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July 29 2014 3 29 /07 /July /2014 17:01




When you visit a garden centre or look through a catalogue you can be a bit mystified by the terms, especially the Latin names. Every plant has two Latin names. Take an example, Camelia sinensis is the plant from which we obtain tea. Camelia, which begins with a capital, denotes the genus, the group of plants to which it belongs, and sinensis denotes the species. This is not given a capital. There are other species in the Camelia genus, for example, Camelia sasquana, which is used in Japan for a kind of tea. It is important to realize that plants within the same genus can produce fertile hybrids. For example there are several species in the genus Amelanchier, a kind of shrub. Amelanchier canadensis x grandiflora is a hybrid between two species, canadensis and grandiflora. This is an interspecific hybrid, a hybrid between two species in the same genus. Yet you can also have intergeneric hybrids, which occur when plants from two related genera [plural of genus] are bred together. One example is leylandii, which is x Cyprocyparis leylandii, which is a cross between a Nootka cypress and  another member of the cypress genus. Note that intergeneric hybrids have the cross before the name rather than within it. They are not fertile and have to be propagated vegetatively, by cuttings.


Sometimes a single species contains much variety. For example, Brassica oleraceae, has several distinct varieties. Cabbages, kale, broccoli. calabrese,cauliflowers and sprouts all are varieties of this single species.


Various related genera are classed as families. Some families are small and have few genera in them, but some are huge. The rose family, the Rosaceae has a hundred genera and two thousand species; and you would not think that some belong to the same family. The family includes roses, but also Rubus [blackberry and raspberry] Prunus [plums] and Frageria [strawberries.] The Rose family belongs to a wider group of families which are grouped into an order, the Rosales. You will not need to bother with the term order when buying plants for your garden. There has never to the best of my knowledge been any interfamily hybridization


Yet of more importance to gardeners are divisions within species. You often find varieties. For example, there are red, white and yellow roses. These may all be part of the same species, but are different varieties within the species.  They interbreed easily with other varieties in the same species. There will be a variety name, for example Amelanchier canadensis x grandiflora 'ballerina' is a specific variety of that hybrid. Note that varieties do not have  Latin names. One kind of variety is a subspecies. This is usually a variety within a  species that is strongly linked to an area. For example,the cricket bat willow, Salix alba caerulea thrives best in eastern England. The plant name includes sspc before the term denoting the subspecies. Note that a subspecies can have a Latin name.Hybrids between different subspecies and varieties are known as infraspecific hybrids. However, while this term is used in botany, we do not use the term infraspecific hybrids in talking of mixing between breeds of animal or races of human.


A specific kind of variety is a cultivar. This is a variety that is kept distinct by human effort, which involves ensuring that interbreeding with other cultivars does not take place. Propagation of cultivars is rarely by seed and is generally by vegetative methods, such as cuttings, layering  and division.


Below the  level of cultivar  there is form and subform, the latter being the smallest division of a plant cultivar. Forms and subforms are so slightly different from other members of the variety to which they belong that they are easily lost when plants interbreed, so they have to be maintained artificially by vegetative methods. Forms and subforms only occur in the world of ornamentals. Vegetable growers do not need these terms.

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January 2 2012 2 02 /01 /January /2012 19:47



Plantng trees is easy as long as certain rules are kept.


The first rule is to plant during the dormant season. This is the winter time, when the tree is inactive. As a general rule you plant trees in months with an R in them, September to March. However, the best time is November to January, when the ground is coldest. In Britain the ideal time is November to December, but in certain places where the winter soil is frozen, the planting is best done just before Spring when the soil is warmed up.This rule applies to deciduous trees, but evergreens can be planted at any time of year.


The hole that you dig should be square to prevent roots turning into a circular pattern, though it is not dangerous to dig a round hole. Its depth should be equal to the depth from the bottom of the roots to the point at which the trunk begins. Do not plant deeper than this as excessive depth is not thought to be good for the tree.  You can place a water tube into the ground so that it protrudes. This will enable water to be passed down to the roots in dry weather.


