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Help kids build a fairy garden

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I have enjoyed ‘grubbing’ in the garden for as long as I can remember. When I was very young my parents gave me a piece of the garden, under a massive sycamore tree.

They never made a ‘Gardener Barbie’, but my poor dolls were all dragged out and came back the worse for wear, along with copious amounts of spoons! At least children sized trowels are easily available nowadays! In any case, being outside as a child certainly made me more aware of nature, broadened my knowledge and fed my imagination.

And so, I encourage everyone to go outside with their kids! Give them a piece of the garden – as in my own case, it can be a bit of wasteland where nothing really grows; under a tree, under the playhouse, beside the shed – there are lots of ideal places.

Fairy gardens are a great way to get kids interested, and very easy to create, especially with the help of a stump or a few rocks! It can be gradually expanded to become a rockery, as alpine plants generally grow very well in areas where the soil is poor. Also, they do not grow too big – perfect for small hands.

SUITABLE PLANTS

Sempervivum is an ideal little plant, it is a succulent, which means it needs little water, and remains small. It looks a bit like a cactus and piques kid’s interest. They are also called ‘house leeks’ and are said to bring good fortune! Currently they are being marketed as ‘Hen and Chicks’, a very appropriate name as they produce small offshoots, or babies. These can be cut off, put into a pot and kept moist, where they will root within a few weeks. Sedums, which are also succulents, are as easy to propagate, just cut a piece off, about 5cm in length, stick it into a pot of gritty soil to a depth of about 2cm, and again, within a short space of time there will be roots. These are some of the first plants I ever propagated and the satisfaction is immense, as well as quick enough not to lose interest. Other plants suitable for fairy gardens are campanula, aubretia, small grasses, and helianthemums. While there are many items for sale to populate the fairy garden, it is also a fantastic pastime to make your own fairy doors and portals. Using tester pots of outdoor wood paint is a cheap and cheerful way to spend a rainy afternoon.

Alternatively, bug gardens hold a great fascination for children. A good book and a website like biodiversityireland.ie is very helpful. Again, planting and sowing wildflowers are a quick way to keep the interest alive, and building bug hotels and ladybird hostels is a productive way to spend an afternoon!

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Jobs to keep gardeners busy

The weather is glorious at the moment, so I thought I would put together some jobs to keep every gardener busy! Winter bedding is now available – so plant up containers and pots to keep everything cheerful this winter! Conifers such as Goldcrest and Elwoodiis are an excellent choice for a centrepiece, as are Cordylines, […]

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The weather is glorious at the moment, so I thought I would put together some jobs to keep every gardener busy!

Winter bedding is now available – so plant up containers and pots to keep everything cheerful this winter! Conifers such as Goldcrest and Elwoodiis are an excellent choice for a centrepiece, as are Cordylines, Phormiums and topiary plants such as Buxus and Bay laurels. Heathers give colour all winter, as do ornamental cabbages. Winter pansies, violas and Batchelor’s buttons are all in stock now, and will provide colour for months, Cyclamen are beautiful – but beware! They do not like getting too wet, so ideally use them in pots and window boxes which do not get too much rain.

Bulbs provide a welcome splash of colour in the early spring, at a time when things are looking grey and grim. Choose from an extensive range – tulips, daffs, crocus, snowdrops – to name but a few. Planting mixtures of different varieties can lead to stunning displays in a pot, for example, plant in layers: tulips at the bottom, then daffs, hyacinth, crocus and anenomes for a long lasting pot of colour. In the garden plant bulbs in informal clusters of uneven numbers to give a natural looking display. Alliums are particularly trendy at the moment, these ornamental onions are available in pinks, white and yellow.

PRUNING

Pruning is one of those jobs which can give immense satisfaction. All old flower heads, the straggly growth of herbaceous plants and branches of unkempt shrubs can go into the compost heap. Pruning equipment can be confusing for the new gardener, so here are a few guidelines: there are two types of secateurs, bypass and anvil. The anvil secateurs is used for dead wood, but the bypass secateurs can be used for live as well as dead wood. The hedge shears are used to prune large shrubs or hedges, but is best for soft or thin growth. Loppers are used to prune trees and thicker branches and have long handles. These also come as anvil or bypass. Some of these are geared, these take the strain and strength needed out of the job, an excellent invention!

