Climbing Vines In The Garden

Climbing vines are popular for covering walls and pergolas. If you plan to use a climber for this purpose, a few points should be kept in mind:

First, such plants rely on a variety of climbing methods. For the gardener, the main question is, do they need support or not. Ivy i.e. holds itself by developing clinging roots. It is a common myth that they destroy walls directly; unless the plastering is already loose the danger seems to lay more in uncontrolled growth, which may be difficult to clean up after a few years. (Shading provided by a mass of leaves may also prevent walls from drying out, which is certainly not desirable in houses which already has a moisture problem.)

Grapevines use curling tendrils, therefore strong wire may make a convenient support. Clematis tends to develop stems strong enough to support itself after a few years, so choosing some main branches for attachment to the wall or pergola should be sufficient.

Most vines try to reach sunlight with a minimum of effort, which can result in a mass of leaves on top and visible stems further below. Regular pruning helps! It is as well the best recipe to get flowers on flowering vines and helps to avoid the “Wilt” in clematis (a serious problem where within a short time a formerly healthy looking plant suddenly collapses – its caused by a fungus; planting deep and not allowing the branches to move and break in the wind are the best prevention).

Do not underestimate the weight. We have seen some wisteria moving a massive pergola by following the direction of the sunlight during the day!

If you feel you don´t have enough space in your garden for growing climbing vines, remember that clematis is native to forests and used to climb in trees. Climbing roses in old trees can make a wonderful display, too.

climbing vines

In the photograph: A pergola overgrown by clematis and hydrangea

Plant and Grow Japanese Maple Trees

A favorite for small landscape spaces, the Japanese maple (acer palmatum) grows slowly to reach a mature height of between 15 and 25 feet. This variety of maple tree has an indeterminate growth pattern, but can easily be pruned to any desired shape and height. The most popular Japanese maple planted in home landscape is the burgundy-leafed variety, but there are also green and red leafed varieties. Japanese maples will put on a spectacular fall foliage show, producing blazing colors of yellow, orange and scarlet red in the late fall.

Planting Site
Japanese maple trees are hardwood trees that grows best in slightly acidic soil that is moist and well drained.
The planting site should provide the tree with some shade from the hot afternoon sun. On the east side of a tall building or taller tree is the ideal planting location so the maple will have an afternoon reprieve from the direct sun during summertime.
Don’t forget to consider the mature size of Japanese maple when selecting a planting site. The tree can be pruned to fit into even the smallest of landscapes, but remember that type of pruning will be an on-going project.

When to Plant
Spring or fall is the best time to plant a Japanese maple. Planting any type of tree during the heat of summer puts it under too much heat stress and the tree usually will not survive.
Spring planting allows the tree several months to become established in its new home before winter. Fall is the second best planting time. Fall planting allows enough time for the tree to make some root growth progress before the soil freezes in winter.

How to Plant
Dig the planting hole twice the diameter of the root ball and twice as deep as the root ball is tall. The large planting hole will give the roots plenty of soft soil to grow in and become established. When the hole is ready, add a 2 inch layer of peat moss to the bottom of the hole, then add a 6 inch layer of organic matter (compost) to the hole and pack it down firmly. Place tree in the hole to make sure that it’s setting at the same depth as it was in the container. Adjust the amount of organic matter accordingly so the tree is at the proper height before back-fill the planting hole.

Prune the tree only in the winter or early spring by cutting away any dead or diseased limbs, then shape the remaining branches as needed. Tree sap will run freely from the cuts made to the trees during the summer or fall and potentially cause the early demise of the tree.

red japanese maple tree

Red Japanese Maple (Acer Palmatum “Seigen”)

Orange Flowers

I still remember when I first saw and smelled orange trees in the South of France many years ago. There were actually two smells: The scent of the blossoms (which is one of the most marvellous perfumes I know), and, closer to the ground, a fermentation smell. The farmer invited us to erect the tent on his meadow, and this meadow was actually an old orange grove, still full of old orange trees, which threw some overripe fruits from time to time.

