Gardeners’ Blog – May 2018

Peace has returned to the Gardens this month as the tree surgeons have completed the final part of their work. We will now be evaluating new planting opportunities, looking to replant new trees where old specimens have been removed due to ill health or for safety reasons. We never remove trees unless there is valid reason. On top of this, towards the end of the month we will also be planting out all of the summer bedding plants and tender perennials, once the risk of frost has passed. There is also an ongoing battle raging on between the gardening team and weeds, we turn our backs for five minutes and weeds have suddenly appeared and are growing at the rate of knots.

 

 

We also have some prickly customers to deal with this month! We are hoping to plant out the Cacti, along with other succulents, into their summer positions on the terrace. This job involves most of the team as these plants are incredibly heavy, not to mention easy to damage. It’s a job which can be painful, but the overall impact, once they are planted together, is superb.

 

Other ongoing jobs will be pruning early-flowering shrubs, once they have finished flowering. A general rule to invigorate an old shrub is to remove a third of the oldest wood at the base, as this will encourage new growth from the bottom (meaning flowers will be eye level, where they can be appreciated).

 

Butterfly House Opening

In addition to this, during May the indoor team will be busy preparing the Butterfly House for its opening on Saturday 26th May. Buddleja, Lantana, Bougainvillea, Catharanthus and Pentas are just a few nectar plants which will be grown, providing sweet nectar for the butterflies. Sugar water feeders and saucers of fermenting fruit such as bananas, apple and oranges are also a delicious food source for these fantastic, delicate creatures, and will be regularly available for them. Each week, 100 pupae will be delivered from Stratford Butterfly Farm and carefully glued the right way up onto bamboo canes. These pupae contain beautiful tropical butterflies from the Philippines and Central America. If you are lucky, you may see one or two emerge! As usual, the Butterfly House will be open daily until Sunday 2nd September.

 

In the Mediterranean House, the 21 metre floral display will be changed to a stunning, colourful summer display of Canna, Begonia, Nemesia, Petunia, Hibiscus and Heliotrope, which will flower until October. Watering will be a big daily job in the glasshouses and nursery now the weather is warmer, as every plant needs to be checked daily and watered by hand. Not only does this include over a thousand different plants, but also around 4000 summer bedding plants grown on in our nursery, before being planted outside at the end of May.

 

 

May Gardening Tips

If you’re planning to get out in your garden this month, make sure you do the following:

 

  • Make sure that you regularly cut your lawn to encourage new growth
  • Ensure you apply a summer lawn feed that contains plenty of nitrogen to prevent weeds
  • Ventilate greenhouses during the day to avoid overheating
  • Watch out for lily beetles on Fritillary’s and Lilies. Make sure you check your plants regularly and remove the red beetles and their larvae
  • Continue to feed houseplants once every 7 to 10 days
  • Feed daffodils and other spring flowering bulbs with a high potash feed and make sure you leave the foliage to completely die down before removing it
  • Keep on top of your weeding and use a hoe to cut the weeds in warm weather
  • Prune early flowering shrubs by removing a third of the old wood from the base, encouraging new growth

 

Gardeners’ Blog – March 2018

The gardening staff have been on a bit of an adventure of late, exhibiting the National Cyclamen Collection at the RHS Early Spring Show in Westminster and winning gold! It took weeks to prepare for; plants had to be picked over and monitored around the clock, we had to plan out a design for the display and work out the logistics to allow us to attend. The gardens have not exhibited at a major RHS show for over fifteen years, so it has been a real learning curve for many of us.

In addition to this, a number of grasses and herbaceous plants have been divided and repositioned in the grass garden. Some of the clumps of ornamental grasses have become too large and have flopped over with the weight of the foliage, not quite the look we are going for. However, we like to leave the grasses for as long as possible before we cut then back because the seed heads catch the winter frosts beautifully and look stunning for our visitors.

The team have also been making plans for the summer displays on the terrace – a couple of large shrubs have already been removed from around the pavilion to allow for visitors to admire the view. Dahlias will once again be making a welcome return to the terrace, as well as a number of new varieties, which are being purchased currently.

