How to grow Amelanchier

Commonly known as the 'Juneberry' Serviceberry' or 'Snowy Mespilus', the genus Amelanchier contains approximately 15 species of very beautiful and very hardy small trees or shrubs. They are mostly native to north America, but can also be found in Europe (Amelanchier ovalis) and Asia (Amelanchier asiatica and ovalis).

The number of species is only an approximation as the various species have been difficult to characterize and identify due to their readiness to hybridize and the occurrence of polyploidy and apomixis (asexual seed production).

A good example of this is Amelanchier lamarckii where some within the scientific community believe that it is not a true and distinct species, but is instead a naturally occurring hybrid of A. canadensis x A. laevis or even A. arborea x A. laevis! To throw further doubt into the equation, Amelanchier lamarckii also grows true from seed, a characteristic not generally associated with hybrids.

Amelanchiers thrive in a sunny or partial shaded position in moist, well-drained, lime-free soils. The most lime-tolerant species being Amelanchier ovalis, Amelanchier asiatica, and Amelanchier alnifolia. If you do not have acidic or lime free soil then dig in plenty of ericaceous compost before planting.

In exposed areas it is advised to support newly planted trees with a sturdy stake to prevent wind rock. The stake should be no taller than one-third of the stem or trunk height.

Wind rock is the movement of an unsecured tree or shrub which can damage the root system and lead to water collecting in the ‘socket’ caused by the stem moving at soil level.

Amelanchier do not like to be in soils which are prone to drying out, so newly planted specimens will need to be watered during periods of drought. However excessive water around the roots caused by wind rock can all increase the risk of root death and the incidence of fungal infections.

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Despite its rather unattractive common name, the Giant Hogweed - Heracleum mantegazzianum is a large ornamental flowering plant from the Apiaceae family. This makes it a close relation to both the humble carrot and our similar, yet far smaller native cow parsley - Anthriscus sylvestris.

Native to central Asia and the Caucasus Region, the giant hogweed has become naturalised in many parts of the United kingdom, often found growing alongside footpaths and riverbanks, yet despite its unarguable beauty there is a sinister side to this plant. The sap of the the plant causes phytophotodermatitis in humans which has brought it a significant amount of bad press as well as making it an unwelcome presence in the British countryside.

Giant Hogweed was first introduced into the United Kingdom for use as an ornamental garden plant. In fact the earliest documented evidence which references this has been traced from the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew Seed List of 1817. Under its earlier scientific name of Heracleum giganteum, giant hogweed was listed among seeds supplied to the Kew by the Russian Gorecki Botanic Gardens.

From this point onwards giant hogweed became widely planted in gardens throughout Britain, however they quickly escaped from cultivation with the first naturalised population recorded in Cambridgeshire in 1828.

The problem with giant hogweed is how easily the sap is able to come in contact with the skin. Contact with the sap, particularly when exposed to to sunlight or to ultraviolet rays causes severe skin inflammations including severe blisters, chemical burns and long-lasting scars. If it comes in contact with eyes it can cause temporary or even permanent blindness. There have even been cases where excessive contact with hogweed sap has caused death.

If you suspect that you have been in contact with giant hogweed sap then cover any affect areas to prevent exposure to light and wash any skin that comes in contact with the plant immediately. Any further contact with the plant should be made wearing appropriate protective clothing.

Growing up to 5 metres in height, the giant hogweed is an impressive specimen with very large and sharply divided, dark-green leaves which have characteristic bristles underneath. The hollow green stems can be up to 10 cm in diameter and are blotched with reddish-purple spots. Each spot on the stem surrounds a hair, and there are further large, coarse white hairs which occur at the base of the leaf stalks.

The flowers are white and held in upward-facing, flat-topped clusters, These flower heads can be as large as 60 cm across and can branch branch frequently forming clusters of several flowering heads

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Giant hogweed - Heracleum mantegazzianum, has been a naturalized plant in the United Kingdom since the 19th century when Victorian gardeners first brought it in from its native regions of central Asia the Caucasus region for its ornamental value. Despite looking similar to our native and innocuous cow parsley - Anthriscus sylvestris, the giant hogweed has some fairly serious phototoxic properties and as such is considered to be a noxious weed in this country.

