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Tis the season….to be planting & pruning an orchard

A tree full of medlars

Drawing back the curtains to find a carpet of glittering frost might seem like an unusual time to head into the boot room to pull on your wellies and start planting, but what better time to prepare for a fruitful harvest from your orchard next summer? 

The anticipation of what’s to come makes these chilly chores completely worthwhile, and as spring looms into view, so will branches covered with an abundance of delicate blossoms, to be followed by homegrown produce to enjoy straight from the tree. 

Bare-Root Beauties:

There are a number of advantages to planting fruit trees in winter when they’re dormant, not least price and quality. Planting bare-root stock is not only a more affordable option, but they will also grow stronger. Unlike their potted counterparts they don’t suffer from their roots growing in a circular manner following the shape of the pot or even risk becoming becoming pot bound, thus giving them a better start for long-term healthy growth. 

A beautiful espalier apple tree in the Garden Barn orchard

The simple pleasure of feasting on your very own homegrown fruit, plucked directly from the tree is hard to beat. But not only will you enjoy your bounty, you’ll also be helping the local wildlife, who will relish the chance to forage through autumn’s fallen fruits. Solitary bees, fungi, woodpeckers, thrushes, squirrels, deer and badgers, to name a few, all benefit from the windfall that your orchard provides. 

Perfectly Positioned:

Choosing the ideal location for your trees is essential for a successful crop for years to come. 

Contrary to popular belief you don’t need a huge garden to enjoy the rewards of a successful orchard. By carefully choosing a variety that suits your needs it is possible to grow your own in even the smallest of spaces. Training your fruit trees into a suitable shape will help you to use the space available to its full potential. With espaliers, cordons, stepovers and many more options there is something for everyone.

A tree burgeoning with fruit in the orchard

Growing fruit trees against the wall of your house will help not only provide year-round interest but some varieties positively thrive, whilst nestled up in this unlikely spot. An example of this is fig trees, they prefer a south-facing aspect preferably against a stone wall, so that they can not only benefit from maximum sunlight but also use the heat from the sun-soaked stone to help perfectly ripen their sumptuous fruit. 

Pruning for Good Growth:

Carefully planned aftercare for your fruit trees is imperative to ensure that they live up to their full potential and provide you with a bountiful crop for years to come. This can be a little daunting as every species has its own care needs, for example apples, pears, quince and medlars require winter-pruning, whereas stone fruit trees benefit from a summer prune. 

Pruning fruit trees from an early age promotes healthy growth and helps to shape trees into an aesthetically pleasing form. The aim being to maintain an open and balanced structure, which encourages an abundance of high-quality fruit. Removing suckers, rubbing branches and congested areas helps with air flow, promoting a bounty of healthy fruit to tantalise your taste buds each year. 

A delicious pile of opal plums straight from the orchard

While the weather is cold and the trees are dormant it’s the ideal time to give your fruit trees a thorough health check. Most importantly check for any dead, diseased and damaged wood. 

Dead wood is often easily recognisable as it may be hollow, missing bark or brittle, but don’t take care not to mistake dormant for dead! Damaged areas of bark require careful management to reduce the chance of disease getting into these weak areas and disease can occur for a number of reasons, but most often it is bacteria, fungus, viruses or an infestation of insects. When signs of disease are spotted it’s important to fully remove the affected area and to burn or destroy any debris. Leaving the remnants of infected limbs will leave the tree, as well as its neighbours, open to being reinfected. 

A pair of green apples on still on the tree in the office garden

Planting your very own productive orchard may seem daunting, but our fruit tree specialists take the hard work out of creating and maintaining orchards and fruit gardens all over Oxfordshire and beyond. 

Not only will our plant specialists source the perfect varieties for your garden, but our team of talented horticulturalists will ensure that they are planted with care and precision.    

Tell us about your favourite orchard or kitchen garden fruits and we’ll show you how to bring them into your garden. 



11 Best Gifts for Gardeners

Looking for the ultimate gift for the gardener in your life? Something personal and thoughtful, practical but stylish? 

Look no further! It’s no surprise Simon and the team have a wealth of festive gift ideas for garden-lovers. Let’s see what made the final cut with their garden notes in the top 10 best gifts for gardeners this Christmas.

Whether you are looking for super tools, a real treat or natural beauty, discover The Oxfordshire Gardener’s guide to gifting: 

1. For the gardening hotshot:


The Swiss Army knife of garden tools, a Hori Hori is the superlative subsurface prospector. A deceptively simple looking multi-tool, it can be used to weed, saw woody stems, divide perennials and plant bulbs (some even come with the blade engraved with millimetre rule, which makes gauging planting depths and measuring a doddle). Ideal for the gardening adept. 

Hori Hori Knife by Niwaki, from £24

2. For the kitchen gardener: 

These handsome rhubarb forcers will encourage early growth whilst keeping rhubarb delicately pink and tender. Plus, they look seriously architecturally graceful.  

Rhubarb Forcers from Whichford Pottery, from £180

3. Great for getting young ones in the garden:

Watering is so much fun for little ones, so get them involved in growing from the outset. Little fingers make perfect-sized dibbers for planting easy-to-grow seeds, and as they sprinkle them with water from their own personalised watering can, they’ll be thrilled by watching their seedlings spring up.

