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Ready for the big cover-up; From disguising an ugly shed with beautiful blooms to decorating your fruit trees with unwanted CDs, Roger Clarke has the the answers to gardening problems.

Byline: Roger Clarke

Last weekend plants burst into growth almost as if a starting gun had been fired. I was away for a couple of days and came back to find tree fern fronds which had been just stirring, a foot high.

A deciduous fern had gained ten fronds while geraniums seemed to have developed flowers from thin air.

We are all used to returning from a fortnight away in summer to find plants have moved on. The lawn is longer and there are more blooms, plants are larger and beds are looking fuller, but the difference in just a weekend was remarkable.

Lilac went from bud last week to bloom this week. It used to be common in gardens but has lost favour over the years, which is a pity.

Syringa is a reliable shrub or small tree ranging in size from 4ft to 12 ft. S. vulgaris, the common lilac is the one most likely to be found in garden centres, and it comes in a range of colours from white through to a deep, rich purple. Many varieties have scented blooms and there are singles and doubles.

Lilacs are ideal town garden plants. They prefer a sunny spot and do particularly well in chalky clay but will grow happily in any reasonably fertile soil.

The early Azaleas are also coming into bloom. The deciduous varieties are very hardy with a couple of exceptions. They will grow in full sun or partial shade although they do prefer a sheltered spot.

Like the rest of the rhododendron family azaleas need an acid soil and if you can't provide that then the best bet is raised beds filled with lime free compost or grow them in containers.

If you are looking to hide a shed, compost heap or dustbin area, or you just want to cover a wall or fence with minimum fuss and expense then nasturtiums, Tropaeolum majus, are cheap, cheerful and reliable. They will scramble over a simple frame or netting and provide plenty of colour all summer long.

Another rapid, low cost climber is nasturtium's close relative, the canary creeper, Tropaeolum canariense. This has bright yellow, spurred blooms and is a rapid grower which can make 13ft.

Both nasturtiums and canary creepers are tender but seeds usually survive to appear the following year.

If you are looking for something a bit more permanent then another cousin, the Scottish flame flower, Tropaeolum speciosum, is a hardy, perennial climber which will reach 10ft or so.

It has bright red flowers in summer and often sports bright blue berries in autumn. Despite its name, like the rest of the Tropaeolum family its roots are in central and South America where another useful climber can be found.

A bit more exotic in both name and flower is the Chilean Glory Vine, Eccremocarpus scaber. It is a half hardy perennial but is often grown as an annual. They reach 10ft with ease and are smothered in clusters of tubular orange flowers.

In very mild areas the plants survive but usually the top growth is killed off and the plant shoots again the following spring from below ground or from seed from the parent.

The plant has leaf tendrils on each stalk allowing it to cling to almost anything and to scramble through hedges and up trees.

Another useful climber is the humble sweet pea which can provide a wall of colour. The secret with sweet peas is to give them support as soon as they are planted so that they can easily reach any mesh or netting provided for them to climb up.

If they have to flail around for a few days looking for support they never seem to be as vigorous. A few twigs is all it takes to get them started.

Whether your sweet peas are to cloak a fence, hide a shed or are growing in a row or on a wigwam for cut flowers, remember to pick daily once the flowers start to appear.

Let the plants set seed, which is their entire reason for being there, continuing the species, and they will relax flower production slowing down considerably.

Be a bit of a slave driver, picking every day and the plants will just keep on trying.


If you have room for veg then carry on sowing little and often for successional crops of lettuce, carrots, beet, turnips, radish, spring onions and so on.

You can also make an extra sowing of peas and broad beans to extend the season and it is always useful to prepare a site for a late sowing of runner beans. Sow them next weekend and if we have a mild autumn you can still be picking into October.

Earth up potatoes and look out for the first crops to be ready. As a rule of thumb the crops of first earlies are large enough to pick when the flowers start to fade on the plants. If the tubers are too small on the first plant you lift then wait for a couple of weeks for the roots to bulk up.

This weekend it should be safe to plant outdoor tomatoes either in growing bags or containers or directly into the ground. There are plenty of varieties around, just make sure they are suitable for outdoors. The two types of outdoor plants are the bush and vine. Vine are the same as greenhouse varieties in that they are grown as a single stem tied to a stake with trusses appearing about every 6-9ins. Each side shoot is removed and the plants are stopped, ie the growing tip is removed, later in the year. In the case of outdoor plants this is in early August which means the plants ripen about four to five trusses.

Bush varieties can be left much to their own devices. They grow as a small shrub with side shoots and flowers appearing everywhere and need little attention apart from watering, feeding and picking.

String a few CDs in fruit trees, among fruit bushes and above strawberries to deter birds from stealing the fruit. I am not sure how effective they are but they are certainly prettier then strips of foil or old plastic carrier bags which seem to be used by many people and it is a way of using up discarded discs.

If you put your mind to it you can collect large numbers of CDs without too much effort. There are the obvious, such as audio discs that no longer play and old computer games, then come the unwanted discs from magazines, discs offering free time or special rates with internet providers such as AOL and BT, and finally in these days of CD copiers, copies that have faults and errors.

You can drill holes through them very easily to make them easier to string up. They twist and flash in the breeze and sunshine which means they will probably end up being stolen by magpies, but in the meantime, they will hopefully keep birds away from fruit.

As spring flowering rockery plants start to fade cut them back to keep them neat and tidy.

The new shoots they produce are ideal for cutting material if you want more plants. Plants such as alyssum, aubrietia and alpine phlox take well to cutting back and the new, fresh green growth will look more attractive than the old straggly flowering shoots.

As lupins and delphiniums fade remember to cut off the flower shoots. If the plants are prevented from setting seed it encourages them to send up another flush of blooms in July or August. Mulch around trees and shrubs to both conserve moisture and to retain heat in the soil. A mulch acts as insulation helping to keep the soil warm when temperatures fall at night and preventing soil temperatures going too high during the heat of the day.

An organic mulch will also keep down weeds and as it breaks down will act as a soil conditioner.

Complete the planting out of bedding plants over the next week or so. If you find you are short of plants, cuttings can be taken of most bedding varieties. After a few weeks of catching up you will hardly know the difference.


Lilac in full bloom. The plant used to be common in gardens but has lost favour over the years Top of the crops - CDs shining in fruit trees can deter winged raiders
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Title Annotation:Gardening
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:May 26, 2001
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