It is the sap of the giant hogweed which is the problem and can come into contact with the skin by merely brushing past the plant. The sap causes phytophotodermatitis which results in skin burns, significant and multiple blisters, and long-lasting scars. These symptoms can also re-appear in subsequent years when the affected skin is exposed to sunlight, even though fresh contact with giant hogweed has not been made. In worst cases, excessive contact with the sap can cause death, and even a small amount of sap in the eyes can cause temporary or permanent blindness. These serious reactions are due to the furocoumarin derivatives that are found within the leaves, roots, stems, flowers, and seeds of the plant.

So what does giant hogweed look like?

While the giant hogweed may look similar to our native cow parsley it is a significantly larger plant growing to approximately 2–5.5 m tall. It has deeply incised, serrated compound leaves which can grow to between 1–3 m in width. The leaves also have bristles on the underside. One of its most identifiable features are its stout, bright green stems which are often marked by dark red spots, usually covered with sharp hairs and will vary from 3–8 cm in diameter, although they have been recorded as being up to 10 cm wide. Each red spot on the stem surrounds a hair, and large coarse white hairs also emerge at the base of the leaf stalks.

The giant hogweeds flowering heads branch frequently, forming clusters of several flowering heads, each one more than 80 cm across. The blooms are upwards facing and mostly white, although pink forms sometimes appear.

Giant hogweed usually forms a rosette of jagged leaves in the first year before sending up a flower spike in the second year before going to seed. However research has shown that the giant hogweed can also have a recognized perennial life cycle as well as the accepted bi-annual cycle.

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How to control box blight

If you have common box growing in your garden, either as hedging or topiary then box blight is something you should both be aware of and know how to identify quickly. Why? Because it is an incredibly destructive and fast acting disease which leaves a significant amount of damage in its wake.

Box blight is the common name given to two fungal species - Cylindrocladium buxicola (syn. Calonectria pseudonaviculata) and Pseudonectria buxi. They thrive on topiaried box and formal box hedging as the regular cutting of box pants encourages very dense, compact growth. This restricts air movement and increases humidity within the plant which favours fungal growth.


Cylindrocladium buxicola spores -
The most obvious symptoms are the appearance of bare, brown patches which are found on the surface and interior of box plants in August and September. However there are earlier signs which can indicate an infection which are chocolate coloured marks appearing on the healthy leaves, followed by the leaves turning grey, then brown before collapsing and rotting.

In wet conditions fungal spores may also be seen on the undersides of infected leaves. White spores indicate an infection of Cylindrocladium buxicola, while pink spores indicate an infection by Pseudonectria buxi.

Cylindrocladium buxicola is the more damaging of the two and can also infects young stems causing black streaks and die-back.

On vigorous specimens it is possible for new growth to regrow but without action the plant will become infected the following year, starting a cycle that will eventually kill the plant.


Both types of fungi require humid, warm conditions to thrive. Pseudonectria buxi enters the plant through open wounds - such as those created when box plants are clipped. Cylindrocladium buxicola is able to infect unwounded plants affecting both woody stems as well as the foliage.

Cultural control of box blight

Box blight -
The best cultural solution is to cut out all affected growth and (along with any fallen leaves) incinerate. Then remove the surface mulch or soil (which harbours overwintering spores) and either burn that too or take to your local recycling depot.

Of course this can seriously affect the shape of hedges and topiary and still may not remove all infected plant material or spores. Be aware that the spores can remain viable on fallen leaf litter for at least 6 years! In an serious outbreak you only option may be to remove and destroy all affected plants.

Reduce the amount of times that box plants are clipped to produce a more open habit as this will help to improve air circulation throughout the plants. Also avoid overhead watering as Cylindrocladium thrives in humid conditions. There isn't mush that you can do about rainfall but whenever watering is required only water at the base.

Chemical control of box blight

Box blight -
Applications of systemic fungicide can be used to control box rust and this is arguably the most effective course of action. For best results you can employ a contractor with a commercial pesticide licence who will apply a commercial fungicide (such as Signum) to your box plants.