Personalised Children’s Green Watering Can from Jonny’s Sister, £26

4. Rather nice for the nifty gardener:

 

Beautifully turned in solid oak, this stand comes with a 500g ball of twine and includes a nifty cutting blade in its design, making it not only handy, but perfect for keeping twine all neat and tidy.

Refill twine available. 

British twine and oak stand from Wood and Meadow, £22

5. For the glamorous gardener:

The original trug. Handmade in Sussex from split sweet chestnut and cricket bat willow. Authenticity reigns here with each trug being signed and dated. A beautiful carrier for your bounty of fruit, vegetables and cut flowers.

Royal Sussex Trug from Burford Garden Co., £85

6. Best for the bee enthusiast:

Know someone with a passion for pollination? Help them attract more bees to their garden by giving them a cosy home for the more solitary types. Each hole is the perfect size & specification for industrious solitary bees to burrow, and bringing them to a garden helps to keep the ecosystem of the local plant environmental diverse and healthy. 

Solitary Beehive by National Bee Supplies, £29.99

7. For the Roseologist: 

Many gardeners have fallen for the manifest charms of roses, but while roses have a sublime beauty, some defend that beauty from harm with sabre-like thorns, leaving hands ragged. Keep your rose garden devotee’s fingers scratch-free with these flexible and durable all-round winter garden gloves.

Ladies & Mens Winter Touch Gloves by David Austen Roses, £25

8. Best for studious gardener:

 

Eat. Sleep. Breathe gardening? Get them something for the nightstand to keep them musing on plant-picks through long winter nights. Whilst Jekka McVicar’s marvellous compendium on herbs may not bring dreams of sugar-plums dancing in their heads, it may bring something sweet to their garden. Angelica for example. 

A Pocketful of Herbs by Jekka McVicar  – Bloomsbury Absolute, £12.99. 

9. One for the ‘got no time’ gardener:

gardeners gifts

 

We all know someone like this (or maybe its even you!). They love their garden, dream of pristine parterres or well-managed woodland, but the hustle-and-bustle of modern life just gets in the way and come the weekend deadheading, dividing, pruning and mulching take back seat to computer screens, chores and children’s activities. Give them the gift of a Head Gardener for the day (or treat yourself!) to give the garden a rejuvenation. 

The Head Gardener Experience from The Oxfordshire Gardener, £220

10. For the indoor gardener: 

Gift for gardeners - the indoor gardener

Not keen on the cold? For the fair-weather gardener, there’s still plenty of green-fingered pursuits to keep them busy over winter. Foster their horticultural horizons with this gorgeous Copper Gem Terrarium, which comes with a selection of cacti or succulents hand-picked by botanists. They’ll even add a cluster of fairy lights for added eye-catching artfulness, should you wish to up the festivities.  

Copper Gem Terrarium by The Urban Botanist, £74.95

11. For the hard-working gardener: 

best gifts for gardeners - Gin Mule Hamper

And after all that hard work in the garden, reward the gardener in your life with luxuriously decadent, but oh-so-stylish Gin Mule Hamper. Inside you’ll find a 70cl bottle of Sipsmith gin, two hammered coppery mugs, a wooden muddler, recipe cards and straws. And oh…it comes with an 18ct gold mini crow bar for opening the crate, don’t you know! 

Gin Mule Hamper by notanotherbill.com, £85

Happy Gifting!

 

Find out more about The Oxfordshire Gardener and our horticultural services –  garden maintenance, landscaping and garden design.

 

5 Dream Plants to Perk-Up Winter Days

A bundle of serene plants for the ultimate winter garden.

Your needs change as crisp days roll in, master garden styling for pathways, secluded areas and doorways, that are lit to welcome you. Enter five dream plants which can deliver a restorative treatment to your green spaces this winter:

1. Loropetalum

I picked this rouge-noir leafed beauty earlier in the year and it has not disappointed. In February, she treated me to spectacular mini-hot pink flowers which kept going and going so happily planted. In summer, as a single architectural shape she graced the garden with all the theatre herbaceous can summon. Now, as an evergreen plant, I have the rouge-noir foliage offering a slightly sculptural form at the back door, under-lit to greet everyone.

2. Sarcococca

Just after my new favourite, Loropetalum, comes the Christmas sweet box, Sarcococca. Instagram-gold with it’s healthy stems and unctuous green foliage, dappled with berries and white, vanilla-perfumed flowers. From December to March, it continues to flourish in a shady border, pot or woodland scene, it’s a true highlight.

Christmas Box shrub with flowers and berries

3. Abelia grandiflora

This arty plant is a big producer, refreshing its foliage from green to terra rosa tones all year. The small, fragrant trumpet flowers are blush-white and standout against the continually changing foliage palette. Creative and enchanting, decorating a border with it’s arching branches.

4. Hamamelis x intermedia

I find the coral tones of the hamamelis palette draws a soft warmth to the garden in late-winter. To fully embrace these credentials in winter, positioning is invaluable. Planting near pathways for their perfume of citrus and spice, can be so warming on a winter’s day as you brush past. Setting-out with woodland plants and bulbs which are thriving at this time of year and richly mulching, gives this winter garden hero a healthy canvas to display its bewitching flowers and lateral stems in the landscape. The flowery twigs can be cut to bring inside.