Meanwhile, the indoor team will be busy re-potting the orchids in the Subtropical House Orchid Case. Early spring is a great time to re-pot them as they have finished flowering and new stem growth is about to come through. Once they are taken out of their pots, all the old compost is removed and any dead roots are trimmed off. We then select a big terracotta pot that has enough space for two years growth and cover the plant in orchid compost. This consists of 10 parts medium grade pine bark, 5 parts fine grade pine bark, 1 ½ parts of perlite and ¼ part granulated charcoal. Bark is also used as many orchids are epiphytes; growing on tree branches in the wild for support.

Lastly, Daffodils grown in pots and cold frames over the winter will now be brought into the cool greenhouse. Green garden canes and string will be used to stake the tall flowers to stop them from falling over. These will also be used in the 21m long floral display in the Mediterranean House during March.

Seasonal Tips for March

If you aren’t sure of what needs to be done in your own garden, why not follow our seasonal tips for March below:

  • Give any bulbs that you have in pots a high-potassium feed every 10-14 days to prolong the display, as well helping the bulb replenish it stores for next year.
  • Lift and split herbaceous perennials and ornamental grasses. Not only does it increase your stock, it also allows you to fill up any bare areas in your garden. If you only re-plant the younger growth and discard the old material it will also provide the plants with renewed vigour to grow.
  • Turn your compost heaps. On a cold day this job will warm you up and it will allow the layers of material to mix together, letting in air and helping material to rot. This gives you a much better chance of making high-quality garden compost.
  • Start planting summer flowering bulbs such as Lilles and Gladiolus for a summer display or to use as cut flowers for your house.
  • As Rose buds are fattening up, it’s the perfect time to prune your roses to an outward facing bud.
  • It’s important to clean glasshouses and cold frames ready for the new growing season.
  • Wash plant pots and seed trays to prevent pests and diseases from damaging precious young plants.
  • Sow hardy annuals seeds such as sweet peas (if you didn’t get round to doing it in the autumn) – remember that April will be too late to do this.
  • Start feeding houseplants with a high nitrogen fertiliser every 7 to 14 days to encourage growth.
  • Place Canna, Dahlias and Ginger Lilies in a warm spot in the glasshouse and give them a good water to encourage new growth.

Gardeners’ Blog – February 2018

This month we’re focusing on preparing the grounds for spring, planting new climbers and carrying out some essential pruning in our much-loved gardens.

In February everything starts to come alive, with winter flowering shrubs adding colour and scent around the pathways and countless Hamamelis, Viburnum and Sarcococca springing into life. Visitors may even be lucky enough to see a peppering of snowdrops, having been planted around the gardens over the last few years. Emblematic of spring, these delights are often the first sign of warmer weather ahead. In addition to this, hellebores and winter aconites will be putting on a show under the glowing stems of dogwoods and willows. Evidently, the winter border will be looking at its best, with a variety of flowers and plants brightening it up and welcoming spring to the gardens.

The Alpine house will soon be full of colour too, with many potted bulbs starting to burst through and blooming in bright colours. Crocus, Iris and snowdrops will provide a backdrop for a number of Cyclamen that will be blossoming soon. On the subject of Cyclamen, the Cyclamen society will be having its winter show at the gardens on Sunday 4th February; you can find more information here.

 

Credit: Josh Tranter, Horticulture Apprentice

 

 

 

 

Moving through the gardens, you’ll be able to see that a number of hedges are still being cut and pruned. After a number of years, some of our hedges become large and wild – by reducing their height it allows them to be maintained much more easily. This is not the ideal time of year to be cutting hedges this drastically, but the outside team can spare the time to carry out large tasks like this in winter months.

We are also working on repairing worn grass areas after parts were slightly damaged after the Christmas lighting event. Hopefully, if the weather will allow and we do not get too much rain or snow, we can use fresh topsoil to level the ground in preparation for over seeding and, in some areas, laying new turf. To prevent weed growth we will also be adding our own homebrewed compost, also helping to conserve water and prevent the ground drying out in the summer months.

In the glasshouses, the team will be busy improving the interpretation labels on the educational plants in the Subtropical House. The labels are a great way of teaching visitors about the importance of plants, using fun and interesting facts. Most of our plants are used in the production of many household and commonly used items such as tea, bamboo and cotton.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Moreover, the Mediterranean House will have an extra four different coloured Bougainvillea vines planted in it, creating a rainbow of colour. In addition to the Bougainvillea ‘San Diego Red’, there will be B. ‘Alexandra’ (purple), B. ‘Orange King’, B. ‘Golden Tango’ (golden-yellow) and B. ‘White Cascade’. Although not currently at their best, they will be big, bright and bold come April time.

