly 2/3 foot), have a dull coloration and a large mouth.

Their English and scientific names come from their toad like appearance. They also share with toad an ability to "sing", using their swim bladder as a sound-production device used to attract mates. Toadfish bury themselves in the sand to ambush their prey and may be easily stepped on. They all have very sharp spines on the dorsal fin, and in the subfamily Thalassophryne, these are hollow and connect to venom glands capable of delivering a painful wound to predators, and unwary waders.

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How to grow peonies

The Peony family is comprised of 33 species of hardy herbaceous and shrubby perennials. They are grown for their opulent flowers and attractive foliage and are suitable for growing in herbaceous, mixed or shrub borders. Peonies also make for surprisingly good cut flowers!

The shrubby species are best planted in a position shaded from early morning sun as they can be easily damaged after a night frost.

How to grow peonies
The herbaceous perennials can take several years to become established and do not like any kind of root disturbance.

Left to their own devices, and with their roots left untouched - they can last up to 50 years!

Peony leaves are comprised of several leaflets of irregular size and shape, which may show themselves as lobed or unlobed.

The large showy flowers range from globular to globe-shaped - often opening out flat when fully mature.

The seed pods of many species open up wide in the autumn to reveal glossy, blue/black seeds.

How to grow Peonies

How to grow peonies
You can grow peonies in any moist, but well drained garden soil in sun or half shade. As mentioned before, plant in a position shaded from early morning sun as they can be easily damaged after night frosts.

Before planting, dig the ground at least one spit deep and add a decent amount of well rotted farm manure.

Peony's can be planted between September and March but not during the harsh winter period. Set the crowns of herbaceous perennials no more than 1 inch deep - any deeper and they may fail to flower! The union of stock and scion of peonies should be three inches below the surface.

Hoe bone meal in at a rate of 4 oz per square yard in to the top 4 inches of soil after planting, taking care not to damage the roots.

How to plant peonies
Mulch annually with well rotted manure in April if the soil is light and sandy or chalky. Water freely in dry weather. Avoid disturbing the roots unless absolutely necessary.

Dead head the old flower as they fade and cut down the foliage of the herbaceous perennials in October.

The taller growing peony varieties such as Paeonia lactiflora may need the support of some twiggy sticks in exposed conditions.

TOP TIP. To prevent those flowers being used as cut flowers from dropping their petals, cut the blooms as they begin to open and lay them flat in a cool, dry place indoors for 24 hours. Then trim 1/2 inch from the stems and place deeply in water.

With regards to pruning, none is required save for cutting out any dead wood from shrubby species in March or April.

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The giant Amazon water lily is one of those rare plants that captures the imagination of children and grown ups alike. Famous for having leaves so large and sturdy that you could place a child or even a petite woman upon one without the risk of sinking, the giant Amazon water lily is truly one of the stars of most botanical gardens - so long as they have the facilities to grow one.

The giant Amazon water lily
The giant Amazon water lily
A little known fact about the structure of the underside of the enormous lily pads is that they were the inspiration for the structure of largest Victorian glasshouse in existence - the famous Palm House built by architect Decimus Burton and iron-maker Richard Turner between 1844 and 1848.

The water lily house at Kew is as square glazed structure which encloses a circular pond spanning 36 feet. It was completed in 1852 specifically to showcase the giant Amazon water lily. At this time, the Water lily House was at the time the widest single-span glasshouse in the world. Disappointingly, the giant Amazon water lily but the plant never thrived there.


The giant Amazon water lily with white flower
The giant Amazon water lily
The giant Amazon water lily was originally discovered in Guiana by the Victorian explorer Sir Robert Schomburgk in 1837, although a German called Poeppig had earlier seen and described it while rafting down the Amazon.

This led to a good deal of confusion over naming of this aquatic giant. According to the arcane but rigid rules of botanical nomenclature it should correctly be called Victoria amazonica but throughout the reign of Queen Victoria it was known as Victoria regia (literally Queen Victoria) and only assumed its botanically correct name after the old Queen died and it was safe to change the labels.

Once the first seeds were brought back to England there was a race amongst the landed gentry to be the first to cultivate the plant and present a flower to the Queen, victory going to the Duke of Devonshire whose head gardener at Chatsworth, Joseph Paxton, built a suitably large glasshouse to accommodate the monster plant ... with no expense spared.


The giant Amazon water lily leaf underside
Underside of the giant Amazon water lily
The enormous circular leaves of the giant Amazon water lily, which grow to over 2.5 m across, have upturned rims and are anchored by long stalks arising from an underground stem buried in the mud of the river bottom. The leaves first appear as spiny heads but expand rapidly up to half a square metre per day. The upper surface has a rather quilted appearance and a waxy layer that repels water.