5. Helleborus

With many Helleborus to choose from, many with differing flower periods and not all of them hardy, I would plump for ‘purpurascens’ as it bursts open with rose madder blooms in December, just in time for Christmas, and its fully hardy so will grace your garden with flowers until March. 

a carpet of heavenly hellebores, winter's loveliest luminaries, in pinks, whites and deep plum purples

An absolute favourite is Helleborus x sahinii ‘Winterbells’. In planters, a mass of nodding textured blooms is reminiscent of parchment paper and with its palette of dusky rose, fresh white and green pastels it perfectly chimes with a winter-chic style vibe.

To order plants or find out more about garden treatments, email sayhello@theoxfordshiregardener.co.uk or call 01869 338592.

For a full review of plants and trees we’re planting in the winter garden, visit theoxfordshiregardener.co.uk

9 Painterly Tulips to Plant Now

vintage tulips

Fancy an armful of vintage style blooms in spring? Planting tulips now will bring you a flourish in the garden in spring, plus you can cut them and bring them inside for a pop of natural colour.

We’re currently being romanced by dreamy double tulips; our imagination drifting to thoughts of these big blousy blooms as they open petal by unfurling petal. They’re almost reminiscent of the beloved paeony. So if you have a passion for paeonies, these could be your spring fling…

Flicking through the pages of various arty magazines, our gaze fell upon the above pastel masterpiece and we were compelled to try and recreate a real-life version using modern-day bulbs. We won’t see the final results till spring, but if you’d like to join us in reconstructing this sumptuous, satin-soft bouquet, then read on to find out what’s in the mix.   

Lifting colours from a pastel palette, we picked violet, rose to caramel tones using these favourite varieties:

1. La Belle Epoque – Large, caramel blush tones appear in late spring in this many-petalled tulip, makes a great cut flower

2. Finola – Bowl-shape, painterly soft rose-madder and white with a hint of green in April and May, a long-lasting tulip

3. Mondial – Cupped-shape, fresh white palette in April and May, a lightly fragrant tulip

4. Angelique – Delicate, deep to light rose tone petals in April and May, a strong performer in beds and borders

5. Blue Diamond – Large cupped-shape, rich violet with a soft pearl lustre blooms in April and May

6. Dream Touch – Large, deep magenta petals with lighter fringes in May, a dramatic addition to the palette

7. Greenland – Fluted-shape with soft pink and green petals in April and May, a popular cut-flower

If you like a little eye-catcher to stand-out in a floral display alongside roses, hesperis and foraged green cuttings take a peek at the Rembrandt stripe varieties. Seemingly an artist has taken a rigger brush and whipped a stroke of fervent colour onto a creamy canvas

8. Grand Perfection – soft cream with scarlet

9. Flaming Flag – ivory with violet

painterly tulips

You still have time to pick your favourites and plant this month, so join us in our painterly tulip recreation. We’ll be sharing our results in the spring. 

Meanwhile, we are busy setting-out planting threads of tulips through borders and beds, densely planting in the cutting garden and filling pots and planters, near the house, to reward our clients with a fine display worthy of an artist’s canvas

Fallen in love with our double-tulips? No-one fell harder than the Dutch merchants of 17th century Amsterdam. Find out how tulips bulbs at the time cost more than the price of a house.

10 Top Fruits & Berries for a Winsome Winter Garden

Sorbus berries for winsome winter gardens

Winter doesn’t have to mean a barren and bare garden, nature has provided beautiful, colourful plants to delight the senses and provide sustenance at every time of year. In the first of our series on creating interest in an Oxfordshire garden in Winter, we take a look at those jewels of the colder months – fruits and berries.

The colourful display put on by foliage at autumn’s arrival is nearly over, deciduous plants have been stripped by the season’s blustery gales, summer annuals have disappeared and gardeners are pruning back and mulching, all of which might have left things looking a little stark. If autumn garden maintenance has revealed some gaps in your garden or left it looking somewhat dull, fear not! Our guide to winter garden berries will help to keep your garden a bountiful, riot of colour through the colder months.

Colour & Scent:

1. Christmas Box or Sweet Box (Sarcococca confusa)

 Christmas Box shrub with flowers and berries

Unusually this shade-loving shrub offers up a vanilla-honey fragrance with wispy ivory flowers in winter through to spring. The blooms give way to shiny plump berries in the summer, but we’ve included it here as the berries frequently persist through the winter, often giving you flowers and berries all at the same time. Sweet Box likes moist, though well-drained, humus-rich soil and will tolerate neglect, making it an easygoing all-rounder in Oxfordshire gardens.

2. Beautyberry (Callicarpa bodinieri var. giraldii)

Vivid violet bunches of beautyberries

It’s not called ‘Beautyberry’ for nothing. Happy in sun or partial shade, though it’s worth noting that you’ll need to plant more than one to ensure pollination and therefore, fruiting. Callicarpa bodinieri var. giraldii has possibly the most eye-catching fruits of all shrubs with vivid violet berries appearing in autumn, following the summer bloom of tiny lilac or pink flowers. Some callicarpa are evergreen while others are deciduous, yet even the foliage joins in the show, with leaves appearing purply-bronze in spring, green in summer and rosy-pink as they fade through the autumn. What a stunner!