Insert the tree into the hole and back fill it with compost. Fill it to ground level, but not deeper. Then heel down the soil. This is pressing the soil down with your heel. The purpose of this practice is to squeeze out air pockets, which prevent the roots from contacting soil and absorbing water and minerals. Ensure that you water the tree well. Do this by watering the soil around its base.




You can insert a tree stake. This is a pole fastened to the tree that enables it to hold firm in bad winds. It should be diagonal to the tree rather than vertical and fastened with suitable straps. Do not use ties that are too thin or they might cut into the tree bark. They might also snap. The tree stake should be inserted before the hole is filled.


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January 1 2012 1 01 /01 /January /2012 12:52



When planting a garden you must realise that a garden is an ongoing process. You do not simply plant, sit back and enjoy. Instead, you enjoy, but there is ongoing work for the whole life of the garden or your time there. A garden never stays the same, it evolves and grows over time.


The first requirement is to have a structure in mind, as a structure allows you to organise your thoughts and activities. Some gardeners create a structure of paths and beds. The paths may be wood chip, gravel or brick. The beds may be raised or at ground level. If they are to be raised they need wooden or brick sides, though brick is expensive. In a flower garden it is possible to demarcate the paths and beds with box trees, which must be kept pruned to below knee height. But these need renewing every few years.


Gardeners must take care of their soil. Most soils fall into the medium pH range. This is the acidity scale. A pH of 6.5 -7 is considered fine for plants, but there are soils that differ on either side of the extreme. A friend of mine with a place on a Welsh mountainside had a soil pH so acidic that little or nothing would grow, so she had to use raised beds to grow anything. You can get your pH tested by purchasing a kit from a  garden centre.


Gardeners must ensure that they nourish their soil. This is done by the addition of compost and or manure, which can be laid on top of the ground or dug in. The manure should be well-rotted. Nowadays manure pellets are available from certain suppliers, but if you add these you would need to add compost to provide some structure to the soil, as pellets add little of this. Seaweed meal, ideally as liquid seaweed, should be applied in diluted form, as this enriches the soil with trace elements. However, the nourishment of the soil is an ongoing process that must occur constantly through a garden's life. Leaf mould is another useful addition to soil. This is made from leaves that have taken a year or so to rot down. It adds some structure to the soil


The beds should be well dug prior to planting. Dig them over and leave them for the winter, then break up the soil with a hoe until it turns into a fine tilth.Tilth is a crumbly soil made up of fine particles. If you are growing vegetables add a base dressing at this time. this is fertiliser applied to the ground before planting.You might need to add fertilsir during the growing season, but never in excessive quantities, as this can burn the roots.


Vegetables need a crop rotation. This means growing plants in sequence in each bed. The Standard British rotaton is four fold. Potatoes, followed by root crops, beans and peas, then brassicas, members of the cabbage family. but this is the most simple rotation, and professional gardeners can be quite sophisticated in their rotational patterns. Rotating crops prevents a build up of plant diseases and pests in the soil.


Flowers are divided into annuals, biennials  and perennials. Annuals die yearly and need replanting. Biennials take two years to live and perennials live indefinitely. Herbaceous perennials die back to their roots and regrow. It is a god idea to lift them once every two or three years and divide them. This involves spliting the root clump into two and replanting. Rhubarb can be treated in this way. I do it to rhubarb once every five years. Woody perennials, those with woody stems, do not die back and are not divided in the manner that I have just described.


Bulbs and coms should be planted to a depth of twice the size of the bulb. Do this in Autumn according to the advice given by the bulb seller. Onions, however, need to be peeking just above the ground. But you might need netting to protect them from curious birds, such as wood pigeons, which are becoming  nuisance in gardening.


In cold climates you might need to start young plants off in a greenhouse or cloche. This brings me to an important point. Some planting books give planting times for the south of Britain. But the planting dates are later as you go further north. Take into account the likelihood of frost before you plant. Beans in particular die quickly in frost, as do tomatoes. Not even a greenhouse will protect against frost, unless it is heated.





