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Hello, welcome to Gardeners' World.
And this weekend the clocks go forward, which for us gardeners
is the best time of the year
because it means that the light has at last caught up
with all our instincts to get out there
and garden for as long as possible.
This week, Carol visits one of the country's finest topiary gardens.
Just look at that - it's spectacular!
Joe gets a dahlia masterclass.
-There's a dahlia Joe Swift already.
-I'm single and beautiful apparently.
-I'll give you a better one than that.
At Long Meadow I'm planting for spring and sowing for summer.
This is the perfect spot for this Erythronium.
This is Erythronium californicum 'White Beauty'
I'm putting into the copse here.
I've got a dog's-tooth violet next to it,
so they complement and I'll put a few more in.
What this has - as the name suggests - is lovely white flowers,
and just the right feeling of freshness
that you get with this early spring light
coming through the gentle shade of the branches, but as yet no leaves.
And all the planting in the copse
is designed to make the most of this dappled light.
These plants respond really well to the coppice cycle.
Coppicing is really easy, it's like any gardening with shrubs.
You have a few trees and shrubs
and cut them back hard on a regular basis.
These hazels I last cut back five or six years ago
and they are due for a cut next year.
In that time the whole ecosystem changes.
You get completely open space, light floods in
and the primroses and the bluebells and the violets
just go whoosh with colour.
Then gradually, as the cover grows,
the shade increases and they die back a bit. They spread slowly.
It's changing all the time.
It's a lovely, subtle thing.
This is the best time of year to add plants in areas like this,
before the canopy closes over
and while you can still see the flowers and the gaps.
The copse spans the path that runs down the centre of the garden
and comes over on this side,
which actually seems to grow primroses better.
But, of course, you could do this in a tiny space.
When we were in London I had a little area where I used willow and dogwood
and then cut those down every two years.
It is important to get the coppice cycle,
so you flood it with light regularly and then it shades.
This Hacquetia has got
a wonderful ruff of lime green
and the flowers are tiny little yellow jobs in the middle.
But it's such a spring, vibrant colour.
So we'll introduce that,
but that's about as flash as we are getting here.
I don't want to have too much garishness because it's subtle.
The colour in this part is really dictated by the primroses
and I love primroses, they are my favourite flower.
I love the delicacy of them.
These are all hybridised. They range from almost pure white
to egg-yolk yellow and every shade in between.
For about three weeks, primroses just sing in this part of the garden.
There's no other plant that expresses the hope of this time of year so well.
While the spring flowers are fabulous,
it's still important to keep sowing so you get
summer flowers coming through and the whole sequence unfolds.
As one finishes, others begin.
I'm going to sow my sweet peas now.
I used to sow them in autumn always, but found there's not much advantage
and there's a lot of problems with keeping a sweet peas over winter here.
There are many, many different varieties of sweet pea.
If you are sowing them, you want to see them in flower,
you want to choose ones that you really love.
We went along to Easton Walled Gardens in Lincolnshire
where Lady Ursula Cholmeley grows 60 different varieties.
Their value as a garden plant is fantastic for two reasons.
One is you can get a very long flowering period out of them
and secondly, you have got cut flowers for...
These have been flowering since mid-May this year
and I would hope to be still picking by mid-September.
It's a pretty fantastic flowering season.
We've divided ours up into old varieties and newer varieties.
The old Grandiflora peas are more your classic cottage garden plant.
They've got a great deal of charm, their scent is fantastic.
The modern varieties are much bigger and frillier.
We've got some of the oldest varieties here.
This one - Matucana - is a fantastic sweet pea.
It's very like the original Cupani, the first known variety of sweet pea,
but it has two or three more flowers on the stem
and it's very famous for its scent.
Next to it we've got Lord Nelson,
and I love about the old-fashioned peas, what their names say.
It's very evocative of English history.
Presumably the naval connection is why
it's the most brilliant dark blue colour.