3. Farges harlequin glorybower (Clerodendrum trichotomum var. fargesii)

Farges Harlequin Glorybowers magenta lobes reveal bright blue turquoise berries

One heck of a name for an equally startling plant. It’s pinky-white almost jasmine-like flowers are highly scented, but they are just the precursor to the main event. Glorybower’s extraordinary fruits appear in autumn as bright blue berries surrounded by magenta lobes. A vigorous, deciduous shrub, it can grow up to 8m in height and width, so is an excellent spacer-filler.  It will do well in almost any soil, so long as it’s moist, but it does enjoy a little shade and shelter.

4. David viburnum (Viburnum davidii)

Turquoise teal berries in a cluster on viburnum davidii

Evergreen with a low spreading habit, viburnum davidii is ideal in garden design if you’re looking for low maintenance ground cover under roses or naturally leggy shrubs. Clusters of small, white unassuming flowers blossom in spring and develop into phenomenal, almost preternatural berries of the rarest of shades found in the plant world, turning from turquoise to dark teal over the course of autumn and winter. Plant at least 3 for cross-pollination and in full sun for maximum fruits.

5. Common Holly (Ilex Aquifolium)

Spiky, green holly leaves with clutches of bright red berries

Surely no plant better represents winter than the Common Holly with its spiky green leaves and brilliant red berries, but not all Holly’s adhere to this classic Christmas look. There are some unusual and interesting varieties out there to pique your interest, though nearly all grow best on well-drained soil and prefer sunny or partially shady positions. Holly’s, in general, have small, white flowers in spring, but berries are only produced on female plants, so make sure you pick the right gender if you want to see it’s glorious fruits.

‘Pyramidalis Fructu Luteo’ – Has abundant bright yellow berries.

‘Handsworth New Silver’ – Young shoots are purple and it’s creamy-white variegated leaves give an overall silvery look when viewed at a distance.

‘Amber’ – Gorgeous coppery-apricot berries.

‘Elegantissima’ – Variegated leaves are tinged with pink when young.

‘J.C. van Tol’ – Bright red berries against dark green foliage, however, the difference here is that its leaves are spineless, giving you that warm festive feeling without the prickles.

6. Sorbus aucuparia (Mountain Ash or Rowan)

Sorbus aucuparia is winsome for winter gardens

Much loved and revered since ancient times, this native tree has long been thought to guard homes against evil spirits.

In spring it bears dense clusters of creamy-white flowers, which, as autumn rolls around, produce a bounty of red berries that last right through to late-winter. A much-needed shot of colour in the depths of what can be a gloomy, somewhat monotonous time of year.

The fruits were at one time widely eaten across northern Europe, being made into jellies, wines, compotes and chutneys, and are high in vitamin C, however we don’t recommend you try eating them unless you know exactly which variety you have, as they can be very bitter.

It’s unique, delicate compound leaves are vibrant green and lend a feathery appearance to this slender, though bushy-crowned tree. The foliage turns shades of crimson, russet and auburn.

Sorbus is a hardy specimen, hence its other moniker – Mountain Ash. It’s quite at home at elevations up to 2000m.

The tallest specimen stands in the Chiltern Hills and is 28m tall!

Prefer something a little different? Try Sorbus hupehensis ‘Pink Pagoda’. It has gorgeous pink berries set against blue-green foliage. Or how about Sorbus cashmiriana, whose pinkish-white flowers bring forth pearly-white berries.

Fruits:

7. Sea Buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides)

Orange berries of Sea Buckthorn against their spindley green leaves

A native British shrub often found naturally growing along the coastline, Sea Buckthorn is packed full with vitamins C, A and E. Deciduous silver-green narrow leaves with yellow flowers in spring, followed by orange berries through winter, this super-fruit is highly adaptable, tolerant of poor soil and exposure. You will need to give it plenty of sun and plant both male and female plants for pollination though. The berries are rather sour eaten raw but juiced and sweetened with honey or sugar they have a fresh fruity, citrusy taste and can be used to make everything from mousses to jellies.

8. Chilean Guava (Ugni molinae)

Chilean Guava Berries

A very pretty berry indeed and a rarity amongst berries as its pale pink flower is equally pretty. Reputedly Queen Victoria’s favourite fruit and we can see why for this delicious delight tastes like strawberry and kiwi. Whilst not particularly well-known here, they are common ‘down under’ where they are known as ‘Tazziberries’. Their popularity is on the rise though with exponents like James Wong, who recently developed a British-bred variety called Ka Pow. The Chilean Guava is a small-leaved evergreen with pale-pink and white bell-shaped flowers in spring which transform into pink blueberry-like fruits, ripening to a deep, dark wine colour in winter. Hardy down to -10 and tolerant of most soils, they like a lot of light and shelter but will tolerate a little shade. Think of them as growing in ‘edge of the wood’ environments and you’ll have the right conditions in mind.

9. Goji Berries (Lycium barbarum)

Goji Berries on the vine

You might think that these exotic darlings of the health food industry would be difficult to grow, but in fact, they are really quite easy, once they are at least 12 months old. Seedlings need to be kept warm for the first year and are prone to rotting in compost, so you’re better off buying young plants. Once over a year old they are hardy and will begin producing fruit in their 2nd year with heavy yields from year 4. Goji berries will grow in almost any kind of soil and are surprisingly drought-tolerant. They’ll also do reasonably well in partial shade, though will yield more berries in full sun.

