This Month in the Garden Dec 14/Jan 15

This year the autumn foliage of most of my deciduous trees and shrubs has been very disappointing. My Japanese maples usually put on a fiery autumn display for two or three weeks, but this year the fiery display only lasted for a few days, and then turned brown. However, there is a 30 foot, 10m tall Ginkgo biloba ‘Fastigiata’ (below), whose green leaves have turned a lovely butter yellow.Ginko Biloba Fastigiata Thankfully, this is a male form of Ginkgo, so it does not bear fruit. I remember going to Lieden botanic gardens in Holland where a huge female Ginkgo grew, there, the ground was covered in fallen fruit and they smelled awful.
Many trees and shrubs when grown from seed, will produce either male or female plants, the males will never produce fruit, but then neither will the females unless pollinated by a male. I mention this as I get many questions about hollies that do not berry. The names of cultivated hollies can sometimes be confusing, for instance Ilex ‘Golden King’ is a female and ‘Silver Queen’ is a male. Hollies are to be found in nursery catalogues under the botanical name of lIex and I grow a number in my garden. ‘Golden Flash’ has gold variegated leaves and red berries, but it is very prone to producing green reverting branches. Over thirty years ago I found a prostrate plant in a batch of lIex ‘Golden Van Tol’, this is now only 2.5 feet tall, but 10 feet across, 75cm x 3m. This holly has gold spine free leaves, but it produces very few red berries and is best as ornamental ground cover. Ilex x meserveae ‘Little Rascal’ (below) is a male oddity, which I grow in a container, it is six years old and forms a tight, congested 18 inch, 45cm mound of small green leaves, which turn purple during the winter. Unfortunately, ‘Little Rascal’ being a male holly will never berry. Ilex x meserveae Little RascalThis year the hollies, Cotoneasters and Berberis have produced very few berries and yet the Pyracantha’s are full of berries. In a container on my terrace there is a four foot tall Taxus baccata ‘Standishii’ (below), this has bright yellow foliage and this year it has produced a crop of red berries. ‘Standishii’ is a female yew, which is pollinated by a 60-year-old 18 foot, 5.5m tall upright, male Irish yew growing in a border nearby. I had better point out that yew berries are poisonous, so if you have young children grow a male form.
From late August until the first week in December my leaf, Vac/Blower has proved to be a godsend. I only use the bag attachment when gathering leaves in my front garden, when the bag is full it is emptied into one of my compost bins. My rear garden has large borders, so I take off the bag, then the machine sucks and shreds the leaves before blowing them into the borders. Acer pennsylvanicum is the first to lose its leaves during late August, the leaf gathering goes on until early December when my hybrid American Crataegus x lavalleri ‘Carrierei’ drops its leaves. This hybrid hawthorn looks quite different from our native hawthorn; it has thick, oval, glossy leaves and flowers three weeks later than our native thorn. ‘Carrierei’ also has larger haws, which fall during January, but I have yet to find one seedling beneath this fifty-year-old tree.
This year I grew my runner beans in two fifty litre black tree tubs and one 25-litre tub. I cut the beans down during the first week in November to within 2 inches, 5 cm of the tub compost, then I empted the compost out of two fifty litre tubs beneath my Rhododendrons. The roots of runner beans are tuberous and full of nitrogen so I chopped these up and dug them into the soil. The twenty five-litre tub was lifted into my cold greenhouse where I shall cover it with horticultural fleece, and keep it almost dry until late March, then I shall water it and await to see if it will re-grow. After all, in its native warmer climate runner beans will re-grow from old roots for many years. Taxus Baccata Standishii
Remember to keep your bird feeders topped up and the birdbaths free of ice, after all, birds are just like us, if short of water and food they will die.
My very best wishes for a happy Christmas, a prosperous new year and I do hope to still write about my garden in 2015.
Derek.