Every week I email a gardening question to the panel of experts at BBC Radio Norfolk’s The Garden Party and then eagerly listen to the programme the following day, scribbling down the gems of information they kindly offer. Sometimes Laila sends a question or two as well. This is a transcript of the advice that The Garden Party experts gave me on this week’s gardening challenge!
Dear garden experts,
We’d like some advice please on what climbing plant or plants we could grow on a trellis (yet to be built) to hide our neighbour’s garage and make our drive more attractive. Something fairly fast growing would be ideal if possible….
It faces west and although the side of our house is opposite, it gets a good deal of light and sunshine in the middle of the day.
To my knowledge, nothing has ever been grown there before so I expect the soil is currently compacted and pretty poor.
(BBC Radio Norfolk’s The garden party is presented by Thordis Fridriksson aka Thunderfairy and Alan Gray from East Ruston Old Vicarage with guests Martin Davy head of all things horticultural at Easton and Otley College and Joe Whitehead from Gardenwise).
Alan: Well, I think first of all you should put up a decent trellis rather than go and buy something at the garden centre – make sure you use pressure treated timber, tanalised against rotting. One plant that I love that will do exactly what Bridget’s asking is Hedera colchica ‘Sulphur Heart’ (Persian ivy) – it’s quite fast growing, has big leaves which are a lovely vibrant green and then brilliant acid yellow in the centre – they are absolutely stunning.
I think you probably want something evergreen and something to hide the garage all year round …and the other thing is because it flowers later in the year, it’s a very good wildlife plant– you’ll always notice butterflies and other pollinators on it and it’s also good for nesting birds …so that’s what I would go for.
Martin: I’d say make the trellis out of roofing batons – you can buy them from DIY stores – not that expensive – then you can knock up trellis to any size you like – and I would go for Clematis armandii which is evergreen – you cannot kill it – and they’re budding up now to flower. They have white flowers or there’s a vatiety with pink flowers called Apple Blossom, both have quite big leaves and again birds like to nest in them…
Alan: …and both these suggestions can be pruned – the clematis can be pruned immediately after it’s flowered which will probably be at the end of May so that it’s got time to make new growth for the following year and the ivy can be pruned in about February before birds start to nest in it.
Thunderfairy: Would there be any merit to something like a honeysuckle?
Alan: There are evergreen honeysuckles but they’re not as dense and I don’t think they’d be good for this particular spot.
Hmmm – food for thought. Now all I’ve got to do is make my choice! At the moment I’m thinking ivy…
If you want a pond in your garden you have 2 choices: Pay someone to install one for you or dig it yourself! For a beginner, the second option might be scary, but it’s not as hard as you might imagine, so let’s get stuck in shall we?
A healthy garden pond makes a wonderful focal point
for your garden and attracts lots of wildlife!
A Healthy Pond Is A Happy Pond
It is possible to make a pond that keeps itself healthy. The right combination of aquatic life and plant life will keep the water cycling and keep algae at bay. But it’s not easy to get right, so installing a pond pump is a good idea. A pump simply pumps water and oxygen into the water to keep it aerated.
Another important consideration is position. So before you dig your pond out, figure out where to put it. Too much direct sunlight may kill the plant life and make the liner brittle, but putting it under a tree may mean you are forever fishing out leaves.
How To Choose A Pond Pump
We already decided we need a pond pump. So what type should we go for? There are lots of options and it can be confusing. Here are some rules of thumb though:
• If you want to keep fish, get a pump with a filter
• Ensure your pump is powerful enough for your pond
Once you have your plan (more on that later) you can calculate the approximate capacity of the pond and select a pump accordingly. Also keep in mind the height of the pump if you have a shallow pond.
Solar powered pumps will save energy and make installation easier but may not be suitable if you plan to have fish since they don’t work so well at night.
Coming Up With A Plan
How you design your pond will depend on what you want it to be. Some people like big water features, but personally I like to attract lots of wild life. Sketch out your pond however you want and don’t start digging until you have settled on a design. Here are some ideas:
• Include shallow areas where animals can drink safely
• Include deep areas for fish and for plants to get established
• Include some stones or a ramp in case hedgehogs fall in
The more complicated you make your designs, the more features you can add and the more variety your pond will likely be able to sustain. But if you are unsure, or don’t have much space, there is nothing wrong with creating a very simple pond.
Once you have your plan you can start digging out the pond. The simplest way to do this is to dig the biggest layer first to a uniform depth (the depth of the shallowest shelf) and then mark out the next layer and dig to the next depth.
Before digging, peel away the turf carefully and save it for later!
Let’s Talk About Pond Liners
The pond liner is what holds the water in the pond. It is a simple sheet of plastic to separate water from soil, but don’t let that fool you, there are options to be considered:
Moulded Liners Or Sheets?
A regular pond liner is just a sheet of PVC, but you can get more robust pre-moulded ones. These are much heavier duty and will generally last longer, but they cost a lot more and limit you to certain shapes. If your budget allows they may be worth the investment though.
If you go with a sheet, there are different materials to consider. My advice is to go with a rubber sheet rather than PVC as PVC can get brittle as it ages. A rubber liner will last longer. It is also worth investing the extra in a UV stabilised liner to protect against sunlight.
