Trees do not grow in wriggly tin !

I had a call recently from a customer regarding a tree that did not seem to want to grow, “it just sits there – with its leaves all green but looking bored”.

On my visit a few days later I could see the tree was a couple of years old, planted by the previous owner in a lawn with grass right up to the trunk (not a good start) and the grass, which was rather patchy at best and full of moss, looked  pale and feeble. Further discussion with the client revealed that they had bought the property only six months before and were now looking to develop the garden for fruit and vegetables, some further investigation was needed.

So with spade in hand we dug up the tree carefully, the poor thing had made no progress with new roots to establish itself in the ground, so we dug further.

In an area the size of a normal planting hole (2ft x 2ft) we found 18 bricks some wriggly tin and a layer of compacted clinker, under that a set of footings for what may have been an old ‘outhouse’, by this time the hole had enlarged to 4ft square. The only thing we did not find was any soil of any type for the tree to grow in.

With the best will in the world its not fair to ask a tree to grow in those conditions and I wonder what the original ‘tree planter’ was thinking would happen – or is it just a case of lack of knowledge? Had that person been given the right advice before, would they have done the work to prepare the ground for the tree to prosper.

The remedy for this site came in the form of  large yellow digger and a trailer ,which carted away 15 tons of the old rubble and brickwork,to be replaced by drainage and topsoil. There, in due course we will plant another tree – or two !


Serious Asparagus.

Growing Asparagus –

The asparagus plant is grown as a perennial vegetable in the UK and can yield for 15 years, it is essential to get the planting and  preparation right.

The plant is composed of ferns, crown and a root system.

The crown is a collection of rhizomes and lateral roots that initiate new ferns.

Spears, which are the harvested portion of the asparagus plant, are immature ferns. Thus, if the spear is not harvested, it develops into a large fern, which manufactures and stores energy in the crown for next year’s crop.

Asparagus is a dioecious plant, which means that there are separate male and female plants. Male asparagus plants produce more spears than female plants do which is why they are planted commercially. Female asparagus plants produce numerous bright, red, berrylike fruits with seeds that can become volunteer weeds in the garden or field.

Preparing the asparagus bed is important, attention should be given to choosing the best planting site possible. Like most vegetables, asparagus will not tolerate wet, soggy soil.

Choose a well-drained field, or use raised beds to promote drainage.

Asparagus will perform best on sandy, light-textured soils. The crowns should be planted in the spring as early as the soil in the garden can be worked.

Late March or early April is a good time in most areas, do not be tempted to plant earlier than the weather permits, wait until the soil warms up.

Separate crowns by size and plant similar-sized crowns together; this encourages uniform growth. If crowns cannot be planted immediately, store them in a refrigerator.


Make a 8-inch-deep furrow using a garden hoe or spade, well rotted manure can be spread in the furrow. This is covered with an inch of soil, and the crowns are spaced 12  inches apart in the furrow on a slight ridge , this will put the crown 6 inches below soil level. Beware of shallow planting as this will give you lots of thin spears -plant too deep and you will get very fat spears but not many of them.

Each row should be no less than 3 feet apart and ideally set at 5ft, so the ferns can close the canopy and shade weeds out during the summer. If rows are spaced too close together, spear size may be reduced.

Cover the crowns with about 2 inches of soil, and as the ferns emerge and grow, gradually fill in the furrow through the summer.

Plants that are stressed by drought can become weak and susceptible to insect, disease and weed pressure. Gardeners and growers should be prepared to irrigate new asparagus plantings for the first two or three seasons after establishment. Drought stress after harvest can reduce yields for the following season.

Weed control is the most challenging aspect for successful asparagus production.  Organic mulches such as straw or compost can be applied 4 to 6 inches thick to suppress weeds or growing a green manure in the path can help. Use of a hoe is not recommended for obvious reasons. Salt has long been used as a weed suppressant and some still like this method, however , it can cause long term problems with the soil structure and where rain washes out he salt into surrounding areas.


Selecting a site with good drainage and optimal pH (6.2 -6.8 ) will prevent many asparagus diseases. Crown rot, a potentially devastating disease, can be caused by over harvesting, growing in acidic and waterlogged soils, and excessive pest problems.

Cercospora needle blight is often seen as reddish brown, elliptical lesions on the ferns. These lesions are followed by death of the foliage.


The yield of asparagus spears in the spring is directly related to the previous year’s fern growth. Asparagus can be harvested for a limited time (two weeks) the second year after planting crowns (three years from seed transplants). Over harvesting one year can weaken the plant and decrease yields the following year. Three years after planting the crowns, asparagus can be harvested for five to eight weeks. Each year, during the first several years of production, yields will increase if the planting is managed properly.

Average yields 2.5kg per 100 square feet. (On commercial plantations locally we have achieved 6.5- 8 tonnes per hectare)

Asparagus spears are best harvested by cutting them off with a knife near ground level. Most people prefer to snap the asparagus spears when they reach 7 to 9 inches in length in cool weather (less than 70 degrees F), and the spear tip is tight or 5 to 7 inches in warmer weather (more than 70 degrees). Cutting will break the spear cleanly at a tender point.

To preserve freshness, harvest during the morning or evening. Expect to harvest every one to three days as temperatures increase. Spring freezes will not harm the crowns or subsequent harvests but can damage emerging spears. Thus, emerged spears may be harvested before a predicted freeze.

Asparagus has a short shelf life and may be plunged in cold water after harvest and immediately refrigerated (36 degrees F) to maintain quality.

After harvest, the asparagus planting should be fertilized with composted manure or a compound fertiliser to stimulate summer and autumn fern growth. Frost will desiccate the ferns, and they can then be cut in late autumn or early winter, removing all the old ferns and destroying them will help prevent disease build up. We mulch the crowns to protect them from low-temperature injury. The mulch can be raked to the row middles the following spring (early April), and spears will emerge for another harvest season.