As the days get shorter and wetter, moss will start to grow again. Treat paths before they get slippy, with a product such as MossOff. Try to keep fallen leaves off lawns as they contribute to poor growth of grass and strong moss growth. A leafblower makes the job easy – especially a cordless one!

Lawns benefit from a final treatment in the autumn with a product such as an Autumn Lawn Feed and Weed or Viano Recovery from the producers of MO Bacter. These products both treat the roots of the grass, making the plant itself stronger for the winter. They do not cause excessive growth.

Finally, if there are empty beds in your vegetable garden, consider sowing a green manure such as winter rye or red clover. These will prevent weeds from taking over as well as enriching the soil with nitrogen. In the spring they can be cut down and dug into the soil, providing essential organic matter.

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Add heather for plenty of garden colour

By Debby Looney, gardening expert Nothing provides more reliable colour and interest throughout the winter months than heathers. A forgotten about group of plants, they have gotten a bad rep for overgrowing their welcome. It is true that if not looked after they become lanky, woody, brown, straggly and unsightly. The only reason heathers become ugly […]

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By Debby Looney, gardening expert

Nothing provides more reliable colour and interest throughout the winter months than heathers. A forgotten about group of plants, they have gotten a bad rep for overgrowing their welcome.

It is true that if not looked after they become lanky, woody, brown, straggly and unsightly. The only reason heathers become ugly is because they need a severe trim after flowering every year. Miss a year and things start going wrong. After flowering, cut back all heathers to the point at which they started flowering. This does not really have to be done carefully, you can take a shears or even a hedge trimmer to them. This is the only attention they will need all year!

Heathers fall into two groups, Calluna, and Erica. Callunas are lime tolerant and recognisable as such by their leaves and structure. The leaves are smooth and soft, and their growth is upright. Ericas do not tolerate lime, and their leaves are more like needles. They do not grow as tall as Calluna types, and their growth is horizontal more so than vertical. I think heathers look best in a designated bed as they compliment each other. Having said that, they also work really well as a border edging, especially Erica varieties as they tend to stay lower and have a nice round growth habit. I have Erica ‘Kramer’s Red’ along the driveway, in winter it blazes purple and in summer it is a nice dark green. Perfect! They are also ideal planted under roses as they provide a nice bit of interest in the winter. I have recently started adding the to mixed perennial beds too where I think they look great when all else has withered. Heathers are ideal for banks too, and will tolerate wind and fairly dry soil. Yes, I am a fan of heathers!
Some varieties to try are: Calluna ‘Silver Knight’, beautiful mauve flowers on silver foliage. C. ‘Dark Beauty’ – the deepest of burgundy flowers on rich green foliage, the most striking of all the dark flowered ones. C. ‘Wickwar Flame’, lavender flowers on golden foliage, good contrast. C. ‘Theresa’, pink buds on golden foliage – looks like it glows! C. ‘Helena’ white buds on bright green foliage, a welcome break from the pink colours. C. ‘Bonita’ has crimson buds on amber foliage, very pretty. Erica varieties: E. ‘St. Keverne’ has bright pink flowers early in the autumn, compact growth habit. E. ‘Darley Dale’ pink, but foliage has white tips in the spring. E. ‘Eva Gold’ pink flowers, golden foliage. E. ‘Furzey’ dark pink flowers, pink tips in spring. E. ‘White perfection’, pure white flowers, E. ‘Moonshine’, lime green foliage with pale pink flowers, E. ‘Saskia’, masses of rose pink flowers clustered at the end of the shoots, very showy!

There is a relatively new trend in Calluna types emerging, one of which sells under ‘the Girls’ range or ‘bud heathers’. These are usually two or three different colours in one pot. They are different plants put in together and I have noticed in the garden one colour usually takes over from the others. The problem with these is that if you are planting for pollinators they are useless as the buds do not open! They are also, in my experience, not very reliable repeat flowers. All heathers, except these bud heathers are excellent for pollinators. They provide much needed pollen in winter and spring, and it is a great idea to plant them near your apple trees and other fruit plants in order to get pollinators into the habit of visiting a certain area of your garden. All in all, there should be a spot for heather in anyone’s garden!

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