If you wish to spray yourself using shop bought produces then consider using Scotts Fungus Clear Ultra, Bayer Fungus Fighter and Bayer Fungus Fighter Plus which can be applied when the new growth appears in the spring.

Always go by the application instructions on the box although there is anecdotal evidence that spraying once a month during the growing season will give effective results. If you are struggling to find these particular products at you local plant retailers then consider using Bayer Garden Multirose Concentrate 2 or Scotts Fungus Clear Ultra. Neither of these fungicides are listed on the packet as being suitable for the control of box blight but they do contain similar active chemicals as the previous products and can still be used to control box blight, although at owner's risk.

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The genus Fuchsia contains approximately 100 species, made up from a variety of shrubs, small trees and climbers. The vast majority are native to central and south America with a few species occurring in Tahiti and New Zealand.

Leonhart Fuchs
The first species discovered was Fuchsia triphylla, found on the Caribbean island of Hispaniola. Incidentally, Hispaniola was home to the first European settlement in the Americas founded by Christopher Columbus.

The precise dates are not known but it is believed that the French Minim monk and botanist, Charles Plumier recorded Fuchsia triphylla during his third expedition to the caribbean between 1696–1697. Plumier named the new genus after the renowned German physician and botanist Leonhart Fuchs.

Despite their subtropical and tropical origins many of the popular species and hybrids have proven themselves to be hardy enough to remain outside in northern European gardens with little or no winter protection.

Of course the less hardy forms will be cut down to the ground by frosts, but in the milder regions of the continent these less hardy specimens will almost always produce new growth from the roots by the summer. If in doubt either lift, pot on and overwinter in a frost free environment or provide the protection of a dry mulch.

Hardy fuchsias

Fuchsia 'Delta's Sarah'
Hardy garden fuchsia varieties will grow in full sun or light shade in almost any well-drained soil which has had some humus rich compost (such as moss peat or leaf-mould) and a little bone meal added prior to planting. Prepare to plant out fuchsias once the threat of late frosts have passed, but only once they have been properly hardened off - this will usually be around May and June. Water regularly while the roots establish themselves, and in particular during dry spells.

In milder regions such as the south-west coast of England and Ireland, hardy fuchsia will form handsome shrubs but in colder regions they will behave as herbaceous plants with the top growth dying back over the winter only to regrow back in the late spring and summer. Specimens which are cut back over the winter should be pruned to ground level at the beginning of November. The roots should then be covered with a deep layer of dry mulch such as coal ashes, bracken or fibrous peat.

Tender fuchsias

Fuchsia 'Autumnale'
Tender fuchsia species and cultivars for greenhouse or conservatory cultivation, or for summer bedding should be grown in 6-9 inch pots containing a good quality soil based compost such as John Innes 'No 3'. If you intend to treat your tender fuchsia as annual bedding then any grade of multipurpose compost will suffice. In March, trim the plants back lightly to create an even shape. Then water once temperature rise beyond 10 degrees Celsius. As new growth emerges from the stems, use this opportunity to take young shoots for cuttings.

Pot the rooted cuttings into 3 inch pots of John Innes 'Seed and Cutting' compost. Then once established, pot on into 5-6 inch pots where they will come into flower. Pinch out both the leading shoots and any lateral shoots several times to encourage bushier plants. Feed at intervals for three weeks.

Pot plants raised for summer bedding will need to be hardened off for a couple of weeks before planting outside from mid June onwards. Keep them moist otherwise the flower buds are at risk or dropping off. After flowering gradually withhold water, and after leaf-fall give no more water until growth restarts in the spring. In October lift and move to a frost free greenhouse.

Re-pot established plants annually in March and provide a weekly liquid fertilizer once a week from June to September.

Pyramid and standard fuchsias

If larger, formal specimens are required then keep the plants growing over the winter at a minimum temperature of 13 degrees Celsius. Pot them on in the following spring and summer until they are into 10 inch pots. Stop the leading shoot at 6 inch intervals and all lateral shoots at every second set of leaves until 6 weeks before flowering is required. In this way, pyramids of flowers 4-5 ft height can be obtained.

