Monthly Archives: April 2014

Spring Queens

Tulipa 'Ile de France' with Myosotis - Forget me nots planted on the Circular Steps at Great Dixter, Northiam - © Carol Casselden/GAP Photos

Tulipa ‘Ile de France’ with Myosotis – Forget me nots planted on the Circular Steps at Great Dixter, Northiam – © Carol Casselden/GAP Photos

The tulip reigns supreme in the spring garden. The elegant flowers offer a broad spectrum of colour and form, ranging from fiery oranges and reds, to subtle sugary pinks, creams and whites. Blooms may be fringed, fluted or double, but the traditional single cup-shaped tulips are often top of designers’ lists, their simplicity and beauty offering spectacular displays when planted en masse.

When choosing a site for your tulips, follow Fergus Garrett’s lead. Head gardener at Great Dixter in East Sussex, Fergus has planted a bed of Tulipa ‘Ile de France’ where the early morning sun will backlight their clear red flowers, creating an army of blazing torches above a cool sea of blue forget-me-nots.

Tulips are best planted in the autumn in light, sandy soil, enriched with a top dressing of bone meal. They flower best in full sun or partial shade – a few hours of sun each day to open up the blooms will be fine. Unless your soil is very free draining, the bulbs will need to be lifted after they have flowered and the leaves have died down naturally, but they do not need feeding at this stage. Keep the bulbs in a cool, airy place until they are ready to be planted out again in November.

Click here to view all our images of tulips!

Dividing plants

Step by step root division - © Paul Debois/GAP Photos

Step by step root division – © Paul Debois/GAP Photos

It’s good practice to divide most perennial plants every two to five years. If you spot them looking untidy or they are flowering less than usual, it may be a sign that they need your help. Dividing will give them more vigour and helps to alleviate a host of problems caused when plants become congested. Division has the added benefit of giving you lots of new plants for free. Finding other spaces for them is a great way to give your garden an established look, as a group of three or five of the same variety planted together is extremely impactful visually. Plant divisions as soon as you can and water them well until they are established. Each new plant must be placed in a spot at its original depth, so ensure the shoots are above the surface of the soil.

Dividing Irises. Step 4. Trim the fan of leaves back to 15cm to prevent the young rhizomes from rocking about in the soil in the winter weather. Then cut each leaf to form a mitre, to allow rainwater to fall off - © Mark Winwood/GAP Photos

Dividing Irises. Step 4. Trim the fan of leaves back to 15cm to prevent the young rhizomes from rocking about in the soil in the winter weather. Then cut each leaf to form a mitre, to allow rainwater to fall off – © Mark Winwood/GAP Photos

Alternatively you can pot up your extra plants ready to give them to friends and family. Ensure potted divisions well watered and ideally keep them in a frost-free place while they grow on.

Carol Klein dividing a rudbeckia whilst planting out summer flowering plants into a gap in the border. Achillea 'Fanal' syn. 'The Beacon', Rudbeckia fulgida var. deamii, Iris pseudacorus and Rheum - © Jonathan Buckley/GAP Photos

Carol Klein dividing a rudbeckia whilst planting out summer flowering plants into a gap in the border. Achillea ‘Fanal’ syn. ‘The Beacon’, Rudbeckia fulgida var. deamii, Iris pseudacorus and Rheum – © Jonathan Buckley/GAP Photos

The best time to divide most plants is in early spring, while they are still relatively manageable but the ground is not too hard. Plants will be less stressed by division if they are not in active growth, but if you do need to divide plants in summer ensure you water them regularly. Some spring-flowering perennials put down new roots after they have finished blooming, so summer is actually a good time to divide them.

Step by step root division - © Paul Debois/GAP Photos

Step by step root division – © Paul Debois/GAP Photos

Smaller plants can be dug up with a hand trowel and gently shaken to remove excess soil. Then you can tease them apart by hand. With larger plants it’s easier to dig the plants up with a fork or spade then push two forks into the rootball, back to back, in the centre of the plant. As you lever the forks apart, the plants will be split in two. Larger plants such as hostas may need to be divided again into smaller parts, but ensure each section has five or six shoots. If you ensure any dead leaves and stems are removed, it will be easier to spot the new buds. With plants such as iris that have thick fleshy tubers, you may find it more practical to divide them with a sharp knife or spade. Each piece will need a good growing stem or bud and a sound root system.