The purplish red under-surface has a network of ribs clad in abundant sharp spines, possibly a defence against herbivorous fishes and manatees. Air trapped in the spaces between the ribs enables the leaves to float. They are so buoyant that they can easily support the weight of a small child, and a mature leaf can support 45 kg if the load is evenly distributed. In a single season, each plant produces some 40 to 50 leaves, which cover the water surface and exclude light, thus restricting the growth of most other plants.

Check out the film clip below to view the time lapse opening of giant water lily at Kew Gardens

For further reading click onto:
Native British Pond Plants


Protected crops in a stunning display
What is Horticulture?

It has been only recently - this morning in fact - that I have had to finally admit that maybe I am some kind of gardening snob. Why? Because after six, struggling years of intensive training in the black art of horticulture, I find that the red mist of lividity (I think that may be a real word) gently slips over my kindly veneer of tolerance whenever I am referred to as a gardener!

Old school gardener
Old school gardener
I have to be honest - and this shouldn't be taken as a slight against the country's hard working and poorly paid army of professional gardeners - but I do not like gardening! I don't like traipsing around in cold wet mud. I don't like the skin peeling off my hands because I forgot to wear gloves - again. I don't like getting stones in my boots. I don't like scrabbling around on my hands and knees to do the weeding and inadvertently put my hands in some cat poop - especially when I don't even own a cat! I don't like being in the wind, and I don't like being in the rain. I don't like septic thorns in my fingers, and I don't like next doors brambles slicing thin lengths of skin from my arms and legs - the list goes on.

It comes down to this simple statement:

'...All gardeners may well consider themselves to be horticulturists, but not all horticulturists are gardeners...'

I of course, consider myself to fit within the latter. I am not saying that I don't garden as it is unavoidable if you want to maintain standards. I am just saying that I don't enjoy it.

So, what is horticulture?

Modern glasshouse production
Modern glasshouse production
You can tell by the name that horticulture is the science, but it is far more than that. Horticulture is also the technology, and business involved in intensive plant cultivation for human use. It is practised from the individual level in a garden, and right up to the activities of a multinational corporation.

Horticulture is so diverse in its activities, incorporating plants for food (fruits, vegetables, mushrooms, culinary herbs) and non-food crops (flowers, trees and shrubs, turf-grass, hops, medicinal herbs) that no single person can ever know it all - although I have met plenty who think they already do.

Horticulture also includes related services in plant conservation, landscape restoration, landscape and garden design/construction/maintenance, horticultural therapy, and much, much more.

Horticulturists apply the knowledge, skills, and technologies used to grow intensively produced plants for human food and non-food uses and for medical personal or social needs. The work of a horticulturist involves plant propagation and cultivation with the aim of improving plant growth, yields, quality, nutritional value, and resistance to insects, diseases, and environmental stresses. We work as gardeners, growers, therapists, designers, and technical advisers in the food and non-food sectors of horticulture.

Micro-propagation laboratory
Micro-propagation laboratory 
Horticultural scientists focus on the research that underpins horticultural knowledge, skills, technologies, education, and commerce. Horticultural science encompasses all of the pure sciences – mathematics, physics, chemistry, geology, and biology – as well as related sciences and technologies that underpin horticulture, such as plant pathology, soil science, entomology, weed science, and many other scientific disciplines. It also includes the social sciences, such as education, commerce, marketing, healthcare and therapies that enhance horticulture's contribution to society.

So in defence of my earlier statement - and with gardening being only a tiny part of the horticultural world, am I really a gardening snob or just a horticulturist at heart?

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Winter dogwood display at Hadlow college
What is dogwood?

Plants from the dogwood family are highly conspicuous over the winter period due to their brightly coloured stems. Different varieties have different stems colours - most noticeable on the new growth, and can be used to great effect in winter and early spring planting schemes when seasonal colour is extremely limited. Of course, there are a number of small, choice, flowering trees

dogwood white blooms
Dogwood blooms
The botanical name for dogwood is Cornus and is a genus of about 30-60 species of woody plants in the family Cornaceae. The genus name 'Cornus' comes from the Latin word for horn, as in the hard horn of an animal, and denote the hardness of its wood.

Dense and fine-grained, dogwood timber is extremely dense and is highly prized for making loom shuttles, tool handles, roller skates and other small items that require a very hard and strong wood.

Although it's denseness makes it tough for woodworking, some artisans favour dogwood for small projects such as walking canes, longbows, mountain dulcimers and fine inlays.

Believe it or not, dogwood twigs were used by early American pioneers to brush their teeth! They would peel off the bark, bite the twig and then scrub their teeth.

Dogwood tree in full bloom
Dogwood tree in full bloom
Most dogwoods are deciduous trees or shrubs, but a few species are nearly herbaceous perennial sub-shrubs, and a few of the woody species are in fact evergreen.