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December 31 2011 7 31 /12 /December /2011 19:47



Vegetables can be grown indoors, but you must choose the correct conditions and vegetables. The main condition is light, which must be maximised for vegetable growth. If you have a conservatory, all the better, as this is  small greenhouse attached to the house, but you can use window ledges. These should be south facing to maximise sunlight. They should also be free of draughts, as cold draughts can damage sensitive plants.


Containers need to be properly watered, as they dry out easily. But you should not overwater them, as this can drown the plants. The growing medium should be kept moist, but not soaking.


You also need to ensure that the medium contains enough nutrients. Soil in containers will soon run out of nutrients, so you need to add fertilser at a regular rate, every two or three weeks. But you must not over-fertilise, as doing so can damage or even kill the roots. Follow the manufacturer's instructions on the fertiliser packet. You must also ensure that the medium is suitable for the plants that you want to grow. Most plants grow happily at pH 6.5-7, but some plants need a higher or lowe pH. pH is the ratio of hydrogen ions in the soil and measures acidity. A low pH is a highly acid soil, and a high pH is high alkaline. You can measure the pH with a special measuring kit easily purchased from a garden centre. If you are growing annual plants that last for only a year, then the soil can be changed every year, but if you are growing herbs that you want to ensure for more than a year, you may need to repot them yearly. This means taking them out of a container and potting in another, possibly larger one.


Do not allow plants to sit in still air. They need a flow of air around them. This is to provide the carbon dioxide that they need. It is also to prevent a build up of humiditiy that can cause fungal diseases to set in.


Select your plants carefully. I have seen a banana plant growing in a corner of a room, but no bananas came from it. The problem was that this plant has a high light demand, and a corner could not therefore provide enough light. Tomatoes and peppers are excellent for indoor growing. They grow well on south facing window ledges, even in cold climates. You might also be able to produce aubergines in similar conditions, as these are plants that grow better in protected conditions in the British climate.


Herbs make great indoor plants, as they are small and can easily grow on window ledges. Basil, thyme and sage grow well in containers. They can grow on the kitchen window ledge, if it receives enough light.


Mushrooms can also be part of your indoor garden. Contrary to common belief they do not require darkness, but they do not like over-much light. Unlike plants they are air breathers, so they need a flow of air around them, though ideally not a cold breeze. Mushroom kits cna be purchased from some garden centres and a number of suppliers on the internet. A cellar or the space under the stairs can be an ideal mushroom cultivation site.



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December 31 2011 7 31 /12 /December /2011 17:35



The question of whether tomato is a fruit or a vegetable is a non-question. In the broad sense of the word all plant material available to be eaten is a vegetable. However, we subdivide the vegetable fruits that we eat into different kinds, and this division has given rise to the question of whether or not tomato is vegetable or fuit.


In looser usage we group certain foods together as vegetables. These include those that grow underground, such as roots and tubers. Potatoes are tubers and carrots are swollen tap roots. We eat the leaves of other plants, such as lettuce. Some other plants can have edible flowers, such as cucumbers. All these we class loosely as vegetables as oposed to fruits. However, this loose usage finds many people classifying cucumbers and marrows as vegetables, even though they are actually the fruit of the plant. This mistake probably arises because they are green, like the bulk of what we call vegetables.


This loose colloquial usage has the word fruit reserved for the seed bearing organs of the plant, such as apples and berries. Tomato certainly belongs to the category of fruits, as it is a seed bearing organ of the plant. Yet it is eaten as a vegetable in salads. But so also apple can be included in a salad, even though it is a seed bearer.


So you see the division between vegetables and fruits is a false one depending upon the loose usage of terminology. Tomato is both fruit and vegetable.

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October 17 2011 2 17 /10 /October /2011 12:25



The basic principles


Making a garden pool involves deciding whether to buy a rigid pool or use a liner. If you purchase a rigid, fibreglass pool you are making life easy in one way, but you are committing yourself to a pool of a set shape and size. You would need to ensure that the ground is dug to the exact depth of the pool and is dug to the correct shape. You can dig to a shape, but it may involve some filling in around the sides after the fibreglass pool is put in place. The soil should be firmly tamped down to make the pool secure.