Become a Member

If you enjoy visiting the gardens, why not become a member today. Members make a vital contribution to the gardens and their support means that our staff can continue their work and keep the gardens growing for years to come.

Not only will you receive free unlimited entry to The Birmingham Botanical Gardens, you also gain free entry to many other celebrated gardens across the UK. Please visit our Membership page to find out more.

Gardeners’ Blog – January 2018

Happy New Year to you all, we are all looking forward to the next twelve months.

Firstly, we have to wait for the removal of the light trail, we hope you all managed to see the display, the Fire Garden was awesome.

When the display is out the gardeners will be aerating grass areas, and turning over trodden on soil in the beds to help alleviate compaction, which is bad news for root growth.  Obviously, this is very weather dependent, too wet or frozen you can cause more harm than good.

Once the compacted soil in the beds has been turned over, our homemade compost will be spread, not so much to add nutrient as to add organic matter.  This will help improve soil structure, hopefully encouraging worms and improve drainage.

Tree ties will be checked for space for the next year’s growth, tree labels will be loosened again to give growing space.  If the tree is thriving any tree stakes will be removed, allowing the tree to form its own anchoring roots and encouraging it to stand by itself.  Tree stakes left supporting trees for too long can stop trees developing correctly, they become dependent on the stakes and never develop basal flare which helps them to sway in the wind, not stand rigid.

All winter protection will be examined and made good if necessary.  The snow of December caused some damage to our conifers, the golden conifer to the rear of the Lawn Aviary has lost two large lower boughs and various other conifers have opened up as the weight of the snow has brought the branches down.  If you are quick and knock the snow off, the branches will sometimes bounce back, no harm done.  But, sometimes the branches stay bent.  Snow on shrub beds can be a good thing though as it can act as an insulator, protecting some plants.

If you come to the Gardens, watch out for flowering shrubs, at this time of the year many are scenting the air, especially on still, sunny days.  Our viburnums, lonicera and hamamelis are all strutting their stuff, luckily many are planted by paths so you can see them easily.

It is also great to see new growth, our snowdrops, early daffodils and winter aconites are showing growth, and it is not too late to cut the leaves off your hellebores before the flowers are hidden by them.

We will also be taking a good look at some of our borders.  The grasses in the Grass Garden need splitting and moving away from the paths and some of the plants in the sub-tropical borders on the Terrace need pruning, decisions need to be made.

So make the most of the fine winter weather and see you around.

Gardeners’ Blog – December 2017

It is that time of year again when it is getting cold and you don’t feel like leaving the house, but you must, the Christmas Lights are spectacular this year.  The ‘Fire Garden’ is a must see, as are the trees that are all lit up, showing the bark off to perfection.

Although the gardens are covered in lights and lots of people are passing through, work still has to continue.

We are still collecting leaves, the new machine is making short work of lifting the piles into the trailer and everyone seems very happy with it, so money well spent!  As the leaves are cut up quite small the compost next year should be wonderful.

We are busy taking our home made compost around the gardens and distributing on the shrub and flower beds, it always shows off the plants to great effect and gives them that important injection of nutrients to see them through the Winter.

We will be checking our winter protection on a regular basis to make sure it is doing what it is supposed to.  Make sure, as we have that your taps are protected.

Our ponds are being cleared of leaves so that pumps don’t get blocked up and the water stays sweet for the aquatic life in there.

We are also busy working out the next stage of the playground refurbishment, one thing we definitely need is more drainage and now is the time to put it in, no point in putting it in too early if you then have to dig it out for the next instalment.

Our tree reports have now been completed and we are asking permission from the Council to carry out the work, you may well see the tree gangs on site.

Gardeners’ Blog – November 2017

November is once again upon us, and our Fabulous Fireworks event is taking place on Saturday, November 4, the colours adding to the already colourful display on the trees.

We have had some high winds across the Gardens, but they have not managed to denude the trees of their leaves yet.  We are busy using our new leaf sucker to get up the huge piles of leaves.  It is a piece of machinery that is worth its weight in gold.  An added benefit is that it cuts the leaves up and so our leaf mould will be produced quite quickly: all of the cut edges make entry points for the bacteria and fungi that aid decomposition.  When you empty the trailer, the strata of leaves packed in there is very interesting – it also holds about four of our old hand-filled trailer lots in one load.  This equals more time to collect leaves and less time running back and forth to the compost bay!