I’ve visited several spectacular orange groves since then, and have some trees myself by now. I still get excited when I see a citrus tree somewhere, esp. the forgotten ones, standing in the backyards of old, abandoned houses, still producing fruit after fruit.

Speaking of orange flowers takes me to flowers which are orange, since there appeared a nice comment (from Spain – did I say oranges?) on the orange flower T-shirt:

flower t-shirt review

Shameless pitch: Go and get one, too. It´s good for your wardrobe.

Heirloom Tomato Days

One of the pleasures of this time of year are tomato salads. With thyme or basil and FETA cheese. Gigantic bowls full.
I’m mainly growing “Black Plum” this year, a dark heirloom tomato, which is supposed to have a proper “tomato taste” and should also make fine tomato sauces for pasta dishes. This is sort of an experiment, because it stands under a pruned pine tree, in hope that the lack of rain and dew in this spot may prevent blight. There’s still enough light and direct sun in the morning and afternoon. It’s working so far, no disease problem (usually at the end of August, beginning of September, there’s a tendency here for it to occur; once I lost the complete harvest within a few days).

heirloom tomatoes

“Black Plum” is not an early variety, really, but finally the first fruits are getting ripe:

heirloom tomato black plum

I will concentrate more on heirloom tomatoes in the future. It´s not just about the taste – variety in form, shape and colour is already half the fun.

The Italian beef tomatoes are nice, too. And mighty:

italian beef tomatoes

Update on “Black Plum”: Just tried the first ones (with Mozzarella). This is indeed a tasty tomato. The skin is relatively hard.

Let The Weeds Grow

In some places.

Years ago, when I built the deck pictured below, I had some discussions (or rather, some comments to swallow) on the matter of weeds.

“You must install a weed barrier!”

“Just apply some weed killer! (…Add list of personal favourites…)”

Since I’m not in commercial gardening here, the use of weed killers actually never crossed my mind. I control weeds by manual hoeing. And dense planting (in other words, I simply choose what weeds will dominate).

I did know about weed barrier fabrics. I figured I would not need one. I also did not want one. They do cost money and must be installed properly. On large surfaces this can be tedious enough without heavy machinery. Minor points of course in order to get things done properly.
But what really disturbs me on the whole idea by now is that after a couple of years, when the elements finally get a bite on it (and they do, sooner or later), little stripes of plastic appear everywhere in the garden. Many sheets release a certain odour on hot and sunny days over the first months. If the terrace gets changed or removed in 10 years there’s another pile of rubbish to somehow get rid off (I can see in the surroundings here and everywhere how people all too often handle such waste problems – drop it by the lake, as soon nobody else is around…)

Anyway, I figured the small gaps between the timber would at least long term not allow enough light and water for any plant to really prosper in that hard ground underneath the deck.
That thought was proven right over time. The picture was taken at the peak of weed growth, the maximum jungleness, the ultimate manifestation of non-civilisation. I occasionally pulled the most cheeky creepers. They came back much weaker every time. After a couple of months they had completely disappeared. Too dry, no light. There are better places to spread the seed.
I know auntie Margaret did not approve of it. Once cake, cream and coffee were in front of her, she mostly forgot about it, though.

timber deck with garden furniture

By the way, since I pay attention to weed barriers, I have seen some rather odd results. Decks with underlayment, overgrown by strong-looking weeds. Danger of stumbling. I think in these cases the fabric helped to keep the moisture better, and over time little nests of compost developed. Probably the wrong material was chosen, no idea. I’m not arguing the installation of a weed barrier in every case. But I do know, in my own garden, under my own decks, I don’t have any. And it works.

On another note, the largest deck was built by an experienced master carpenter quite recently. Guess what. No weed fabric used (although we did not even have a conversation about it, he was free to do whatever he found right). I think three leaves of grass made it into the light.