If you build a pool with a butyl liner you have more opportunity to decide the shape. However, you must be aware that butyl can be pierced by gravel or larger stones in the soil. Therefore you must ensure that the soil is carefully excavared. You must dig it to a slightly greater depth than you will need for the pool and take out all stones. This can be a painstaking job. Then you will lay sand thickly over the surface and press it down.After the sand has been laid the pool should be at the depth that you want.


If you want a pool of varying depths, possibly for water plants, you can dig it in steps. However, it is vital to realize that you must work out the exact surface area of ground to be covered and then purchase a liner twice the size needed. The calculation should include the area of the pond walls as well as the bottom. The liner should stretch over the side and lie on the ground to prevent it slipping. It can be covered with soil or edging stones to hold it down.


The edge


It is possible to have a rigid edge, like the pool in the picture, but some pool owners have a boggy edge at one side to allow for a bog garden, which might incluide such plants as cranberry and insectivorous plants, such as sundew.


However, as a liner might be covering the soil near the edge , it is often a good idea to have a container garden surrounding the pool. Large pots will contain the range of flowers that you want.To plant water flowers, have them in piots then lower them into the water at the depth that you want.




Safety is paramount. If you have children or if children can obtain access, think twice about a pool. A protective fence is always a good idea, and the containers will help to provide extra safety. However, no children should be unsupervised near a pool; and the safety of vulnerable adults must also be considered. Netting is also important, and you should carefully consider putting a well secured safety net across the pool. 


This brings us to electricity. The water will need renewing every so often, so you will need a pump. Water and electricity do not mix, so unless you are a trained electrician, do not wire the pump up yourself. Bring in a qualified electrician; and the services of a plumber are to be considered when connecting up the water supply. Take no risks. 




The pool will need to be kept clean, especially as autumn leaves will get into it and clog up the bottom. An annual cleaning is needed. You can put the mud debris from the bottom of the compost heap or in the leaf mould bin.




Fish are a great addition to a pond, but they need to have clean water, so you will need to refresh the water supply on a regular basis. However, herons are no respecters of property. In my area herons moved in and took advantage of unprotected ponds, so plenty of expensive koi carp were eaten. Safety netting protects your fish. You might also need to oxygenate water so that the fish can respire, so a pump might have to be working regularly.


Frogs are a great blessing to a garden, as they eat slugs, but they also need protection from herons. Frogs need somewhere to leap from the water, as they spring out at great speed, so ensure that netting does not impede them. They also like an area with undergrowth to hunt slugs. So ensure that the garden is not totally manicured. Do not put frogs and newts in the same pool, as the frogs will eat the newts.


Ducks will turn clean water filthy very quickly, so think twice about having them in a garden pool. Their eggs will also absorb dirt if left lying in a dirty area, so think carefully about whether to keep them in a garden pool. They are, however, effective and voracious consumers of slugs.





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October 16 2011 1 16 /10 /October /2011 17:32



October is a time of contradictions for gardeners.On the one hand it is the time when produce is ripe for the picking. I picked some delicious green apples today and the few remaining pears; yet I was also tidying up, clearing beds and laying down tarpaulins to smother weeds during winter. It will give me less weeding to do during winter time and spring.But I still have veg to pick during autumn and winter: carrots, parsnips, kale and cabbage, along with more apples. I really must make cider with some of them.


There are funny incidents. A neighbour came to me a little annoyed to grouse about being visited during the night. Apparently, we have been noticing that small scale pilfering of food has been going on. This time his scarecrow had its jumper stolen. It was an old one whose value was pennies, but we think that a tramp has been prowling. Poor fellow. Last night was rather cold, down to  degrees celsius, and he must have been desperate.Snow is forecast, so he needs it more than the sacrecrow does.


