Eric and the panel are in Boston Spa, West Yorkshire.
Eric Robson and the panel are in Boston Spa, West Yorkshire. Neil Porteous, Bunny Guinness and Matthew Wilson answer this week’s questions from green-fingered enthusiasts.
The panellists offer advice on how to best move hydrangeas, making the most of a greenhouse during winter, and dealing with a spreading Pampas grass.
Also, James Wong heads to the fungarium at Kew Gardens to explore the largest collection of fungi in the world.
Produced by: Hannah Newton
Assistant Producer: Rosie Merotra
A Somethin’ Else production for BBC Radio 4
Q -Is it problematic to move a Hydrangea?
Neil – It is very easy to move it. The best time to do it is over winter when their leaves have mostly dropped off. They love cool conditions. You can cut them back to the ground if you want.
Matthew – If you are going to give them a drastic cut you need to follow it up with mulch and feed.
Bunny – For a lot of them, if you cut them down they will lose the flower the next year. But some will respond with bigger blooms next year like Arborescens ‘Annabelle’, and the Paniculata. Cuttings are a fail-safe in August and September.
Q – I love irises but I find I get a lot of grass tightly growing between the corms. Is there any way of getting this grass out without lifting the irises?
Neil – I usually lift our irises in August which is a good time because everything retrenches. A nice thing to do is lift and divide them in August with 8-9inch (20-22cm) spaces in between and cut the leaves down to 3inches (7.6cm) and they soon flare up again.
Bunny – That is a lot easier than continually picking out a perennial grass!
Q –How can I make the most of my greenhouse in the winter?
Matthew – I am a fan of things with dual purpose such as using chilli peppers both as an edible and decoration in the house. Some winter crops such as pak choi, mizuna, and rocket you can sow in pots in a greenhouse over winter.
Neil – I would take lots of cuttings now. I take all my Salvia cuttings, and I would even take tips of things like Delphiniums (Larkspur) and Dahlias. Always let the air in on a nice day as it reduces the effect of aphids and scale. Sow biennial seeds such as Ammi majus (Queen Anne’s lace) and Melanoselinum Decipiens (Black Parsley).
Bunny – I would sow some greenery like winter lettuce. If you sow them now you will have lovely fresh greens throughout the winter. I would invest in a decent heater and a heated mat for all your cuttings and some LED lights to help.
Q – I have 3 Bay trees which suffered in the frost. They are now nearly recovered but how do I prepare them for the winter?
Neil – You can get some enviromesh or fleece to put on the top if you think you are going to get bad weather. Just tie it on the base of the bowl of the tree. It will stop the drying wind from taking every last ounce of water and when the cold air settles down it will freeze the fleece rather than the leaves.
Matthew – It is a plant that grows through being repeatedly harvested.
Bunny – I use pipe-lagging around the stem. And hessian to protect the roots.
Q - Is there a variety of tomato that is better suited to being grown here in the North?
Matthew – The smaller varieties such as cherry tomatoes or the smaller vine ripe tomatoes.
Q – Is it possible to plant elm trees without them expiring?
Matthew – It is called Dutch elm disease for which there is no cure. But don’t give up as there are parts of the country where elm trees are thriving.
Bunny – It doesn’t kill the roots, so it can be regenerated from the rootstock.
Neil – We have planted some Ulmus minor (the Field elm) and it seems to be growing pretty well. One alternative that does well is Acer Campestre (the Field Maple) – which makes a big tree if you give it room.
Q – Have you any tips for helping Trachelospernum Jasminoides (Star Jasmine) to thrive in a large container and can you avoid the leaves going red and dropping over winter?
Bunny – If it is cold they go red and do drop but they do come back. You can put some fleece over the front.
Neil – If you scrape back some of the old soil on the surface you will see a lot of white roots coming up but that doesn’t matter. If you keep going down about 3 or 4 inches (7-10cm) and then add a top dressing of fresh soil this will help keep the root system ticking over.
Matthew – You can grow them in containers, but it needs to be a good size with a regular and constant water supply. They require water year-round as well as feeding regimes.
Q – I have a giant Pampas grass (Cortaderia Sellonana) in my garden and the plumes are about 15 foot high (4.5m) but it is slowly spreading. How do I halve it without damaging it?
Neil – I would wait until Spring and cut it down to about 18inches (45cm) and get a sharp spade and start taking divisions off it. This will trim back some of the spread and then you can replant it.
Bunny – You need to put a lot of force into it.