10. Common Myrtle (Myrtus communis)

ripe black myrtle berries on a bush

A traditional favourite of brides, especially in the Victorian era, as it represented purity and love in the language of flowers. Myrtle is an evergreen shrub or small tree with aromatic leaves often used to flavour pork or game dishes and star-like cupped white flowers which are followed by dark purplish berries. Being a native of the Mediterranean, myrtus needs long, hot summers to encourage it to fruit and whilst it likes to be kept moist, it must also be well-drained and sheltered. The berries have notes of juniper, rosemary and spice and when combined with apples make a dark, fragrant jam. They also make a rather tasty liqueur.

Still not sure how to best make the most of your garden year-round? Let us help take the guesswork out of creating a beautiful environment. Find out about our services:

Garden Design –  Landscaping – Garden Maintenance

Putting down roots: Why bare-root planting is brilliant now

Each autumn inevitably brings with it the much-expected ‘putting the garden to bed’, but there’s so much more to autumn than preparing for dormancy.

In fact, there are many things which can be done now to add to the garden’s fullness and growth, and one of those is bare-root planting.   

bare-root planting

Roots to Success

We plan bare-root planting through autumn and winter, but what is it? Why does this happen now? And what are the benefits?

Simply put bare-root plants are exactly as the name suggests, bare-root. Put another way, this means that plants are supplied without pots or containers and with any soil washed from the roots. Traditionally, this would be mainly trees and shrubs (particularly hedging), but perennial herbaceous plants are more widely being supplied as bare-root too. 

Bare-root plants are grown directly in the ground rather than in pots, they are then lifted from the field, as required, and delivered before their roots lose too much moisture (they are often wrapped in moisture retaining material to help keep them hydrated during transportation). 

Timing is crucial and we are well-versed in optimal sourcing and planting for your desired scheme. Ideally, bare-root plants need to be planted quickly after delivery, so that roots aren’t exposed to the atmosphere for too long and begin to dry out, though planting can be delayed through a process known as heeling in.

Heeling in means temporarily digging plants into a trench at an angle, where the canopy is close to the ground but the roots are fully covered. This might happen, for example, when conditions are too cold to plant out. Planting them at an angle, keeping the canopy low, offers extra protection from the elements. They can also be planted in containers until conditions allow for planting in their permanent home. 

If or when conditions allow for planting out permanently, we use a mycorrhizal treatment, which helps the root network get off to a flying start and readies plants to settle into their new environment.

The Beauty of Bare-Root

Bare-root plants that have been grown in a natural environment without the containment of a pot, have been allowed the space for their roots to run free, which often results in bigger, stronger plants. 

When bare-root plants are lifted some of their roots are naturally damaged or cut off, and therefore, they are not as able to take up as much water. This is partly why they are lifted at this time of year, when there’s plenty of rainfall. The air is also cool enough for plants to be dormant, whilst the earth is still warm enough (i.e. not frozen) to get some root growth going. 

This root-loss may mean that plants are slower to flourish above-ground than container-grown plants in the short-term, however, the pruning of the rootball will actually encourage fuller, healthier root growth and the root system will establish quicker than container-grown specimens, so in the long-term, the result will be vigorous, thriving plants. 

bare-root planting

Being in a dormant state also means that the plant is not actively taking up many nutrients, other than water, via the roots to support foliage or flowers, making for excellent transplanting conditions.

Having been grown in open ground, they also don’t need as much time to acclimatise to the earth of their pastures-new from the artificially enhanced soil conditions of their pot-grown counterparts.  

Another advantage of bare-root stock is that buying bare-root offers far better value for money. The weight of bare-root plants without containers and the accompanying soil is a fraction of the weight of container-grown stock, meaning that transporting them is far cheaper and easier. It’s easier to handle them once they arrive in the garden.

No plastic pots means less harm to the environment too. 

As we touch on the environment, it may be worth noting that, once mature, bare-root plants are thought to be better equipped to cope with drought conditions too. 

We often cover large expanses with bare-root hedging and one such scheme currently sees us planting of 220m of mixed native whips, interspersed with glorious bare-root Tilia platyphyllos trees (Large-leaved lime) along a driveway entrance. 

So if you have the desire, don’t delay! Embrace the season with bare-root booty now, trees, hedges, fruits and even roses for the floriferous fellows. Especially where abundance is the order of the day, bare-root plants are a wise choice and now is the perfect time to get them planted. 

Let us take the hard work out of sourcing, preparing and planting bare-root stock for your garden. Our expert team works wonders creating natural, living screening, healthy hedges, fruitful orchards and ravishing rose gardens. 

We’d love to hear your garden-dreams. Talk to us about how we can help bring them to life.

Amazing Autumnal Woodland Walks For The Weekend

Spring and summer’s mild, showery seasons this year have set the stage for autumn to reveal one of its most dazzling shows of colour in recent years.

The reds are richer, coppers brighter, ambers more burnished and golds more candescent, so it’s time to strike out on a woodland walk and envelope yourself in this kaleidoscope of resplendent colour.

