24 February 2010

The wonderful world of Wisteria

As spring approaches, I am starting to really look forward to my journey back from work, which takes in several magnificent Wisterias, one of which covers a huge Georgian house and is truly amazing.

I remember as a young child, I loved staying with my aunt in Sussex. The house was covered with a vast Wisteria, which I could climb into as the trunk and branches was so huge. Now, whenever I catch a whiff of the beautiful perfume I am transported back to my younger days.

The most important thing to remember about Wisteria is to always stay one step ahead of it, in other words, do not let it get out of control or it will wind its way up drainpipes, and into roofs and anywhere it can reach. I have spent too many hours up very tall ladders retrieving wayward wisterias from the upper reaches of various houses in Bath! If possible keep them where you can at least reasonably reach them safely from a short ladder – or get someone in to prune who is unafraid of heights!

Wisteria is a genus of woody vines that originate from Japan, China and Korea as well as the eastern USA. The most commonly found varieties include Wisteria sinensis, Chinese Wisteria and Wisteria floribunda, Japanese Wisteria. They are generally fully hardy but you might find that early flower buds can be damaged by frosts.

They do need something strong and secure to grow on. Over time the stems and branches get very thick and will crush trellis or thinner timber structures. They benefit from having a strong pergola structure or metal framework. It is worth thinking ahead when you plan a Wisteria and imagining how it will look in several years time, therefore do give it plenty of space as well as support.

They like to be planted with their roots in the cool and preferably on a sunny wall where they will reach the warmth, make sure to include plenty of rotted manure or compost and add an annual mulch as they like their food, and will benefit from feeding with liquid feed in the spring. Prune Wisteria first in January or February, cutting back the long whippy growth to two buds and take out any dead bits. It can sometimes be quite hard to determine what is dead and what is not dead at this time of year, but anything without any dark buds on is normally dead.

You can also assess whether the wire or framework is holding up and re-tie in anything. I prefer to use tarred string for this job, as it is soft and yet strong and is not damaging to the stems, it also lasts a few seasons before needing to be replaced. Using wire to tie in often results in the wisteria growing around the wire and this can damage the plant.

Tie the stems to the framework and keep standing back to get an overview to make sure the whole plant is not too congested with growth from the previous year. Once your wisteria has finished flowering, around July or August give the long stems another trim back to five buds and tie in if necessary.

Wisteria can look stunning grown into a tree, but make sure to plant it a few feet away from the base of the trunk and on the south side of the tree. As standards they grow well in either the ground or a container. Start by putting a strong support next to the plant to train it over and prune back side-shoots eventually creating a lollipop effect. Remember that if you are using a container to start off with a cheap plastic one and move the wisteria into a bigger pot as it grows larger.

Iford Manor has some particularly fantastic wisteria planted as standards and it’s well worth visiting there in May or June to see them. They line the entranceway into the main house and lead the visitor up a path to the loggia.

Wisteria have the reputation of being tricky to grow and maintain but with a bit of know-how they certainly give back what you put in.

17 February 2010

Shedloads of Fun

When I go to look at a new garden for a client there will inevitably be the shed conversation, and it will go like this. Me: ‘That’s a big shed, do you actually use it?’ Client (if female) not really, I don’t like it at all, its an eyesore and full of rubbish. Client (if male) oh yes, its essential to our survival, we have to have it’

There is a saying which goes something like ‘every man should have a shed’ but I think that increasingly they are moving away from being a male sanctuary and domain to becoming another space to work, study or create. Or just be and listen to the radio in peace and quiet. They are the perfect solution to modern life, a hideaway and only at the bottom of your garden.

The average shed is pretty uninspiring and generally stuffed with bikes, garden furniture, lawn mowers, broken pots and massive spiders. I do encourage clients to consider exactly what they need to store, or how they want to use their shed, as most of us nowadays do not have huge gardens with space to hide the offending structure, normally there they are plonked right in the line of sight. As humans our natural instinct is often to fill any available space we have and the shed is often a prime dumping ground.

If you are thinking about getting a new shed it is really worth thinking about what you want to do in it, is it for work or pleasure or simply to hide rubbish? Could it be used as a potting shed, a studio, an office or even a larder or spare room? The permutations are endless! You can of course add a lean-to for firewood and garden tools, increasing the storage space as needed.

It’s also worth considering whether you need utilities such as water or electricity and possibly insulation. Having any of these services vastly increases the possibilities and gives you more options.

Don’t forget to find out if you need permission for your new structure. Remember that Bath is a full of conservation areas and listed buildings so if you are in any of these areas it could be a problem, but it is easy to check this out with the planning department or fill in a Householder Development Planning questionnaire downloadable from the BANES website.

As a general rule of thumb however, the structure can

only be one storey high, with no verandas or raised platforms or balcony and there is also a maximum height of 2.5 metres within 2 metres of any boundary. However, this leaves plenty of scope for a decent sized shed.

So where do you go for your shed? They are widely available from any DIY shop or from most garden centres. However, having had years of experience in choosing and erecting sheds, I would advise that generally you get what you pay for, so it’s worth considering this as the cheaper types do not last for very long. If you have a particular size in mind you can have them made for you, thus giving you the choice of types of roof, where you want the door, windows and the type of timber. Whites of Frome are just one place which makes bespoke sheds.

It is very important to get a good strong base built, either using paving slabs or concrete, but it is important to ensure that this base is perfectly level. Sometimes it is worth marking out the size of the shed on the ground to give you a sense of how it might look. Also consider planting around it or over it with shrubs and climbers.

Sheds are also a good structure for a green roof of either sedums or wildflowers and grasses but it is worth getting expert advice on this to ensure that the roof is strong enough to take the weight of the plants and soil.

Generally sheds are boring and brown. Why not spruce yours up by painting it an interesting colour? There are masses of fantastic paint colours available for external timber. Susanne Higgins, showroom manager at Farrow & Ball in Walcot Street recommends using their exterior eggshell, and it is available in the complete range of colours. I love Dix Blue and Parma Grey, but there are lots to choose from.

With imaginative planting, maybe a place to sit and peace and quiet, it won’t just be the fairies enjoying life at the bottom of your garden.