Dicentra - Dividing perennials in spring - © Tommy Tonsberg/GAP Photos

Dicentra – Dividing perennials in spring – © Tommy Tonsberg/GAP Photos

To see more diving images in the GAP Gardens collection click here.

Guerrilla Gardening by Pat Tuson

It probably never occurred to the lady tending the nasturtiums in front of the locked gates to a derelict industrial building in Highbury that she was breaking the law. For to garden on land which doesn’t belong to you without the permission of the owner is illegal. It’s difficult to imagine though that anybody would object to the brightening up of their environment.

Lady guerrilla gardener caught in the act, Highbury, London Borough - © Pat Tuson/GAP Photos

Lady guerrilla gardener caught in the act, Highbury, London Borough – © Pat Tuson/GAP Photos

Guerrilla gardening as we know it now isn’t new, in New York the Green Guerrillas, radical gardeners led by Liz Christy, were greening waste land in the early 1970’s whilst hungry, landless people throughout the world have grown food wherever they could, the Diggers  farming on Common land is a ready example of this.

Lavender harvest with Richard Reynolds and guerilla gardeners - Lambeth North, London - © Paul Debois/GAP Photos

Lavender harvest with Richard Reynolds and guerilla gardeners – Lambeth North, London – © Paul Debois/GAP Photos

It became popular in this country around 10 years ago when Richard Reynolds a middle-class lad living in a council flat in South London decided to improve his environment by planting flowers in the area in front of his tower block. With the support of some of the local residents he made illicit forays, usually at night, into the surrounding neighbourhood planting on bits of waste or derelict ground, in tree pits or on roadside verges and traffic islands. Later he started a blog on the subject which brought together other guerrilla gardeners from around the country and indeed the world into a global community.

For lots of frustrated gardeners with no garden of their own and a shortage of allotments to rent guerrilla gardening is a way of getting their hands dirty whilst cheering up their environment.

Variegated ornamental grass with Alyssum planted in a tree pit on the pavement of a residental street in Hackney - © Pat Tuson/GAP Photos

Variegated ornamental grass with Alyssum planted in a tree pit on the pavement of a residental street in Hackney – © Pat Tuson/GAP Photos

A good way to start guerrilla gardening is by planting up a tree pit, the area of soil around the bottom of a street tree, with a little imagination these neglected dog toilets can be turned into something beautiful.

Notice pinned on tree above a tree pit - © Pat Tuson/GAP Photos

Notice pinned on tree above a tree pit – © Pat Tuson/GAP Photos

Some streets are famous for their tree gardens, Ockenden Road in Islington where the beautifully tended tree pits won first prize in the new category of Best Tree Pit in the Islington in Bloom competition making gruella gardening part of the establishment. They even open for the Chelsea Fringe. Its rival Wilberforce Road over the border in Hackney has its own gardening club which takes over the street for a twice yearly plant sale. Everyone loves it and the Police turn up to eat cake not to arrest the organisers.

Wilberforce Road plant sale, an urban street event in the London Borough of Hackney - © Pat Tuson/GAP Photos

Wilberforce Road plant sale, an urban street event in the London Borough of Hackney – © Pat Tuson/GAP Photos

In my part of North London we have Forgotten Corners, neglected areas of public space that are visible from the road, which have been turned into places of beauty by members of Islington Gardeners. These are a great asset to bees and other wildlife and increase the biodiversity of an otherwise barren area. These sites are now quasi guerrilla gardens though as they have the blessings of the local authority that help support their upkeep.

Helianthus annuus - Sunflowers underplanted with runner beans growing in front of a street sign in London Borough of Islington - © Pat Tuson/GAP Photos

Helianthus annuus – Sunflowers underplanted with runner beans growing in front of a street sign in London Borough of Islington – © Pat Tuson/GAP Photos

Perhaps the most effective guerrilla gardeners are the plants themselves growing on walls or in the cracks in pavements, where they flourish and self-seed themselves without regard to property.

Corydalis lutea growing from pavement agaist old, colourful tiled wall, West London - © Pat Tuson/GAP Photos

Corydalis lutea growing from pavement agaist old, colourful tiled wall, West London – © Pat Tuson/GAP Photos

Pat Tuson

Pat Tuson lives in Islington, North London and is a garden and environmental photographer specialising in in photographing plants growing in an urban setting. Her website Greening the City can be viewed at www.pattuson.co.uk

View her collection on GAP Gardens by clicking here.