How To Install The Liner
• Fish out stones and anything sharp
• Cover soil with a layer of fine sand
• Insert the liner and push into the corners
• Use slabs or stones to secure the liner
Filling It Up
The last step is to fill your pond with water. If you went with a sheet liner, be aware that as the pond fills the liner will tighten, so pull up the sides if necessary and once it is full trim off the sides leaving a border of a few inches.
Finishing It Off
Finally, you can use some of the turf you saved from earlier to place around the border. Eventually this will grow back in and re-enforce the edge of your pond.
If you want to add some plants to your pond you should wait for a couple of weeks first for the water to settle – of course if you are planning to start your build in early spring then getting your timing right will mean that you will be adding those plants at just the right time.
When choosing plants you should consider things like the local climate, how deep your pond is and how much work you want to put in. For example:
• Zebrinus is a pretty grass that can provide cover for small insects, but it can take over your pond so you will have to divide it every year to keep it healthy and in check.
• Cyperus involucratus grows well in shallow water and is a hardy plant that shouldn’t take too much maintenance. Plant it in 2 inches of water and watch it emerge in late May.
• Callitriche verna is an oxygenating plant, it is also a nice cover for tadpoles, so ideal if you want to encourage frogs into the pond. But in a hot climate it may not fare as well.
Two years ago a friend gave me a packet of Horned Melon seeds but as it’s a tropical plant, there was no way we could grow it outside here in the Belgian Ardennes. Consequently, the pack of seeds ended almost forgotten about at the bottom of my seed box. Then this year we constructed a polytunnel and around June time I suddenly remembered the seeds! It was already a bit late to start sowing them and I had no idea whether the seeds would germinate …but I took a chance and gave it a go.
Out of the three seeds that I sowed, only one came up, by which time all the beds were crammed with different sorts of summer veg. So I planted the little seedling in a pot, attached a string to one of the tunnel’s cross bars and placed it up one corner, where it subsequently got a bit overlooked when it came to watering. However, it appears the plant thrived on neglect because a few weeks ago I glanced in its direction and saw to my surprise a strange spiky fruit hanging from the vines.
This fruit is known by many different names: Horned Melon, Kiwano, African Horned Melon, jelly melon, blowfish fruit, melano and its Latin name Cucumis metuliferus. As the names suggest, its origins are in Africa, the Kalahari dessert to be precise, but the plant is also grown in the United States, Australia and New Zealand. The fruits look like an oval melon with horns. It’s ripe when the skin is yellow and the inside is lime green. Mostly used for decoration, it’s also perfectly edible with a cucumber courgette kind of taste when picked green and if allowed to ripen on the vine a combination of banana, melon and cucumber. The ripe flesh is a bit gelatinous and I’ve found out that there is a special method for eating this kind of fruit.
Containing my curiosity proved too big a task for me and, reasoning with myself that the fruit would never get time to ripen on the vine now that the temperatures had dropped, I harvested it… wearing gloves of course. The flesh was still a bit firm but had a lovely lemony, cucumber taste. As it was not fully ripe, the flesh hadn’t had time to get to the jelly stage which meant it was crunchier and fresher tasting.
All in all, the conditions were perfect for my Kiwano plant this summer – lots of sunshine which brought tropical temperatures to the polytunnel. I’ve found out that my infrequent watering was actually just what this plant likes because it needs to dry out between watering. Perfect! The Horned Melon is not really particular about what kind of soil it grows in but apparently tends to prefer a clay or loamy soil.
I am definitely going to give growing Kiwano another try next season but I’ll start sowing a bit earlier to give the fruit the time it needs to ripen on the vine.
Have you grown anything exotic like the Horned Melon this summer?
One of the most versatile flowers to grow in your garden is the Nasturtium for a few simple reasons: Everything is edible, pollinators love them and it attracts black fly and aphids keeping them away from your veggies.
Tropaeolum, common name Nasturtium, was named so because the plant produces an oil similar to watercress (Nasturtium officinale). The flowers come in a raft of colours ranging from creams and yellows to orange to scarlet. They thrive in poor soil and dry conditions so this summer was a good year for Nasturtiums. There are bush varieties and scrambling ones that spread out and can tangle themselves around other plants, so bear that in mind if your space is limited.
Nasturtiums are perfect companion plants for your vegetables for two main reasons – they attract lots of pollinators and can be grown for sacrificial purposes if you have an aphid or black fly problem.
The petals liven up any salad with their bright colours and the leaves add a nice peppery taste. The leaves can also be used to make a lovely garden pesto. This year however I was focusing on their seed pods to make the poor man’s capers. True capers come from the caper plant but the nasturtium seed pods make a delicious substitute that anyone can grow.
Recipe for Nasturtium ‘Poor Man’s’ Capers
This is what you need:
100 g nasturtium seed pods (still firm and green)
15 g salt
200 ml white wine vinegar
A few peppercorns and herbs such as dill or bay leaves
This is how you do it:
Dissolve the salt in 300 ml of water and place the nasturtium seed pods into a bowl and add the salty water. Leave for 24 hours.
Drain the seedpods and dry well. Pack into small sterilised jars with the peppercorns and herbs of your choice. Leave room for 1 cm of vinegar on top.
Cover the pods with the vinegar and seal the jars with vinegar proof lids. Store in a cool, dark place and leave for a few weeks before eating.
Use within a year.