How To Dry Mint Leaves

The mint has found it’s cozy corners in the garden. A few plants placed here and there many years ago have quietly developed into substantial hosts. No need to buy peppermint tea (the one or the other package still finds its way into the cupboard, anyway). I usually only clip the fresh sprouts of the plants, older leaves could be used for sure, but there are less spiders, less sand, and it also seems to keep the mint “bushes” nicely compact.
There are several ways to dry mint leaves; I have tried more than one, and still could not say which is the best. In an oven they tend to get dark and probably lose some of the aroma (I had satisfactory results with it, though). Hanging in bundles under the roof seems natural, convenient and looks nice, but any longer rain period can promote mould. Direct sun has an oven-effect. Also, the leaf texture and stalk-thickness vary a lot. Mentha aquatica for example here has much thinner, smoother leaves than the Spearmint (Mentha spicata). I take that in consideration.
The best results so far I got by “box-curing”. I cut the mint, spread it and let it wilt for a while. Then I lay (or throw) it loosely into a large wooden box in the pantry (a wide carton box works as well). The leaves are still on the stalks. I cover the bottom of the box with some parchment paper, since that’s easier to clean out afterwards (esp. in case of mould).
Everyday or every other day I go with the fingers through that pile and turn it carefully over. This prevents moisture nests and therefore rot and mould.
After a week it’s usually all done. I strip the leaves from the stalks. Since the pantry has a certain healthy humidity, they are dry enough, but not that brittle that they would break. The leaves are then stored in mason jars and seem to stay fresh and aromatic for several years.
Last year I also made a mint extract by simply pouring good rum over a tightly filled jar of mint leaves. I opened it recently, the extract is really strong and now used just spoon-wise.
One of my favourite mint teas is btw. a mixture with Rooibos tea and lemon balm leaves. I let it steep for longer, but remove the Rooibos after about 10 min, so it does not entirely dominate the final aroma.


How To Plant And Grow Lilacs

Lilacs evoke the feelings of grandeur and nostalgia of days gone by, in addition to being pretty, smelling good and are easy to grow. Plant a lilac bush or two in your landscape and enjoy them for years with these planting and growing tips.

When to Plant Lilacs
Start with lilac bushes suited for your climate. Lilacs need at least 25 consecutive days of below freezing temperatures yearly, unless they are a hybrid variety. The hybrid varieties are the best type to plant in warmer climates that typically do not have 25 consecutive days of winter temperatures that reach below freezing. Ask for lilac variety recommendations at your local nursery.
Lilacs can be planted in the spring or fall. The first season’s blooms won’t be much to brag about, but each succeeding year the lilac bush will produce bigger, better and more blooms when properly cared for.

lilac flowers

Where to Plant Lilacs
Plant lilacs in a sunny location in well draining soil. Lilacs need at least six hours of direct sun per day and the bushes will not tolerate soggy soil. Soil can be amended with compost, well-rotted cow manure or other organic material to improve drainage.

pink lilac flower

How to Plant Lilacs
Dig a hole that is twice as wide and twice as deep as the plant’s root system.
If it’s container-grown, spread out the roots as you settle the plant into the ground; if it’s balled or burlapped, gently remove the burlap and any rope before planting. Set the plant 2 or 3 inches deeper than it grew in the nursery, and work topsoil in around the roots. Water in. Then fill in the hole with more topsoil. Add a 2 inch layer of organic mulch around base of the plant, but don’t allow mulch to touch the base of the plant.
When planting multiple lilac bushes, space them 5 to 15 feet apart, depending on the variety.

pink lilac flowers

After Care
Each spring, apply a layer of compost under the plant, followed by fresh layers of organic mulch to retain moisture and control weeds. This fresh application of compost is all the food the lilac bush will need for the year.
Lilacs won’t bloom if they’re over-fertilized. Apply one cup per plant of 10-10-10 balanced fertilizer if you feel the need in late winter, but no more. If lilacs fail to bloom, it typically is due to being over-fertilized.
Water during summer months if rainfall is less than 1 inch per week.
After your lilac bush has finished blooming for the season, trim the bush to shape it and remove suckers.

pink lilac flowers

pink lilacs

lilac flowers