This is a modern variety that I particularly like,
mainly because it's completely mad.
It's red on a white ground.
The colour is so incredible.
you can't really believe sweet peas
could throw a colourway like that - it's fantastic.
They are part of the English psyche.
It's the same as cream teas, strawberries, roses,
sweet peas and swallows, I think, to me, sum up an English summer.
A lot of people maybe remembered their grandparents,
certainly I remember my grandparents growing them.
It's more than just a flower, it means a lot to me as well.
There's no doubt about it that sweet peas are quintessentially to do with an English summer garden.
I can't imagine this garden without them. I've got a selection here.
I've got Painted Lady, which is a lovely pink with a fabulous scent.
Cream Southbourne we always grow.
It's a Spencer type. They do have fragrance,
but not nearly so good as a Grandiflora type.
Cupani, which is the original sweet pea,
really good and I would always want that.
But let's sow some Cream Southbourne.
What I do is sow them in these pots,
three or four to a pot, and they stay in the pot.
They grow on through and when they are planted,
tip them out and plant all three together
at the base of a tripod or wigwam.
You can see that they are nice, big seeds.
There is a lot of nonsense talked about growing sweet peas,
a lot of ritual, which I don't think it's necessary,
just as I don't think it's necessary to grow them in the autumn.
I don't nick them, I don't soak them.
All I do is just pop them in a fairly loose compost.
This is a mixture of a peat-free bought compost
mixed up with a bit of vermiculite
and leaf mould, so it's nice and open.
Space them out...putting them in,
and just pushing them down like that.
Then I'll sift some soil over the top.
And I'll grow these under cover until they germinate.
As soon as there are little shoots appearing,
they'll go first to a cold frame
and then quite quickly outdoors to harden off.
But I won't plant them out until certainly early May,
because it can be quite cold here.
At the same time as I plant them out,
I'll probably plant some direct and that will bulk them up.
The great thing about sweet peas is not only do you have scent and wonderful colour, but height.
And height is so important. Any flowers that climb,
and can climb up a tripod or wigwam so you can place it where you want that height,
as opposed to being restricted to a wall or fence, is good news.
Whatever you plant, don't forget to label it.
Give the seed a light covering of the same compost mix,
put them somewhere warm and sunny and water them in.
As well as sweet peas, I'm going to be sowing some dahlias.
I don't normally grow dahlias from seed,
but I'm quite keen to increase our stock
because the last couple of winters have hit our dahlias really hard.
We need to bulk the numbers up.
I thought I would grow some dahlias as cut flowers and grow them in the vegetable garden.
Then we can also have them in the Jewel Garden
and I'll grow those from tubers.
However many dahlias we grow here,
it will be nothing compared to Ken Stock down in Bournemouth.
He's only got a small plot,
but he grows hundreds and hundreds of dahlias.
So Joe went down to see what tips he could glean from a lifetime devoted to dahlias.
On the south coast, spring has well and truly begun.
In just a few months' time the beaches will be packed full of people,
the roads packed full of traffic.
And one garden in particular will be packed with dahlias.
When I say packed, I mean packed!
To say Ken Stock is a dahlia enthusiast is an understatement.
In the height of summer his modest front and back gardens are home to 500 different varieties.
Since he retired six years ago,
they have gradually eased pretty much every other plant out of his garden.
Ken, your garden, I can count three roses, one Euonymus and that is it.
At this time of year there is nothing else in it.
That's right. I was dreading that, I thought you'd bring that up.
-The whole garden is entirely dedicated to your dahlias.
But what is it about the dahlia that you love so much?
Well, they are a fantastic species. They produce
various types of flowers, various heights,
you've got every colour in the rainbow.
-You are a one-flower man.
-The dahlia comes from Central America.
I feel almost like a Mayan Indian.
I've got something there that driving me to this distraction of the dahlia. It really holds me.
For Ken, the summer display more than makes up for
the fallow winter and spring. Not that the work ever stops.