Last year’s leaf mould is now a rich crumbly black and is ready to put into the Winter Border where it will form a perfect foil to the emerging spring bulbs next year. This is obviously not its main attribute: putting much-needed humus and nutrients back into the soil is its primary function.

Tender perennials are once again being lifted and placed in pots of free-draining compost in a cool, dry greenhouse.  The salvias, cannas and bananas from the Grass Garden have really made a good show this year and if we look after them now they will again next year.  We are constantly adding to our collection of salvias hoping to increase interest.

The dahlias have thrived in their new home on the Loudon Terrace, personally, I thought it would be too warm and dry for them, but they have performed well, eventually.  New varieties are being sourced so that we can add more flower types and colours.

Tender plants that cannot be brought in are being covered with hessian and straw, to help them cope with the cold weather.

The second section of the Herbaceous Border is ready to be covered in compost and dug over.  Now the students are back from half term, they will be doing this as part of their practical study, as well as digging over and planting the last of the winter bedding on the Terrace. Only another couple of thousand plants and bulbs to go…!

The plants for the Herbaceous Border are in the nursery and if the weather stays clement they may be planted this side of Christmas.

The Main Lawn has really grown well after having all that loving care and attention lavished on it in September, and it has coped very well with the huge numbers of families using it over the Halloween festivities.  It is now ready for its final cut of the year.

Most of the lawn will be fenced off later in the month to allow the installation of Christmas at the Botanical Gardens. We cannot wait to see the Gardens in a different light – we hope to see you there!

Gardeners’ Blog – October 2017

Welcome to October – the month of glorious colourful leaves.  We will be picking up leaves all month and well into November and beyond.  As always, the leaves will be composted in the Nursery Yard and returned to the soil next autumn/winter.  We have a large pile of leaf litter ready to bring out into the Gardens to help revitalise the beds that have been working so hard over the last growing season.

The vast majority of the bedding has been planted but the bulbs are still waiting to go in.  There will be thousands of tulips on the Terrace, and these will add grace and elegance to the beds in April and May.

The main lawn was scarified, aerated, top dressed, over- seeded and fertilised by a team from ALS who brought in three tractors and 7 tonnes of top dressing to do the job.  It rained just after the work was complete which was ideal as the water was able to penetrate the soil and helped wash the top dressing and fertiliser into the soil.  The peacocks had a great time pecking up the recently sown grass seed. By the middle of October, the grass should be looking very green and lush, all the ravages of the last season put to rest (that is if the peacocks have left any seed).

We will be aerating and over-seeding other areas of the lawns as necessary.  In particular, the Terrace grass will be spiked with a garden fork to allow water and air to get to the grass roots.  This time of the year is perfect for this as the soil will be quite soft – so the fork will penetrate with ease.  Remember if you are doing this yourself, place the fork prongs into the soil and then use your foot to push the fork into the ground.  Don’t try and stab the fork in using your arms and shoulders as this will hurt.

We received delivery of over 600 plants ready for planting in the second section of the Herbaceous Border.  These plants represent the ‘hot end’ of the colour spectrum, the reds, oranges and yellows.  The bed needs final removal of the let over plants, digging and composting, and then replanting, we hope to get Birmingham Metropolitan College horticultural students involved.  The Nursery Yard looks very colourful at the moment with all the plants in flower in the frames.

Towards the end on the month, the dahlias will be lifted as will all the other tender perennials.  Some of these empty blank spaces, in the Grass Garden in particular, will be filled with light installations for Christmas at the Botanical Gardens.  Other tender plants will be wrapped in hessian or covered with straw.

The Cacti bed on the Terrace will be stripped after the Cactus and Succulent Show which is here on the 1st of October.  They will be moved to their winter home in the Butterfly House where they can be kept drier than outside in the Gardens.  The cacti could cope with our cold winter as normal temperature ranges in deserts are from minus 15°C to over 40°C in a single day, but they resent sitting with wet roots.

