Ask the Head Gardener – March 2021
Each month we give the opportunity to Ask the Gardeners Gardening Questions. These can be gardening in general, or about the Gardens of Killruddery or the Gardeners opinion on parts of the Garden.
This Month our Head Gardener; Daragh Farren takes the questions. The Next Month its Our Farm Shop Nursery Gardener; Glenn Keelan, and so on every second month.
Questions below were asked through Instagram Platform. Any more questions? Pop them in the form below, or watch out for the monthly invitation on Instagram or Facebook.
Qs. Could you give some advice to a first-time climbing rose grower? We planted bare roots in November and they are leafy now.
Daragh: One of the more important things to be aware of with rose growing of any kind is their hunger. Roses are vigorous growers and feeders; this is particularly so with climbing and rambling roses. I would advise a two-pronged approach to feeding, some of which you may hopefully have included when planting. Either way, good quality organic material is massively beneficial to roses. The optimum material is of course farmyard manure of some kind. Ensure it’s well rotted – if not, the acidic nature of the material will, at the very least, have a scorching effect on your plant. I would couple the use of organic matter with a granular, compound fertiliser. What this means is a pelleted type fertiliser, containing a broad mix of major and trace elements. There are numerous options here: organic or non-organic, fast- or slow-release. Any will be helpful, but be very sure not to exceed the recommended rate – it will not help the plant. A fast-release product will mean a quick breakdown of nutrients, and therefore a quick uptake by the plant. You would need to reapply later in the year.
You should also watch for weed growth around the base of the plant – anything newly planted will benefit from your ensuring minimal competition in its first season or two. Also, as your plant grows, watch for a lot of the pests and diseases we associate with roses – though many of the more recent introductions have reasonable resistance to some of these things. The most common pest are aphids (greenfly, blackfly…), while black spot is probably the most likely disease. These can be tackled using applications of a washing-up liquid or a baking soda solution respectively.
Of course, you need to train your climbing rose – it requires a ‘climbing frame’ of sorts, and will need tying in and maybe an occasional bit of nudging in terms of direction. As the branches grow, you will need to secure them to whatever you wish it to grow over. Aim over time to have a network of main branches – remember that when they’re young, they are more easily manipulated into position. Once you have a reasonable amount of growth present, don’t be afraid to remove, fully if necessary, branches that are going in the wrong direction. I would recommend pieces of soft string or coated wire for tying in. Do this as required especially over the plant’s formative years.
Qs. Can you suggest good evergreen trees for a small garden?
Daragh: So many possibilities. My first suggestion would be Luma apicualata. It’s native to Chile and doesn’t tend to get very big at all here. Though hardy, it can suffer a little in drying winds, and may develop the odd scar or two in an especially cold winter. This is a classy plant though, one I have in my own garden – small, glossy, dark green leaves, lots of tiny white flowers, little black berries, and above all, the beautiful orangey/tan-coloured, exceptionally smooth bark. In fact, we have quite a few in Killruddery, and I’ve seen it for sale in the Farm Shop.
Arbutus unedo is a good candidate – ignore the size of the one in Killruddery: it is, for various reasons, entirely atypical of how this tree will usually grow. The Arbutus unedo, or the Killarney Strawberry tree, occurs rather oddly in an area of Portugal and the Southwest of Ireland. Again, one of its finest characteristics is found in the bark – a beautiful, peeling brown – but there are also the strawberry-like fruits that arrive, usually along with white flowers, in autumn. The fruit is edible but not pleasant – birds however will happily avail of them. Often quite a spreading tree, and tolerant of a wide range of conditions.
You could also opt for something quite different– maybe a fastigiate yew or a clipped holly or osmanthus. Here you will get your evergreen tree, but also incorporate a bit of formality and structure – even if formality in your garden isn’t your aim, you could produce a nice contrast by using light, airy material in the immediate vicinity of a clipped specimen – perhaps some ornamental grasses, or tall flowering perennials.
A couple of others that may be worth some further investigation: some of the Ceanothus – more a large shrub, but really spectacular around May, clothed in brilliant blue flowers. Bay – Laurus nobilis might be an option, and you have the culinary uses and berries later on. Various conifers other than yew – I’d like something unusual and a little special like a wollemia – a great story with that one, which I’ll tell next time I do a garden tour.
Qs: Best time of year to take clippings from perennials? How do you propagate rosemary plants?
Daragh: I’m assuming this question relates entirely to propagation. The best method of propagation, or the best time to take cuttings, is very species-dependent. Most perennials are probably best divided, though plenty can also be increased by cuttings. Briefly, division is generally carried out in either autumn or spring, and is often quite straightforward, and will pretty much always (if successful) produce a good-sized, flowering plant very quickly.