Here’s a small selection of local arboricultural treasure troves that we’ll be kicking up leaves in this weekend:

  1. Stoke Wood, Stoke Albany

autumnal autumn walks

Image courtesy of Robert Read/The Woodland Trust

Blanketing a promontory in the plains of the Northamptonshire/Leicestershire border lies Stoke Wood. This haven for woodpeckers, treecreepers and chiff-chaffs is an ancient woodland of native broadleaf trees and conifers from further afield, which delights the senses through a contrast of tone and texture. 

Stumble across one its glades, and on a fine, crisp autumn day,  you’ll have found yourself in restful spot to reward your explorations with a warming picnic (don’t forget the thermos of spicy squash soup or hunks of hearty farmhouse bloomer). 

Autumnal woodland walks

Image courtesy of Robert Read/The Woodland Trust

The woods once formed part of the Swift’s House Estate owned by Sir Thomas Mostyn in 1800, though records of woodland here date back at least 400 years. Indeed, the perimeter of the wood is defined by a woodbank, which is likely to date from the medieval period. 

Visitors to Stoke Woods cite it as a wonderfully quiet place and recommend you take a camera (we definitely will!). 

One hard surface path means it is accessible for wheelchair users too. 

Stoke Wood is beautifully maintained by The Woodland Trust

  1. Harcourt Arboretum, Nuneham Courtenay

Image courtesy of The University of Oxford Botanic Garden and Arboretum

This is the place to find rare species as well as revel in native woodland, the also plays home to some of the oldest redwoods in the UK. 

The Serpentine Ride is a grassy path that meanders along a winding route among gorgeous glades, perfect for lazy Sunday morning ambling or a brisk stroll before tucking into a well-earned roast lunch. 

Again, the planting here has been designed to contrast and compliment with evergreens being used to augment prominent plants. For example, the deep green of taxus baccata has been cleverly used as a backdrop to acer palmatum to enhance its form and colour. 

Not only can you enjoy more than 14,000 native trees, the spectacular colour in acer glade and the vivid, red-glow of dawn redwoods, but Harcourt Arboretum also plays home to 300 species of animals and a huge range of interesting fungi. 

autumnal woodland walks

Image courtesy of The University of Oxford Botanic Garden and Arboretum

Now under the careful guardianship of the University of Oxford, the Arboretum was originally created by Archbishop Harcourt in 1835. Artist and landscape designer William Gilpin created The Pinetum and Serpentine Ride in the parkland of Nuneham House in The Picturesque Style, which Gilpin originated. 

The style is best described by Gilpin as “a term expressive of that peculiar kind of beauty, which is agreeable in a picture”. It champions natural rusticity and managed wildness, that disregards symmetry and portion. 

Visitors are welcome to picnic in the Arboretum, but watch out for the peacocks! They can track the scent of cheese sandwich for miles. 

Harcourt Arboretum is almost entirely accessible by wheelchair, if you’re prepared to give it some oomph in places, but for a more relaxed ride, wheelchair-friendly path maps are available. 

  1. Deer Park Wood, Witney

Image courtesy of David Colbourne/Witney Woodland Volunteers

The 11-acre site of Deer Park Wood is a fascinating place, being entirely managed by the commendable folk of Witney Woodland Volunteers. This intrepid group are devoted to actively improving and developing the land for the benefit of wildlife and the enjoyment of all. 

The central grassed avenue is lined by woodland with oak benches dotted along the way and a log seating area for picnics (it also makes a great setting for schools to use as an outdoor classroom). 

In recent years the group have added to the established woodland planting young oak, ash, lime, field maple, silver birch and hornbeam to help expand the canopy, creating even more homes for local wildlife. 

Image courtesy of David Colbourne/Witney Woodland Volunteers

During term time, The Hedgehog Club meet here every Friday morning for natural craft activities, storytelling, bug-hunting and hot chocolate. What better way to get toddlers out, active and learning about the natural environment?

Records seem to suggest that this is the last remaining tranche of land which in the 16th century had been a royal deer park and hunting ground. Prior to this it had been part of the Bishop of Winchester’s estate, however by the mid-16th century it had been turned over for use as grazing land. 

And speaking of grazing, there’s also an orchard where visitors are welcome to pluck the odd apple, plum or pear from the trees, very handy if you forget to pack the snacks. 

  1. Batsford Arboretum, Moreton-in-Marsh

Image courtesy of Bradley Rogers/Batsford Arboretum 

The UK’s largest private collection of trees and shrubs (with over 2,550 specimens) is a must for autumn colour. Batsford Arboretum is autumn par excellence. 

The collection brings together a wealth of plants from around the globe, though there’s a keen interest in plants from the Far-East in particular. 

Varieties of acers and sorbus, amongst others, put on a ground-anchored firework display with the rich colour of their foliage and berries, but it’s not just a visual feast here. Don’t miss the Cercidiphyllum japonicum (Katsura Tree) which releases a scent akin to caramelised sugar each autumn. 

The estate was indirectly inherited by Algernon Bertram Freeman-Mitford (yes, those Mitfords) in 1886, and it was his passion for oriental landscapes that led him to completely remove the old formal gardens, replacing them with a wilder, more natural style. 

Image courtesy of Bradley Rogers/Batsford Arboretum 

Later it was passed to the 1st Lord Dulverton, a dendrophile who set about returning the then neglected and overgrown grounds to their former glory. He introduced a collection of birch, maple, oak, ash, lime, magnolia, mountain ash and pine, as well as rarities. 

