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20 experts give their top gardening tips.

Carolyn Spray, Beechgrove Garden

1IF you want lots of colour right through the summer in all areas of your garden, you can't beat bedding plants. If you need some pizzazz in your planting but don't know which varieties to choose or where to put them, here are my tips on the best plants for each position.

Borders and beds - It's best to plant tall, medium and small varieties to give variations in height. They'll be out in all weathers, so must be tough. For the back of a border I love antirrhinums. For a medium size in all colours and the longest lasting flowers, non-stop tuberous begonias, pictured below, are best. Ageratum creates neat mounds of blue, pink or white, ideal for the front of a border.

Hanging baskets - Long trailing plants hide the ugly bottom of the basket. Petunia surfinia is a favourite, long trails full of large saucer-shaped blooms, in perfumed pinks, blues, purples and whites. The trailing lobelia is great at filling out a basket and interweaving between all the other plants for heaps of colour.

Container and window boxes - Geraniums at the back of containers have large clumps of striking blooms and love protection from the rain by the house eaves. Impatiens are great filler plants and give brilliant colours which last and last.

Charlie Dimmock, Ground Force

2 CONTAINER ponds look wonderful and are quick, easy and cheap to set up. They are also portable and naturally compact, so they're perfect for tiny gardens - and they're child-friendly, too.

Almost anything that holds water can be used. At its simplest, a container pond can be just a small fountain in a bowl. Or go the whole hog with fish, miniature water lily, marginal plants and oxygenators.

A clear glass bowl containing a handful of floating tropical water plants, such as water lettuce or water hyacinth, makes a fascinating table-top feature for a conservatory.

Choose large ceramic plant containers, deep birdbaths, half-barrels and decorative containers of all sorts. Avoid plastic containers as they become brittle in sunlight. Also, avoid metal that rusts as it leaches toxins into the water. Galvanised containers are fine if you paint them first with black bitumastic paint to seal in the zinc - essential if you want fish and plants. Check paints are fish-friendly - buy them at a specialist water garden centre.

From Ground Force Water Garden Workbook.

Alan Titchmarsh, Ground Force

3 THE secret of a good hedge lies in its roots. Since it will probably stay put for 50 years or more, good soil preparation is vital. If your soil is good, mark out the row and dig in lots of organic matter. If you have heavy clay, stony chalk or light sand, dig a trench and fill it with good top soil and organic matter. It takes ages, but it's worth it.

Some hedges are okay as a single row: flowering shrubs, low evergreen or conifers, and dwarf hedges around flower beds. But formal hedges of beech, hornbeam and yew, and any hedge you want to grow tall, need to be planted as a double row. Stagger the plants so they interlock.

The plants should be spaced about 45cm (18in) apart, but this varies according to the variety. The cheapest way to grow a new hedge is to plant bare-root plants in autumn.

Evergreens like yew, box and conifers are mostly sold as pot-grown plants. Ornamental shrubs are also suitable for hedging, such as many roses, forsythia and escallonia. These are more expensive because you will be buying garden centre plants. To cut costs, look in gardening magazines for firms that specialise in hedging, since they often sell young, pot-grown plants in bulk. Alternatively, buy a few big plants, take cuttings and grown your own.

Once you have established your hedge, give it a good feed each spring using any general fertiliser, such as blood, fish and bone or even rose food. Mulch underneath it and keep the base weeded.

From Gardeners' World Complete Book of Gardening

Dr D G Hessayon, gardening author

4 MULCHING needs a PR campaign. We all hoe, water, dig and fork, but very few bother to use this technique. It deserves to be actively promoted because it cuts down the chore of weeding and reduces the need to water in dry weather.

The root zone is kept warmer in winter and cooler in summer, and some pests and diseases are kept in check. And yet it's all so simple - a mulch is nothing more than a layer of material put around growing plants. The secret is to pick the right time. Remember that a mulch is an insulator which slows down the rate of change in the soil conditions so do it when the soil is just what you want it to be, moist and reasonably warm.

There are many varieties of organic mulches. Bark, garden compost and well-rotted manure are the favourites, and all of these increase earthworm efficiency and prevent soil capping.

A plastic mulch covered with bark placed around woody plants will cut down all weed growth and stimulate roots.

So go on, read a book on mulching - there's a chapter in The Easy-care Gardening Expert - and surprise yourself.

Monty Don, TV gardening guru

5 A HEALTHY garden feeds itself, so no garden should be without its own compost heap. Anything more than a very small garden will produce a lot of vegetative waste, so the easiest way to get rid of it is to stack it all up out of the way. This basically is what a compost heap is.

A heap takes about six months to build in winter and half that in summer. Turn it once as it nears completion, then cover it with straw or old underfelt and leave it for a month before turning it again. Leave it for six months before use.

Corrugated iron or straw bales only should be used to make a container. Each heap should be about 3m (10ft) by 1.2m (4ft) in area and about 2m (6ft) high. The bigger the heap the better it heats up. This ensures weeds and pathogens are killed and the rotting process is speeded up. Build it up by just chucking on garden and kitchen waste.

From Fork to Fork.

Anne Swithinbank, BBC Gardeners' World magazine

6 I SHOULD tell you to think carefully before choosing houseplants, but I can't, because I want you to feel the same thrill as me when you walk into the garden centre.

I buy on impulse, trawling for unusual specimens, brilliant flowers, or colourful foliage.

Busy people might avoid demanding types like gardenias, African violets and citrus. Easy begonia rex, orange-flowered clivia miniata and the fragrant climber stephanotis thrive on neglect in my house.

New plants often need repotting, so my tip is to stock up with pot, saucer and compost straight away. Most of my plants enjoy a 50-50 mixture of John Innes No.2 and a soil-less potting compost.

Finding attractive containers can be a challenge. I put larger plants into glazed pots meant for outdoors and use clay pots for smaller ones.

More plants are killed by over-watering than anything else. Let the surface of the compost dry out, then apply enough water to soak all the roots, but don't leave any sitting in the saucer.

The plants will also need a spot of fertiliser every 2-3 weeks when they are growing strongly.

Bill Torrance, former Beechgrove Garden host

7 FOR Paul Young it's fishing. With Robbie Coltrane it's cars and for Sean Connery golf. Even Chancellor Gordon Brown has a weakness - for his local team Raith Rovers.

But for me, it's orchids. I'm hooked on them, not just for their variety of colour, elegant simplicity or exotic look, but because they're easy to grow and they have never been cheaper.

Where else can you get such value for money?

In garden centres and superstores throughout the country you can buy an orchid in bloom for less than a tenner and, with the minimum of attention, it will stay flowering for three months or more.

Look for a phalanopsis - or moth orchid - which grow and flower all year round. And it's surprisingly easy to look after your new treasure.

Orchids like partial shade, so a north-facing window is ideal. If you put it elsewhere make sure you shade it from direct sunshine with blinds or a curtain. And - just like us - they don't like draughts.

Phalanopsis like it warm. Central heating is ideal because they prefer a daytime temperature of around 78F (24C) and a drop at night to about 64F(17C). They like high humidity so spray roots and leaves as often as possible with tepid water, not the flowers or they'll blotch. Sit the pot on a tray of wet gravel. Feed all year but less in winter. Bob's your uncle - phalanopsis is your orchid.
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Title Annotation:Gardening
Publication:Sunday Mail (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Mar 11, 2001
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