Asparagus contains high levels of vitamin A, folic acid and dietary fibre, it is also rich in soluble fibre, known to have a protective effect against degenerative heart diseases. Asparagus also contains high levels of potassium and a  high folic acid content . Asparagus is also low in fat and sodium.It is also a source of iron.

There are many cultivars to choose from with attributes relating to season and size of spear and colour. Flavours also differ, modern commercial cultivars will yield better and with higher quality than many older choices.


Red Spiders on the Rampage

Hot and dry in the greenhouse ? this creates the favourite living conditions for the Red spider mite ( or more correctly known as the ‘Two Spotted Mite‘ ) which is actually more of a pale colour with two dark spots on its back – they only turn red in colour when the hibernate in late autumn.

A slow moving mite when compared to its predator ” phytosellius” which is a smaller pear shaped mite that is – weirdly -coral red in colour.


The speckling above is one of the first signs and a call to action . At this stage the problem can be cured using predators available by post or with an organic spray such as ‘Plant Invigorator‘ .



When the cobwebs above start to appear you may be too late for a simple remedy and sacrificial pruning may be the only way forward.

These cobwebs will cover the tips of young shoots, often bending the tips downwards and almost ‘dripping’ with mites. Your best answer is to prune out all you can and then start regular sprays with an organic spray to wash the plant clean, if it is in a pot remove the plant to the garden and hose it down – Red spider mites do not like getting wet.

Regular seaweed sprays such as ‘Seasol‘ will also help by strengthening the leaves.

There are no chemicals that work effectively for amateur use.


On this under side shot you can see the tiny mites- just !


The Secret Magnolia

The Magnolia has been a particular favourite tree of mine since I found a M.weiseneri in flower by accident, an intoxicating scent set in a deep 6″ bowl of creamy white with crimson stamens.Upward facing these beauties draw you in like a siren on a beach.

So when a nurseryman friend of mine decided to retire a few years ago I jumped at the offer of his advice to start growing these wonderful trees. I was very lucky, his knowledge, on tap so to speak,spans many years at famous nurseries such as Hilliers and Notcutts. A wealth of experience and a garden full of them !

We acquired propagation licences also from the Jury collection in New Zealand for cultivars like Magnolia ‘Felix Jury’ and Magnolia ‘Black Tulip’. and we also have some fantastic new cultivars in propagation for release in years to come.

Magnolia Black Tulip.

So now we are off, grafting these takes a year or two, so this year we are pleased to be able to offer the first trees from our own production.Lots of varieties are under way but these trees of distinction needed a special mention and a few pictures to tempt you.


Magnolia Felix Jury.


Grafting Fruit Trees-whip & tongue.

Grafting a fruit tree is not a difficult task, all you need is a firm steady hand,and a good sharp knife. Rootstocks are available for most types of tree. Scion wood can come from any tree of the same type as the rootstock. (usually !)
The general principle is to make a joint between the scion and rootstock that allows sap to flow between the two ,forming a union that will support both for their lifetime.
In practice good carpentry skills work better than green fingers, cleanliness is essential.
The picture below shows the items required, note; the knife has only one bevelled side. I have video footage of the process but it does not show the detail a macro lens can.

The ‘scion’ is a ripe piece of wood taken from last years growth, usually found in the top of the tree. It needs to be firm with little or no pith.
A cut needs to be made cleanly through the scion at a long angle to create an open face 30-40mm long (1.1/4 inch).
In this face make a second cut approximately 1/3 rd down and 6mm into the wood. At all times use a slicing motion, make the knife do the work, if you push it, that is where the damage will occur to your finger! The scion can then be trimmed to length – keeping approx 3 buds.
At all times make sure the cuts are flat and straight as this is the start of the bond between the scion and rootstock,gaps will not callous (or heal ) and the tree will fail.

In the above picture of the scion face you can clearly see the pale or white ring just inside the green ring of the bark, this is the cambium layer which you have to line up with the same in the rootstock.

The cut face to the rootstock is created in exactly the same way – but it is made very slightly larger than that of the scion, you need to be able to see an edge, or line, around the scion, this is to allow the ‘callous’ to form over the wound -reaching the scion, which it joins to, without this edge the callous will grow under the scion and throw it off.

Rootstock showing the ‘tongue’

Now that you have the two ‘halves’ of the new tree it is time to join them together, place the scion-face to face-with the rootstock and lever it up slightly, whilst keeping contact pressure on both, this will open up the tongue on the weaker scion allowing you to push the two together and slide them down into position.

Above you can see the thin line around the scion, this is an essential requirement for the union.

One other factor is to make sure there is a ‘church window’ on the back of the graft-see picture- this will give long term stability to the graft as it heals.

All that is left is to tie the scion to the rootstock, we use degradable rubber strips which fall off after 6 months or so. Other possibilities are polythene strips or self sticking tape. A tight joint is needed to hold the scion in place for 6-8 weeks. Waxing the whole with hot melted paraffin wax is our normal procedure to seal it all in, if you do not have this available then use vaseline on the cut surfaces.
Callous will form quite quickly above 10c-15c. and a union should be formed within 4-6 weeks. Leave the tie / rubber in place until late summer unless it restricts the stem.
Protect the graft with a bamboo cane also to prevent accidental breakage.

This last picture show a graft one year later. the joint can still be clearly seen but has healed well,it will become invisible (mostly) after a few years.

I will add the video to this post later this week but I’m not sure if it will help !
Please – if the above descriptions do not work for you – let me know so I can adjust / re write to clarify.