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Alexandra Palace

Duration:
43 minutes
First broadcast:
Friday 15 March 2013

This week the team visits Alexandra Palace in North London, with Eric Robson in the chair. On the panel are Matthew Wilson, Christine Walkden and Bunny Guinness.

At 'Ally Pally', Matthew Wilson also takes time to visit the rose gardens, originally planted by German prisoners of war during WWI. We also prepare for the season ahead, with advice on soil TLC from Chris Beardshaw, weather protection from Peter Gibbs, and planting fruit bushes with Matthew Biggs.

Produced by Victoria Shepherd.
A Somethin' Else production for BBC Radio 4.

Questions answered in the programme:
Q: We're converting our front garden into a drive, could the panel suggest any good materials to ensure soak-away and tips for planting in pockets around the parking space?
A: Try bonded gravel such as the type that they used at the Olympic park which uses a 'green' plant-based permeable resin, or alternatively there are hexagonal lattices that you can lay under gravel that hold the stones in place. Remember it's only the ground directly under the car wheels that needs to be solid, so fill all the gaps with low growing herbs and woodland plants such as Thyme and Vinca. Excite your nostrils with plants such as Mentha Requienii which has a fresh peppermint smell, Erinus Alpinus Little Fairy which has fine foliage and purple, white or pink flowers, and Ribes Lauifolium with its lovely yellow scented flowers.

Q: We have three large community planters that we'd like to use for growing herbs and medicinal plants. What suggestions do you have for hardy, low maintenance options?
A: Divide the planters up using Teucrium (variety) Lucidrys as a hedge which has purple flowers and glossy evergreen leaves. Then in the pockets try planting things like Rosemary, Chervil, Artemesia, Borage and Prunella Self-Heal. Soapwort would be good for fun demonstrations as you can pluck the leaves and rub it in your hands to create an instant lather. Why not challenge the local children to plant pot marigolds, letting them pick colours?

Q: My friend has six valuable twenty-foot tall Phoenix Date Palm trees that that are currently located in a big glasshouse. How often should they be watered? Would growing them from seedlings have been more cost effective than importing them from Alexandria in Egypt?
A: Even though Palm trees are most often found in very hot climates, they do require very regular watering and even in their native countries you'll often see them with water channels built around the roots, or growing near flood plains. To grow them from seedlings would take a very long time as they only grow between six and twelve inches a year if you're lucky - and in this country, even slower. So whilst expensive to import you'd be very old before you managed to grow them that tall from seed.

Q: My garden is plagued by Honey Fungus. Are there any new treatments and is there a safe way to pass plants on?
A: There aren't any new treatments available, although there is a growing list of resistant plants which you can find information about on the Forestry Commission website (http://www.forestry.gov.uk) and the RHS website (http://www.rhs.org.uk/Media/PDFs/Advice/HoneyFungusList). Any plant in your garden is likely to have Honey Fungus spores on it, so there's always risk of potential contamination and we'd advise against giving plants away.

Q: We're having trouble growing fruit and vegetables in our small sheltered garden. Do you have any tips?
A: Try Blue Danube potatoes or the new Sarpo Kifli variety which are blight resistant and have a nice flavour. Quick growing crops such as radishes, oriental vegetables and small pumpkins such as the Wee Bee variety would be great too. For pumpkins, try building a small wigwam around them and string up the foliage to increase the surface area exposed to the light. Be inventive with space - grow strawberries in hanging baskets and make your own containers for salad leaves using guttering hung against a wall.

Q: What is the best way of tackling Couch Grass, considering our allotment is strictly chemical free?
A: Unfortunately Couch Grass is one of those weeds that we just have to learn to live as it's hard to defeat. You could divide up your allotment up and rotate an empty patch laying thick black polythene sheeting on the ground to keep the weeds at bay. That said, there's debate around whether using polythene bags is actually any 'greener' than a quick blast of weed killer.

Q: Have the team anything positive to say about Sycamore trees?
A: It's a case of right plant, right situation. As a freestanding tree Sycamores are magnificent and one of the best we have in this country alongside the Oak. Indeed they are very effective colonisers, which is sometimes problematic, but often they are first to grow in places where we have destroyed the land - for instance in disused quarries.

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