Keeping and developing a display like this is a full-time job.
Last autumn your dahlias, when they get hit by the first really hard frost,
all the foliage will go black.
That's the time to lift them up and store them.
Once they are blackened, you cut them down, wait a couple of weeks, let the buds...
Round the collar where the stem joins the tubers, there will be buds.
They are more prominent if you leave them a couple of weeks.
-Then you lift them and you've got a nice, big tuber.
-Wash them off.
Then into trays, and we are waiting to get some cutting material?
Used to, I don't do that any more.
I split the clump into tubers with an eye.
Why do you do that?
You get a far bigger clump of tubers the following year.
Stronger than you would have...
-Better than the cutting. Much better.
-OK, that's new on me.
Show me what a division looks like then.
Here's one that... Can you see the eye?
There's an eye there, there's one there.
I can, I'm used to seeing them.
I can see it just. You've got the bulbous part of the tuber.
Whereas some people cut it off here, you've got to keep this section,
-the adjoining section on it.
-That's where the growth comes from.
All 400 or so dahlias in Ken's greenhouse
have been grown from divisions.
But to get even more, now is the time to start taking cuttings from the emerging new growth.
Take a bit of foliage off.
The main reason - you reduce the leaf area
so it doesn't wilt so much.
Oh! You professionals, eh?!
A little, tiny... Oh, rooting powder.
You use rooting powder.
-There you go.
-The next one.
And just under the node.
-And there you go.
-You see - now I know why I'm here!
-You're going to have these, you know.
Oh, yes! When we've finished you are going to take them home.
You know there's a dahlia Joe Swift already out there.
-I'm single and beautiful.
-I'll give you a better one than that.
But Ken isn't content to grow commercial varieties.
He breeds his own.
Last year, he registered over 40 dahlias with the RHS.
After selecting and labelling the parent flowers,
he strips the petals to reveal the centres
and then brushes the pollen of one onto the other.
The cover protects against further pollination.
Then, after about a month, Ken brings them inside to dry.
I can see what you like about these dahlias, because you can grow them
from divisions, from cuttings and from seed as well, can't you?
-You learned something!
-I learned something.
-That's the thing about gardening. You never stop learning.
It's great to learn something new about one of my favourite plants,
and I can't wait till later in the year, when I can enjoy the display.
Well, I doubt these will look quite as spectacular as Ken's,
which are amazing.
But it is quite a good way to get a lot of dahlias -
to sow them yourself -
particularly if you don't have any tubers to start with.
Because, for about £2 or £3 you'd buy a packet of seeds,
which will give you up to 100 plants.
Whereas to buy one dahlia tuber could cost the same amount,
a really good quality one would cost £2 or £3.
That is a distinct advantage.
The disadvantage with seeds is you buy them as a mix,
so you don't really know what that mix is made up of.
You'd get an idea, there'd be hot colours or there'd be a paler mix.
This one is called Bishop's Children
because of the bright colours, which I want for the Jewel Garden.
But, I'm actually going to plant these out into the vegetable garden
and use them as cut flowers to see what colours they are,
and then the following year, I may put them more specifically.
I like to place the seeds on the surface, putting two to each module.
One can be weeded out later. Then I cover the seeds lightly.
I'm much more familiar with growing dahlias from tubers.
The great advantage of that is that you know your variety,
you know exactly what the flower is going to be like.
This is Arabian Night,
which is a beautiful, rich red, with a slight touch of blue in it.
It's a lovely colour, and just perfect for the Jewel Garden.
That's a nice, healthy tuber.
However, I'm going to give this a little encouragement.
I'm not going to force it into growth,
but just give it a good start in life,
by growing it for the next few weeks in the greenhouse,
getting it into...growth
and then putting it into a cold frame,
and then in a protective place outside,
so it will gradually harden off.
So that by mid-May, which is when the last risk of frost
will have passed, it will be ready to plant out into the garden.