Standard fuchsias are formed by letting the main growing trunk grow unimpeded, removing all lateral growth until a trunk of your desired height is obtained. A stouter main tems can be achieved by leaving a number of shortened laterals on the stem until it is established. the leading shoot is then topped out at the required height. For a weeping standard attach the lateral branches to a wire framework.

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Hardy palm trees for growing in cold climates

If you live in a northern European climate, yet dream of palm-lined tropical gardens, then you may be interested to know that there are a number of palm species available that are hardy enough to survive those temperate region, sub-zero winter temperatures.

A couple of species such as Cordyline australis (yes, I am aware that Cordyline australis is not a true palm, but it has palm-effect and its resilience has been thoroughly tested over the years) and Trachycarpus have proven themselves to be as tough as old boots. In fact in the milder regions, such as the south of England, no winter protection is required.

While Jubaea chilensis (the Chilean wine palm), Rhapidophyllum hystrix (the needle palm), Sabal minor (the dwarf palmetto) and Trithrinax campestris (the Caranday palm) are all often cited as being hardy and tolerant to temperatures of down to between −12°C and −15°C they often struggle to recover from cold damage in the colder summers of northern European. They should only be considered growing if their cultural requirements can be adequately met.

Top five hardy palms

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1. The number one, go to palm for northern Europe is the Chusan palm - Trachycarpus fortunei. Native to central China, Burma and northern India it is grown widely in the UK and has received the Award of Garden Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society.

It has large fan-shaped leaves and it both tolerant of clay soils and partial shade. It is a little on the large side for a garden specimen reaching between 12–20 m in height. It is best planted in a sheltered position as the leaves may be damaged by high winds in cold, northerly sites. It can withstands temperatures of -15°C although the greatest recorded cold tolerance for Trachycarpus fortunei is −27.5°C. This was experienced by four specimens in Plovdiv, Bulgaria during a severe cold spell on 6 January 1993. Be aware that young plants are less hardy, and can be damaged by temperature of −8°C or below.

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2. Far more suitable as a garden specimen and almost as winter hardy is the dwarf fan palm - Chamaerops humilis. It too forms fan-shaped leaves and has received the Award of Garden merit from the Royal Horticultural Society, but Chamaerops humilis will grow to a far more manageable 2 metres in height. Native to southern Europe is wind resistant and will tolerate temperatures of -12°C or lower.

It is a shrub-like clumping palm, with several stems growing from a single base. It is suitable for heavier clay soils and partial shade. The variety Chamaerops humilis argentea is indigenous to the Atlas Mountains in Morocco and has attractive silvery-blue leaves.

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3. Commonly known as the Cabbage tree or Cabbage-palm, Cordyline australis is an extremely popular and hardy garden plant which is widely grown throughout the southern counties of Great Britain. Growing up to 20 metres tall in its native habitat, it is more usually seen between 3-10 metres tall in northern Europe.

Native to the islands of New Zealand Cordyline australis has long narrow, sword-shaped leaves on a widely branched, stout truck. Mature specimens can tolerate temperatures down as low as -12°C but will suffer stem and foliage damage. Younger specimens will need to be protected if temperatures are expected to drop below -5°C.

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4. If you are looking for something a little different then consider the Canary Island date palm - Phoenix canariensis. Again this species has been awarded the has received the Award of Garden Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society but is not as hardy as the previous three offerings. Mature specimens can be tolerant of temperatures as low as -8°C, but young specimens should be protected from all but the lightest frost.

As its common name suggests it is native to the Canary Islands found off of the north-west African coast. It is relatively fast-growing feather palm which can be expected to reach between 10–20 m in height, although rare specimens have been reported as tall as 40 m. It will require a sunny, sheltered and well-drained position but will struggle in all but the mildest areas of the UK. In truth it is far better suited to humid subtropical and Mediterranean climates.

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5. The Jelly palm - Butia capitata is the last on the list and one of the hardiest feather palms tolerating temperatures down to about −10°C. It is relatively slow growing with attractive arching green-blue leaves. It can be grown outdoors in well-drained, sheltered gardens. but again only in the mildest regions. It is also suitable for clay soils.