The lady on the neighbouring plot showed me a vegetable that I had not heard of before, a yakom. It is a root veg that looks like a potato, but it contains inelin, a sweet tasting sugar that is not digested, and hence has no calories. Delightful? No! It has the same side effects as Jerusalem artichokes. If you don't know what they are, you are in for an embarrassing surprise: wind, loads of it. She is a pharmacist, so she probably knows the chemistry of it all. Just imagine serving this stuff at a party! Would I do a thing like that? My wife would not let me. Apparently it is easy to grow.


A few months back we discovered that we have a well. It was below the pavilion, which was burnt down by vandals. It must have been there for years and forgotten, as no one on the allotment knew anything about it. . What do we do about it. It is a danger to kids, but it is a source of water at a  time when allotment water bills are rising. We have it covered over with heavy logs.


Only part of the plot is covered over. I still have some work to do on the soil at the far end, where the fruit trees are. There are still potatoes to be unearthed. I would have had them up now, but for the fact that I am in the process of moving house and don't want too much clutter while I am doing it.


They are a decent lot, the characters on our allotments. That's lucky, as some allotments are divided into feuding factions. There isn't anyone that I dislike. Of course, that's not to say that everyone always gets on, but we are quite blessed.





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October 10 2011 2 10 /10 /October /2011 10:50

Box hedge3612100492_7880b40455.jpg


Hedging plants should be selected according to the kind of garden you want. Clearly, if you want a great deal of seclusion you wil opt for taller plants than you would if you wanted to divide ornamental beds from each other. Some hedging plants are trees, whereas others are flowers or shrubs




Generally you will want trees of moderate size that grow reasonably quickly. However, you must consider the soil conditions to see whether they are suitable for the kind of plant that you want. For example, Field Maple [Acer campestre] is a good hedging plant, but it needs chalky, alkaline soil and does not grow in the North of England.  Similarly, willow is suitable for wet ground and does not like dry soil.


Some trees have a good protective function. Berberis [barberry] has thorns, as does hawthorn. However, if you have young children who will play with their balls in the garden, berberis is not a good idea. Its berries are not generally palatable to humans, but they can be used when roasting lamb, when you put two of them onto the lamb and let them drip their juices down it.  Hawthorn is good, but it needs controlling, as it can turn into a straggly tree if left untended. Hawthorn berries are edible, but best left to the birds. They. like other trees with berries, make a good contribution to a wildlife garden.


Beech make popular hedging plants, but they need to be kept under control, as they can grow to a great height. Similarly, yew is very popular, but it needs to be controlled, even though it is not as naturally tall as beech. But here is a word of warning. All parts of the yew are poisonous, and if you have young children, you should not plant a yew hedge, as the arils [berries] can kill if eaten.


Leylandii is becoming less popular than it was, as it grows to sucha  height that it is antisocial and can be subject to legal restrictions. Similarly, privet can grow to a great height, though kept under control it is useful. However, privet has the habit of drawing goodness from the soil.Blackthorn is a shrub that is found in hedgerows across parts of Britain. It is thorny, and it needs to be kept in control.Its berries are good for sloe gin, but are totally unplatable.


Partition hedges


If you go to many ornamental gardens you will see small plots of flowers bounded by box. This is a useful tree that can be kept short and makes excellent divisions inside the garden. However, box often needs to be replaced every few years and it is not as tough as some of the other hedging plants.


For this purpose of dividing up gardens lavender does a good job, as there are strong levender hedges in many high quality gardens. Lavender also attracts bees and  is therefore very wildlife friendly. Honeysuckle [the various varieties of Lonicera ]  is also a popular hdging plant, though tis tendency to grow tall needs to be kept under control.




Some wildlife takes well to hedges that are bit straggly and unkempt. Wrens and sparrows are known to find nests in  hedges where there is the protection provided by thorns. Wrens are small enough to fly into thorny hedges unscathed. Sparrows also have been known to nest in thick hedges. But hedges that are cut and trimmed are less attractive to birds than are straggly ones. Take your choice.