That is going to give me a very focused source of colour in the Jewel Garden,
and I can place it exactly where I want it to give maximum effect.
But it is expensive.
So expensive but very focused, and this is cheap but very cheerful.
Now, come and have a look at this.
Look at the box hedges in the Jewel Garden.
Don't they look appalling? They look dreadful.
This could be very worrying because if it was box blight,
I may have to dig the whole lot up and burn them.
Actually, I don't think this is blight,
but the disease is so virulent, it is worth
keeping a very careful lookout for it.
Box blight has spread over the last ten years,
and it's something that anybody who grows box,
either as hedges or topiary, just has to deal with at some stage.
Carol has been along to Levens Hall in the Lake District,
which has got the oldest and some of the most magnificent topiary in the land,
to see how they are dealing with this problem.
Where the foothills of the Lake District flatten towards the sea
is a magical garden.
Just look at that - it's spectacular!
You really appreciate the geometry and the symmetry in some places,
but then all these things with their own personality.
It's just lovely and you get a real idea of the whole thing.
I can't wait to get in amongst it.
This incredible miscellany of box and yew
represents 300 years of continuous evolution.
It was in the 1690s that Guillaume Beaumont
laid out the architecture of the gardens at Levens Hall,
and as far as we know, it was he who introduced
the very first box and yew in the gardens.
And now is a wonderful time to enjoy this garden.
Fresh from its annual trim, it couldn't be more pristine.
You feel as though each one of these monumental structures is a character in a play.
But the drama's made all the more intense
by this lovely box that's used to edge all these beds
and set the stage, really create the symmetry.
all that's going to have to change.
In the mid-'90s came word of a new virulent disease attacking box -
It became known by some gardeners as the Black Death.
Slowly but surely, the Buxus sempervirens 'Suffruticosa' throughout the garden is dying.
In some areas, the gardeners have had no choice than to remove it altogether.
So, how long ago was it, Chris, that the dreaded box blight actually struck?
Well, we didn't get it until two years ago,
and when we got it, we knew about it. The symptoms...
It's called the Black Death.
Within a few days, it can turn black and the leaves drop off.
-As fast as that?
Because it's a fungus, isn't it?
It is. It germinates on the leaf in hot, humid conditions.
The one good thing about box blight, although it does affect all box,
it hits the low box edge in Buxus sempervirens 'Suffruticosa'.
It gets through that the worst.
It's got a softer leaf and the fungus gets through the cuticles so much easier.
The larger box pieces,
the leaves are so much harder the fungus can't get in.
That's the secret to it resisting the disease.
-You're hoping to hang on to all these?
-Were hoping to survive with this stuff and replace the box edges.
Mine's tougher than yours.
It's coming out easy enough up here! THEY LAUGH
It must have become a pretty familiar task?
It has. Throughout the history of the garden, they've been replaced,
but this time, we have to find something other than box to do it with.
Lonicera's great. It clips very well for a big hedge,
but for keeping our hedges small, it just grows too much.
We'd probably have to clip it six to ten times a year to keep it in order.
We might try a patch somewhere, but it's not our frontrunner.
Probably this one behind you is much more like it.
That the Ilex crenata.
You can see it is actually quite a good match for the box.
It is, it's the best look-alike.
It may be the winner. It's a real look-alike.
We've never grown it here, so until we try it,
do we know whether it likes our soil, our climate or what?
But it's used extensively as a hedging plant, isn't it?
Yeah. That is one of the front-runners, yeah.
Alongside this one, which is Teucrium x lucidrys.
You can see it's got quite a shiny little evergreen leaf,
but it is hardy and easily propagated.
We took these cuttings last year. That might be a winner.
We may have the clip this a couple of times, just to keep the flowers off it,
but we've got high hopes.
-If I pass them...
-You tap them out and chuck them here, I shall place them. That's great.
We're planting them touching.
They'll make a thicker hedge faster for that.