25% of the arboretum is accessible by wheelchair and traditional wheelchairs are available to hire, though as it’s quite hilly it may be a little challenging, thankfully all-terrain Tramper Mobility Scooters are available too! 

Autumn really is the time when our woodlands and arboretum are at their most wondrous and enchanting, giving us a truly stunning sensory spectacular, so go on, get out there and make the most of it before the leaves fall and we enter winter once again.

Why not create a wonderful woodland of your own? We can design, plant, manage and maintain a glorious arboreal area just for you. Your own private forest theatre. Please get in touch to find out more. 

 

Revealed: The best time of year to prune trees & hedges

Our horticultural insider’s guide gives you the lowdown on when to prune your trees & shrubs, so join us on a journey through the joys of keeping green screens and boundaries at their sharp-suited best this autumn & winter. 

well pruned hedge

In praise of the well-pruned hedge:

Oh my, even the most relaxed and casually styled among us enjoy seeing a beautifully-grown hedge with a smart haircut. Reminiscent of a master tailor’s ability to give the silk or velvet of a suit the most impeccable cut or the top hairdresser’s finesse with super-grooming, pruning a hedge properly is nothing short of an artform and a well-cut hedge is a triumphant masterpiece. 

Our Hort-Team find it uber-satisfying to prune native hedges restoratively, then look back at their handiwork (whether it’s taken a day or a week) to see a plethora of hedges looking dapper. 

From the cleanest beech hedge with bronzed leaves in the sunshine to pleached forms gracing formal entrances, it sets the scene of a landscape. 

Often a hedge is simply seen as providing a backdrop, they can sit at the rear of the garden theatre behind all the players in the herbaceous beds and the drama of annuals, who vie for your attention most of the year. Then comes the dormant season….

….and whilst these perennials take a rest the strength of hedges take centre stage. 

Perhaps they guide you down a driveway entrance or through an archway to the welcoming doors of home? Maybe they screen secret havens or shelter kitchen gardens? Either way, they offer a comforting green gateway to homely times. 

But pruning doesn’t just keep your hedges aesthetically appealing, these plants love being pruned. Pruning encourages new growth and removes any tired edges or areas that need rejuvenating. 

But when to prune trees & hedges?

a well-pruned beech hedge

Whilst there is no one answer fits all, but a safe bet for most is late-autumn & winter, starting with deciduous trees & shrubs.   

The pruning window for deciduous isn’t as long as you might think, as you have to make sure that you’re cutting well before new leaves begin to form too, and some trees like birch and alder begin preparing for spring early, though you can’t see it. 

All of this makes November and December the optimal time for pruning deciduous trees and hedges. 

Evergreens need a different treatment, however. 

With the exception of buxus (Box), yews and some other hedges, which we prune in summer and October respectively, evergreens tend to be pruned in spring rather than autumn/winter (around March or April), which allows the plant to renew its leaves ahead of winter and keep its nutrients topped up. 

The art of the prune:

the best time of year to prune trees and hedges

We work with the habitual form of a tree or hedge, enhancing its inherent inclination for a more natural, sculptural look or training it through pruning into a more exaggerated evolution of its natural tendencies, which gives a more formal, stylised aesthetic. 

To encourage health, we are guided in our cuts by the 4 D’s: Dead, Damaged, Diseased, Deranged (i.e. rubbing, growing the wrong way or undesirably arising from the base). Looking for branches which fit these criteria is our first port of call for pruning. 

pruned trees and hedges

As we sail forth with the autumn prune, we’ll apply mulches to hedges, trees, beds and borders whilst the soil is still warm, giving them a good dose of nutritious treatment which they’ll take up during the dormant season, ready to spring into healthy growth as winter gives way to milder days. 

Soon, as the autumn rolls into winter, we’ll start to look at the winter pruning orchards of apple and pear trees and any major renovation of overgrown trees, pleached forms and hedges, when the sap is at its lowest.

However, fruit hedges need a different treatment still, as most trees & shrubs in hedges only produce flowers (and therefore nuts & berries) on growth over one year old, so annual pruning will result in less food to be foraged by you or your local wildlife. 

For more on fruit pruning, look out for our forthcoming guide. Coming soon! 

Need the helping hands of our pro-pruners to shape your trees and hedges in garden masterpieces bursting with vitality? Talk to us about your garden.

Glorious in the garden now…..

glorious in the garden now....cyclamen

….Cyclamen

At its best:

Providing pretty spring-like colour from early autumn, through the depths of winter and beyond, these delicate-looking perennials are tougher than they appear. 

Originating from the Mediterranean, modern hardy varieties all descend from Cyclamen persicum, which has been described in literature as far back as the 4th century BC.   

It finally made its way to Europe in the late 16th century, becoming highly fashionable from the 1860’s as variants of this wild ancestor began to be developed here in England. Early varieties were hybridised to maximise the size of their flowers and to diversify the range of shades available. 

From these early hybrids descend our modern F1 varieties, which are hardier, live longer, flower longer and come in an extensive range of hues. The hardiest of these is probably Cyclamen coum, which flowers in the middle of winter. 