The indoor team have been busy replacing the interpretation labels for the educational plants in the Tropical House. Next time you walk through, be sure to read interesting facts on plants that we use in everyday life. Plants that we use for food, clothing, shelter, fuel, medicine and social reasons are interpreted. These include, chocolate, panama hat plant, screw pine, rubber, cardamom and peepul tree.

Now that we have passed the autumn equinox, the glasshouse team will reduce watering and stop feeding the plants in the glasshouses. Plant growth will now slow rapidly and with lower temperatures will not need so much food and water.

The Mediterranean House will have its floral display changed this month. The summer display of Begonias, Petunias and Cannas will be swapped for Plectranthus (Coleus), Chrysanthemums and Veltheimia.

Although it is only autumn, the indoor team are already thinking of spring blooms. Daffodils, tulips and Christmas flowering hyacinths will be planted in pots in the nursery this month to provide an early spring display in the Mediterranean House. These will be placed in a cool, dark cold frame outside to encourage a good root system before being brought into a bright and warm greenhouse in December, January and February for an early spring.

Gardeners’ Blog – September 2017

During September, the indoor team will be potting up spring bulbs in the nursery to be used in the Mediterranean House next spring. Hyacinths will be planted in 13cm half pots, 3 bulbs to a pot, each with their noses proud of the compost so that they don’t rot. Daffodils will be planted in 18cm pots, 7 bulbs to a pot. These are planted in two layers: three in the bottom layer and once covered with compost, a second layer of 4 bulbs is added to give a fuller display per pot. Once potted up, the Hyacinths and Narcissus will be placed outside in a north facing, dark covered cold frame until late winter. The cold and dark is needed to initiate good root growth.

The Alpine House is up and running with a changing display of flowering cyclamen.  Look out for Cyclamen hederifolium ‘Stargazer’ it has pure white flowers that are upturned – looking at the stars.

At this time of year, you cannot get a better plant than cyclamen hederifolium.  It is as ‘tough as old boots’, hardy down to minus 25°C, has flowers before its leaves so they show up well and can cope with dry shade under bushes.

Our hedges will continue to be trimmed, early autumn is prefect for trimming yew (taxus baccata).  We will also be finishing the conifer hedges, before it gets too cold.

The second part of the Herbaceous Border is now clear of weeds, and the plants are due for delivery in September.  If they look good we will start planting whilst there is some warmth and moisture in the soil.  Otherwise we will keep them in the nursery, get them growing early spring and plant out later.

We still have some colourful heucheras in the Nursery and they will be planted out as ground cover around the Gardens.  There has been a lot of interest in these ‘coral flowers’ over the last few years and we have selected about eight different cultivars and they are adding interest to many of the shrub beds, see them on the American Bank and in the Grass Garden.  Go and look at the H. ‘Paprika’, H. ‘Citronelle’, and the H. ‘Caramel’ certainly names to make you whet your appetite.

We are still repairing the lawns from our events this summer, topsoil is being spread to fill in the ruts, on the West lawn, and now the grass seed has an excellent chance of success.  Towards the end on the month we will be having contractors on site to de-compact the soil, spread fertiliser and overseed.  This will involve large machinery and the Main Lawn will be out of bounds whilst this work is carried out.  It will only be closed for a couple of days and then the grass sward should recover for next year, and be a perfect backdrop for our many events.

The new play equipment in the Treetops Playground is proving to be very popular. The little houses are perfect for picnicking in, and the cradle swing is very popular with whole groups of children.  We have got a small area of the playground fenced off to allow the newly seeded grass to grow, as soon as it has been cut a couple of times this area will be opened up.

If you saw the hardy geraniums on the Azalea Bank after they had been cut back about six weeks ago, you should see them now! There is plenty of fresh green growth on the plants, helping keep the weeds down and acting as a foil for both the cyclamen and the colchicums that are in full flower.

Towards the end of September, the summer bedding will be replaced with the winter bedding.  We are planting up the summer cacti bed with pansies this year.  We had to stop using pansies as we had a disfiguring fungal disease on them about eight years ago.  The fungal spores should have died out by now and we are planting in gravel so again this should help keep the foliage drier, and problem free.  We are also planting through the bedding with tulips.

Finally, we will be starting to clear up fallen leaves and using our new machine that will help lift the piles of leaves and put them in the trailer. Autumn seems to be starting earlier and earlier, hopefully, there will still be some leaves around on the trees as we are having a tree survey carried out into the health of the tree collection.