This Month in the Garden, April 2013 with Derek Cox

My garden is a haven for birds and in a recent email to my friend in Holland; I listed thirty-two different birds, which had appeared over the previous year. Many appear every day, but there are others which I may only see during their migratory season. I do try to deter the presence of the Magpie, because not only does it take the eggs and the young of other birds, but also during March, as they build their nests, they will pull bendable twigs off my Japanese maples, which often ruins the shape of my younger plants. During 1954, I had a heated greenhouse in which I grew over one thousand species of Cacti and other succulents, which I used to show at the annual show of the Leicestershire branch of the Cactus and Succulent Society.

At one of the shows, I met the late Ron Ginns who invited me over to his house in Desborough. There, Ron not only grew Cacti, but also a very wide range of alpines, which I had to admit I had never seen before. I then joined the Alpine Garden Society and since then, every year I have added to my collection of alpines, native to not only most parts of the temperate world, but also from mountainous warmer climates. Saxifrage’s are high in my list of favorite alpines and during March and April I have around forty in flower in colours ranging from white through to very dark red. Most of those that I grow are evergreen and those with silver encrusted foliage look attractive throughout the year. The majority of alpines grow at high altitudes in well drained, gritty soils, consequently I grow all of mine in very well drained soils in rockeries, gravel screes, or in raised troughs and sinks.

Last years constant wet weather was the cause of moss, not only being a problem in lawns, but moss also started to grow on my gravel screes and into the tight rosettes of Saxifrages and Sempervivums and what a job it is for me to be on a kneeling mat trying to widge moss from amongst the mass of rosettes. I have a lovely twenty-year-old plant of Yucca flaccida ‘Golden Sword’ whose evergreen, sword shaped leaves are gold with a thin green edge. All evergreens will start to lose their older leaves when the new leaves appear, usually the thee-year-old leaves of ‘Golden Sword’ will just dry up, but in recent years the two-year-old leaves have become infected with a leaf spotting fungus, which causes brown spots to appear on the leaf surface. I spray the plant with a systemic fungicide, but still find I have to get out my secateurs and cut out badly infected leaves. I may have mentioned before that I no longer have a vegetable garden, but grow all of my vegetables in black 15, 25 and 50litre tree tubs. As pots and tubs are above normal soil level, there are three main things to think about; first is the compost you are going to use in the container, for most I use half-Multipurpose compost and half John Innes No3 compost. The second is water and in pots, or tubs water is required regularly in full sun, on hot days water twice a day, on rainy days probably only once every other day and during the winter only during dry spells. Plants in containers will require feeding at regular intervals, you can add slow release fertilizer to your potting compost, but even so regular watering will wash the food from out of the compost so that during the growing season I use a liquid feed sometimes at weekly intervals. I had better finish by telling you that in my greenhouse I have already sown Lettuce ‘Little Gem Pearl’, which I shall prick out and plant twenty to a growbag. I also sow spring onions and carrots in pots, which I shall thin out and cover with horticultural fleece to prevent carrot and onion fly from laying their eggs amongst them.