For 3 seasons of colour try Cyclamen hederifolium. Its fragrant pale-pink or white flowers with dark-green, silver patterned leaves will kick things off from late-September. Follow-up with the unusual slender-petalled rose-pink Cyclamen cilicium, then finally, let Cyclamen coum ‘Album’ take up the baton from December. Its pure white flowers are touched with violet at the base, almost like they’ve been dipped in paint. 

When & Where:

Cyclamen are woodland plants and so will thrive when planted in locations and conditions that resemble the forest floor. 

Plant approximately 3-5cms deep around the base of mature shrubs and trees, where they’ll receive dappled sunlight in summer, though make sure it’s somewhere that will remain moisture during autumn and winter. They look particularly fetching planted in drifts against a backdrop of white-barked Betulas (Birch) such as Betula utilis ‘Jacquemontii’.

Once planted, try not to disturb them and the flowers will naturalise and increase year-after-year.

Tolerance & Resistance: 

If you find gaps where you planted your cyclamen corms, then it might be that they’ve been dug up by squirrels for a tasty treat!

Wildlife:

See above! 

Curious Cuttings: 

cyclamen tubers

The name Cyclamen is derived from the Greek word ‘kuklos’, meaning ‘circle’, though it’s no reference to its delicate ring of petals. It in fact refers to the flattened, round shape of its tuber. 

Learn more about woodland planting with our insider’s guide.



Inside Woodland Planting

inside woodland planting

If you’ve always been quite magnetised by forests and woodland, by how they can take you back to impish childhood ways, rustling through leaves, delighting in clusters of small, impossibly perfect snowdrops and carpets of bluebells or gazing skywards in awe of giant, sometimes other worldly trees, then muse with us for a minute on creating your own mini-woodland, as we take you inside woodland planting. 

Woodland can be a marvellous habitat for you and your loved ones to enjoy using just a few simple approaches to create this ancient way with nature. 

Creating the Canopy

Ideally, you might have some existing generously proportioned trees, but if not then a copse of small trees such as Betula utilis ‘Jacquemontii’ (Himalyan Birch) can get you well on your way to creating a forest canopy. 

 Betula utilis ‘Jacquemontii’ (Himalyan Birch

Betulas are great as they have a plethora of attributes. Their slim stems, upright habit and slender crowns mean they can be repeat-planted more closely than some other birches, making them ideal for creating a copses where space is a factor. Its intriguing ivory-white bark peels from the stem like sheets of parchment to reveal fresh, brilliant white bark underneath, the whiteness of which only gets better with age. 

Helping a betula to shed its skin is not only immersive, but deeply satisfying, though please only strip a little of the already loose outer bark, being careful not to damage the inner bark (phloem), as this can interrupt the flow of nutrients around the tree’s system and can potentially cause irrevocable damage.   

Betulas also have a beautiful open canopy of leaves that bring a dappled light through highlighting the carpet of woodland planting below.

And so to the woodland planting that lies beneath. 

Planting the Forest Floor

Think of your favourite woodland walks and the wild, native plants that you pass along the way. The aim is to recreate and enhance this underplanting in your own private grove, but first you’ll need to strip back existing ground-cover, removing any turf in preparedness to plant up your woodland floor scheme. 

Polystichum setiferum is a joyous, semi-upright evergreen fern, whose foresty fronds sit perfectly in woodland schemes. 

When it comes to bulbs taking a simple, large scale view is gloriously effective, especially if you mass the same species of bulb in an abundance of varieties. Try Galanthus nivalis (Common Snowdrop) with their nodding pearl drops, then add interest with different varieties from doubles to glorious green frills. 

woodland planting with snowdrops

Another super-chap is the bulb Fritillaria ‘meleagris’ with its rich magenta hue known as ’snakeshead’ for its print. Fritillaria planted in groups of 5 are a welcome vision. 

Surely no self-respecting forest floor is without a blanket of British bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) in spring? Vivid blue trumpets hanging delicately from bowing stems make an utterly enchanting sight, offering a shot of vibrant, unexpected colour to winter-habituated eyes. And then there’s the scent! 

a woodland planted with a carpet of bluebells

Wonders of the Woodland Garden

A grove or miniature woodland walk as part of your garden can be one of the most rewarding of all garden styles as it bestows a beauty, sometimes gentle and charming and at other times dramatic and striking, throughout the year. 

In winter, the evocative twists of bare branches and ancient exposed roots are nature’s own architecture, waiting to be reawakened by the spring bulbs mentioned above, which herald the beginning of the floral year.  In summer the woods provide cool relief under their shady boughs and then in autumn comes the woodland’s greatest show. Going out in a blaze of glory, the woodland turns those familiar, though no less stunning, shades of yellow, burnt orange, russet and even deep pinks, though not before autumn cyclamen makes us think it might be spring again. 

woodland planting with cyclamen

Sustainable Woodlands

Throughout October & November we’re planting woodland schemes, using a good mulching treatment with a high bark ratio to complement woodland appeal and help to recreate the natural sylvan environment that will help woodland plants to thrive.

But it’s not just the plants that help create a sustainable and healthy woodland environment. The bug hotels and small havens often included in our woodland plans are crafted by our Hort-team in gardens to enrich the habitat and provides sheltered homes for insects. 

Woodlands offer the perfect spot for rest and rejuvenation, as well as bringing out the inner ‘Puck’ in all of us, so talk to us about creating your own enchanted woodland for leaf-kicking autumn walks and springtime forest floor delights.