Several species have small heads of inconspicuous flowers surrounded by large, typically white petal-like bracts, while others have more open clusters of petal-bearing flowers.

The various species of dogwood are native throughout much of temperate Eurasia and North America, with China and Japan and the south-eastern United States particularly rich in native species.

Popular and sought after species include the common dogwood Cornus sanguinea of Eurasia, the widely cultivated flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) of eastern North America, the Pacific dogwood Cornus nuttallii of western North America, the Kousa dogwood Cornus kousa of eastern Asia, and two low-growing boreal species, the Canadian and Eurasian dwarf cornels (or bunchberries), Cornus canadensis and Cornus suecica respectively.

Where does the name Dogwood come from?

Dog wood arrow
Dogwood arrow
The name "dog-tree" entered the English vocabulary by 1548, and had been further transformed to 'dogwood' by 1614.

Once the name dogwood was commonplace to this species of tree, it soon acquired a secondary name as the Hound's Tree, while the fruits came to be known as dogberries or houndberries.

Another theory advances the view that "dogwood" was derived from the Old English dagwood, from the use of the slender stems of its very hard wood for making "dags" (daggers, skewers, and arrows).

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Gunnera Manicata

More commonly known as the 'Giant Ornamental Rhubarb', Gunnera manicata is one of those plants that has never been left off of my personal list of favourite ornamental plants. From the moment I saw my first magnificent specimen growing alongside one of the landscaped ponds at Hadlow college, its dinosaur proportions and primeval design had well and truly captured my imagination.

The species name 'manicata' is from the Latin meaning ‘having long sleeves’, presumably a reference to the 'hairy' leaf stalks.

Gunnera Manicata
With leaves large enough to protected a fully grown man from the rain, you won't be surprised to find out that the Gunnera has the largest leaf of any plant that can be grown in northern Europe. And as such, it had a particular place in the heart of Victorian gardeners who planted is it in large numbers within the walls of England's large country estates.

You will often see these majestic plants in great clumps growing down beside a lake or pool. They love waterlogged conditions, but if the soil is not wet enough their huge leaves can dry up and die. The young foliage is also susceptible to frost damage which will cause any new growth to blacken. There is no need to worry as health new grow will subsequently follow

Named after the Norwegian botanist - Johann Ernst Gunnerus, Gunnera manicata is native to the Serra do Mar mountains of south-eastern Brazil and one mature can produce leaves typically 5–6 ft wide. They are also exceptionally long, up to 11 ft, borne on thick, succulent leaf stalks!

The Gunnera produces a massive inflorescence of small, reddish flowers. This flower spike can be up to 8 ft long, and if removed can weigh as much as about 30 lb. The first flower spike will appear with the young leaves in April and develop slowly - changing in colour from red to brown as it progresses. Be aware that pollen is shed in May or June with seeds ripening in October.

How to grow Gunnera manicata

Gunnera Manicata fruiting bodies
The best time to plant a pot grown Gunnera will be during April and May after the worst of the cold weather is over.

They prefer a sunny or lightly shaded position in deep, moist soil - preferably sheltered from damaging summer winds which will tear through the foliage.

Once planted, avoid any disturbance to the root system and protect the crowns over the winter by covering them with their own leaves weighted down with soil.

Draw them aside in the spring and pack them down around the base of the plant to act as a mulch.

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pot lavenders on pallet
When do you plant lavender?

Strictly speaking, if you have purchased a pot grown lavender that has been kicking around your local plant retailer for a decent length of time, then you can plant your cherished shrub at any time of year - so long as the ground isn't so cold you can't dig a hole into it.

pot grown lavender stoechas
So soft and lovely lavender - not hardy!
Unfortunately, life isn't that simple. Why? Because come the spring - when most people want to start getting on in the garden - there is still the very real risk of overnight frosts.

Now, lavender are pretty hardy when planted into free draining soil, and clearly I have just said that - physical barriers aside - they can be planted outside at any time of year. But here lies the problem.

Lavenders are undeniable gorgeous when they are sold to you as a soft, dense and fluffy mound of succulent, bluish-white foliage. They are only a few pounds a pot and given a bit of sun you can sell 'Danish trolleys' full of them over a decent weekend - as I have done so many times in the past.

To get this lovely fluffy look, Mediterranean growers produce pot lavender under the protection of glass, and as such have not been hardened off. So put these plants outside and they are going to receive a nasty, cold shock. Drying winds and frost damage will knock them back severely. Get it completely wrong and you can lose the plant altogether!

You have one of three choices

1. Harden them off for a week or so before you plant your pot lavender into its final position
2. Buy your pot lavender once the threat of frost has past.
3. Buy some of last years stock that has already hardened off. It won't look as pretty, but at least it won't get damaged by late frosts.

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