Native to Brazil, it will grow to approximately 7 m tall with a bulbous trunk crowned by large, graceful, blue-green fronds. In the UK it tends to have a lower height of between 4-5 m. The name Jelly Palm relates to the edible fruit. The flesh is fibrous, sweet and reminiscent of apricots and is used to make sweet jellies and jams.

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How to grow camellias from seed

If you are looking to produce your own unique camellia cultivars, or just like the challenge of something new, then growing camellias from seed could be what you are looking for. Just be aware that camelias hybridize easily and so any resulting seedlings are unlikely to grow true to the parents.

Camellia seed pod -
Over a good summer you can expect most camellias produce at least a few seed pods, although this is never guaranteed. These usually become noticeable from the end of July, however you will need to wait until the seed pods are fully ripe before collection. This is indicated by the outer casings splitting open, usually in late October to early November.

Pick off the seed pods as soon as they open, but before the seeds fall out. Each seedpod should contain at least two or three seeds but only use the viable seed which will be about pea-sized. Any mature pods that have not split can be pried open with a knife. Do this over a bag, box or another container to collect the fallen seeds.

If the seeds are dark brown to black then they will be ready for collecting. If they are still white then wait to harvest the remaining pods until a few more crack open. Plant the seeds immediately or store in the refrigerator in an airtight bag until planting time. You do not need to dry out out the seeds before planting.

Camellia seedlings -
Soak the seeds overnight before sowing, then fill 9 cm pots with ericaceous compost and sow one seeds onto the surface of each pots with the eye facing either down or sideways. Camellia seeds require the presence of light to help encourage germination so lightly top the pots with horticultural grit or vermiculite.

Avoid using tap water unless it is naturally or otherwise soft as this will reduce acidity within the compost. Alternatively water with rainwater. Keep moist and place the pots in a cold frame or against a wall in the shade covered with a sheet of glass or perhaps more safely with a sheet of clear perspex.

Seedlings can take between one to several months to germinate but you can expect most of them to emerge in the spring. Camellias are known for their long taproots and so consider pinching these out to promote the growth of fibrous roots. Once the roots have established they can be potted on into 1 litre pots then 3 litre pots before planting outside into their final position.

Be aware that it will take a further six to eight years before they flower.

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Gunnera manicata is one of the most architectural of all garden plants and boasts the largest possible leaf size of any plant that can be grown in the United Kingdom. Perhaps more commonly known as the Giant Ornamental Rhubarb, it is best grown in either full sun or light shade in a deep, moist soil.

How to grow Gunnera manicata from seed

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Before you start, be aware that Gunnera manicata seeds should not be handled with bare hands as the skin oils will interfere with their germination

It is always best to sow seeds as fresh as possible so collecting your own seed with a view to immediate sowing will always be the best practice. Failing that, shop-bought seed should be kept refrigerated in its original packaging until you are ready to sow them.

Sow shop-bought seeds March or April into large modular seed trays containing a good quality soil-based compost such as John Innes 'Seed and Cutting'. Water the compost thoroughly before sowing at a rate of one seed per module. Gunnera manicata seeds will require the presence of light to help initiate germination so only cover with a thin layer of horticultural grit or vermiculite.

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Cover the tray with a sheet of horticultural or otherwise glass, or clear plastic, and keep moist by misting often. Keep at a temperature of between 20 to 25°C and you can expect the seedlings to begin emerging anytime from 15 to 60 days.

Once germinated remove any coverings and do not allow temperatures to drop below 10°C. Leave the seedlings to grow on in their modules for their first year - hence the use of large modules. Provided a diluted rate of a good quality liquid fertiliser during the growing season, and never let the seedlings dry out or become exposed to full or direct sun.

Once they are large enough pot on into 3 inch pots containing John Innes 'No 1 or 2', then eventually 5-6 inch pots while still overwintering in a frost-free environment. The following spring they can be planted out into their final position once the threat of late frosts has passed.

How to propagate Gunnera manicata by division

You can increase stocks of Gunnera manicata using the small crowns that form around the sides and base of older specimens. In late May or April, remove any of the small crowns which have rooted and plant into suitably sized pots containing John Innes 'No2' compost.

Keep the young plants shaded and the roots moist until they have become well established. Now plunge the pots into an ash or peat bed and then treat the same way as seed grown plants over their first winter.

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