However, to propagate perennials by cuttings is, as mentioned, a question of species and timing. The real consideration is the material you will use, and whether it’s present and available in a condition conducive to forming root. It’s perhaps best to give some specific examples of things I’ve done recently.
A week or two ago I took very small stem cuttings from Achillea. These are the very start of the new shoots arising from the base of the clump – just coming out of its winter dormancy. I’ll do some soon from some of the sub shrubby salvias, also using the youngest, newest of shoots, coming from ground level. These are very soft cuttings, full of pent up growth and vigour. Cuttings of suitable material (and species) of this kind usually root quickly, but can be a little delicate prior to that, mostly due to their softness and general condition.
Soon, I’ll pot on some rooted perennial cuttings I took around last July – lots of Sedum spectabile. Those cuttings, soon enough after being taken, would have evidently disappeared – the herbaceous nature of the subject – but have in recent weeks produced buds and broken the surface of the rooting media, just as the plant might behave in the open ground… my rooted sedums are ready for potting.
So, the question of successful propagation methods is very dependent on the subject. More often, with regard to perennials as opposed to woody plants, I would opt for divisions (or maybe seed) rather than cuttings.
As far as rosemary is concerned: I’ve always taken cuttings in mid to late summer – around July or August. These would be considered semi-ripe or ripe cuttings, you’re using this year’s material. Try to select a soft piece of stem with no flower – not always easy with rosemary. If no such material exists, remove the flowers. I take quite short cuttings with rosemary, I suppose no more than 6cm or so. Remove the lower leaves – this must be done very carefully with rosemary in particular – it’s very easy to create tiny tears in the stem tissue that are almost unnoticeable, but will greatly increase the chance of rot. Rotting can be a big problem for cuttings. The cuttings are then inserted in compost or a free-draining media – don’t overcrowd – maybe three cuttings in a small, round 9cm pot. Water or mist, and then cover with plastic (or fit a polythene bag over the pot), leaving in a sheltered area, or a shaded part of a glasshouse of cold frame. Hopefully, rooting will take place over the coming weeks. I would caution against potting too early – don’t be afraid to wait till spring if need be. Also remember a nice well-drained compost when you pot – rosemary will resent too much moisture, especially when young.
Q’s How long does it take to meow the Grass?
Daragh: This depends on time of year, general conditions, and the specific area in question. The type of maintenance regime for a particular area will have a bearing too – we have a range of methods we use in differing areas, for a variety of reasons, all of which have an influence. To date, we’ve done a couple of cuts everywhere now – it could definitely have been started earlier but we wanted to channel our time elsewhere. In an average year, whatever that is, assuming relatively typical heat and rainfall (again, a bit arbitrary), I would expect grass growth and maintenance to peak from May to July. We would then be mowing certain areas twice weekly, others weekly. Often, by early August, we will have seen a noticeable reduction in growth, and quite often a little bit of an increase during September – usually coinciding with an increase in rainfall, and a slight drop in temperature. We probably would have ceased most mowing by November, having spaced out the intervals up to that point.
Q’s Why do you carry walkie-talkies?
Daragh: We are in very frequent contact with one another throughout the day, for numerous reasons – mostly operational, work-related conversations, sometimes regarding issues of safety or other concerns. Although, we tend not to do this via walkie-talkies anymore – they do have some advantages, but we usually use phones.
Q’s What is your favourite part of the Garden?
Daragh: It may depend a little on time of year, but overall I might opt for the Rockwood. There are a lot of plants I really like up there. I would also mention some parts of the car park, which must seem really odd. I am, however, really fond of some of the planting around there, and some of the combinations.
Q’s Which season do you like the most?
Daragh: For me it’s always been spring. So much hope, potential and promise. Growth is fresh and vibrant everywhere, and neither the garden nor I yet showing the wear and tear of a busy season. Summer of course has lots of nice aspects to it, and I’ve come to love autumn very much in recent years. In our job, and in Ireland, you really do get the seasons, and the enjoyment of their differences and the pros and cons of each. It’s something I appreciate and value greatly – I feel everyone should try to have as much awareness as possible of the seasons and their nuances – in terms of plants, wildlife and everything else.
Daragh Farren – March 2021
Do you have questions regarding Killruddery Gardens; its layout, history, plants or trees? If you do please leave them here, with your name or anonymous, as you wish. Alternatively follow us on Instagram where we make a monthly call for Gardening Questions.
[TECHNICAL PROBLEM – THE QUESTION FORM WILL BE ADDED FRIDAY 20 MARCH – Thank you for your patience]