2382404941_c494c49b03.jpg      Hawthorn hedge








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August 26 2011 6 26 /08 /August /2011 13:49

Seeds can be purchased from many outlets. However, not all of them are of high quality. You need to know something about seeds so that you can choose the best ones. Garden centres are a popular outlet though there are others such as seed companies. Many of these seed companies have catalogues and can be found online.


About seeds

There is a wide range of seeds. There are peas, beans and tiny onion seeds. Some seeds take a few weeks or months to grow. However, biennials such as onions will produce in two years.

Good-quality seeds are important as cheap seeds are a false economy. Seeds are living organisms, so they must respire. However, the air breathed burns up stored sugars. Therefore, as seeds age, they have fewer stored food resources than young seeds have. Hence, they are not likely to grow at all or otherwise, grow well.

The smaller the seed, the shorter its lifespan as it has less food stored in it. Cheap seeds are often over a year old, or maybe more. Sadly, some gardeners have experience of buying a packet of cheap seeds which does not germinate.

Garden centres

The most popular places for seeds are garden centres where there will be a wide range of seeds. However, be careful since they sometimes sell seeds past the sell-by-date, the time in the year after which they will not germinate.

Don't buy any after the planting date, unless they are veg seeds that you want to use for sprouting. This is growing seeds in a tray and eating them when they are very small, the stage at which they are most nourishing.

Do not do this with flower or potato seeds as some are poisonous. Take care and do some research. Some nurseries may sell seeds, but most specialise in plant sales

Other sources

Seeds online

This is a popular means of buying. There are some companies such as Bakker and Thompson and Morgan which sell seeds online and which have a strong catalogue sales service.

You can access their catalogues online and order by post or email. Herb seed is easily available here. Marshalls seeds also operates a strong mail order system. Garden Direct sell a wide range of plants like the previously mentioned companies. They advertise and offer quality gardening for less.

There are others such as Greenfingers.com and Halcyonplants .co.uk. Seeds.com by post is a mail order operation. Seeds at a reasonable price are offered by Supaprice.co.uk.

If you want specific seeds such as sunflower seeds, you can type the name of the seed into your browse. There are several sites advertising specific seeds such as begonias.

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August 5 2011 6 05 /08 /August /2011 12:59

Indoor plant pots come in various shapes and sizes, according to purpose. It is relatively easy to buy a small range of ordinary pots at any garden centre, but there are specialists who will sell a wider range.Some companies have websites selling their pots, some of which can be quite low cost, while others can be decorative.


Indoor pots

Plant pots come in various materials. Indoor pots tend not to be terracotta, though these are useful on patios, as they are porous. They tend to be either functional plastic or more decorative, heavy ceramic. Any garden centre of DIY store will sell pots that can be used indoors, but not everyone sells pots with a specific indoor purpose. Focussed DIY sell indoor pots.There are several companies trading on the web, some of whom have stores as well, who can provide a range of indoor pots.

Online stores selling pots

Amazon, while often associated with books and dvds etc, are a major Internet store with many departments. They offer a range of pots, one of which is bronze, making it suitable for stylish indoor planting, and there are ceramic planters suitable for rooms and conservatories.

Sandedge.com have an indoor garden section on their website, observing that indoor plants sometimes come in unattractive containers and so, they are offering a more attractive option for people who want to plant indoor plants.


The advantage of specialist sites is that you can find a range of stylish pots of various sizes, which means that you can pot on from something stylish to a stylish pot of a larger kind. You can also find stylish large pots suitable for larger plants, such as indoor trees, the sort grown in conservatories that you do not always find in general garden centres.

A visit to Plantpots.co.uk takes you to Terratec, which offers a range of planters made from fibreglass aluminium or stoneware, etc, all of which are intended for stylish appearance.

Notonthehighstreet.com aims at a stylish, apparently female market keen on elegant goods. There is a home and garden section that offers pots in very elegant style.

Poshpots.com also aims to sell quality pots.

Supaprice.co.uk aims at a less expensive market.

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