They had small hedges in the past, and perhaps that's a tradition we should go back to.
Certainly, with the speed of growth of the replacements,
instead of replacing them every 50 years, it will be every five years.
That's why propagating them ourselves from cuttings like these,
that will be so much more important.
Is it going to be somebody's full-time job?
It may get a bit like that.
Let's pull that out the way and see.
If you can get the last pots,
I'll get a rake and see what we can make it look like.
How much more to go, then?
Two metres done, and how many? 2,000 to go. You've got a job till the end of the summer!
You can visit Levens Hall from April 10th,
but if you can't get to Cumbria,
there are several other gardens with outstanding topiary
opening up over the next couple of weeks.
Hatfield House in Hertfordshire has an exceptional knot garden.
Packwood House in Warwickshire has clipped yew on grand scale.
The 200-year-old topiary garden at Antony House in Cornwall
is well worth a visit.
For even more suggestions, visit our website.
I realised that I haven't been to Levens Hall for about 15 years now,
and I LOVED it then, I loved seeing it. I must go back.
A beautiful garden and I hope that the new hedges
add to its beauty, and it's not seen as a terrible loss.
I've certainly got to deal with my box hedges.
I don't think it's box blight.
I think the problem we've got here is frost damage.
It is consistent all the way along.
I think I know why we've had the frost damage.
It's because I didn't cut the hedges in here until October 29th.
I looked it up in my diary yesterday.
Because it was cut so late, the wounds were exposed
and there was a little bit of a new growth,
and we've got that really cold weather in the middle of December.
Boomf, it got hit, and this is the result.
And if you look in, if you open it up and look inside,
there is new growth in the interior,
and that's a pretty good sign that there isn't blight.
However, that's not the end of the story,
because it means that these poor hedges have been stressed.
A stressed plant is much more vulnerable to a box blight if it's around.
I need to do something about that.
So, I'm going to spray.
Not all sprays have to be chemical.
I'm going to spray with seaweed.
Liquid seaweed, used as a foliar spray, is really good,
particularly at this time of year,
for nourishing and aiding recovery in any ailing plant,
and by spraying the foliage,
the goodness is absorbed very quickly.
The goodness from seaweed are micronutrients.
Seaweed is better than any other plant at retaining micronutrients,
and they in turn
enable the plant that receives it to take up other nutrients.
It's a trigger, really.
These are all fairly small actions,
but the combined effect, and the timing of them,
will make a big difference to the plant.
Here are some other jobs to be getting on with this weekend.
You don't actually need a greenhouse, potting shed
or cold frames to grow plants from seed.
A seed bed is very cheap and very easy.
If you prepare a patch of ground,
removing all stones and any trace of weeds, and rake it fine,
you can sow your seeds in short rows.
Thin them as they grow,
and then plant them to their final growing position.
This is a wonderful way of growing brassicas and biannual flowers,
and it's a really simple way of producing lots of plants
that will need no hardening off, and it can't be done any cheaper.
I finished pruning my soft fruit last week,
and now is the perfect time
to give them a top-dressing of a potash-rich fertiliser.
If you can get hold of wood ash, that will do the job perfectly.
Finally, if you have paths made from old bricks,
you're bound to have frost damage after a winter like the last one.
Chisel out any damaged or broken bricks,
and bed replacements in on sharp sand.
There's no need to use cement to fix them.
The trouble is that if you let it get as bad as I've done,
you start to do one brick, and that leads to another,
and you realise they're all a bit ropey.
My advice is, don't be like me, because I always look at it
and think, "There are more important things to do.
"I want to be planting, I want to be growing this, pruning that."
If you tackle the paths in spring, when the worst of the weather is over, and you do it every year,
that way you keep on top of the job.
Now, having started, I'll have to plug away at this,
and with any luck, by next winter, I might have repaired the worst of it.
Anyway, next week, I hope you'll join me here again at Long Meadow.
See you then. Bye-bye.
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