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Focus on...

Garden Plants

Here are a few plants that I feel are very special - so much so that I can't imagine not having them in any garden!

The Rose

There is nothing like a Rose is there? There are plenty of plants out there that come very, very close - but for me, nothing can quite equal it! It has everything ...glorious scent, a huge range of colours - from rich to subtle, and a variety of form and habit.

There is a rose for every part of the garden - from the patio, to the borders, to the boundaries, to the wild areas.

Sounds too good to be true, the perfect plant! Well there can be one drawback. The rose has a reputation for being difficult to grow and quite fussy. But is this fair? It seems a shame that something that can come so far to perfection and then be robbed at the line! Lets look at the case for this reputation. Unfortunately we have all seen the spindly, disease-ridden specimen in the corner of a flower border or some other patch of ground somewhere. That’s basically it, case over! What perhaps many of us fail to understand is why; why this unfortunate plant ended up in this sorry state! We need to look at what the rose requires and the conditions needed to reach it’s full potential:

All roses grow better in a sunny site and a heavy soil...for those of you living in Essex with our clay soils, that’s taken care of!
They will need a fertile soil ...adding plenty of organic matter around their roots each spring will take care of fertility.
They need a dry atmosphere around their leaves. In other words they prefer not to have plants crowding around keep surrounding plants in check.
As with all plants mulching with organic matter will always be appreciated as it will help keep the soil cooler and moist during hot dry weather...if we’re lucky enough to get any!

Repeat flowering roses such as the bush rose (hybrid tea) will need dead-heading to prolong flowering. Most of the modern roses have increased disease resistance but if you can satisfy the list of requirements above then the chances are your roses will be ok.

That does not mean you can leave them to get on with with all our plants vigilance is a must! If you notice any disease remove and destroy infected material straight away. For that matter, take the same action for pests, particularly aphids.

Give your roses these conditions and yes,
there is such thing as perfection!

The Tomato

A native of America, Solanum lycopersicum (tomato), is a member of the Solanaceae or nightshade family, many of which are poisonous. Members of the family include; tobacco, chili peppers, potato, aubergine, petunia and of course deadly nightshade.  It is a perennial, but in temperate climates is regarded as an annual.

There are many health benefits associated with the tomato! Being high in Flavanoids, (which is a natural antioxidant), it is thought that eating tomatoes will lower hypertension and reduce the risk of heart disease and strokes. The attractive red colour of a tomato is caused by another antioxidant; the chemical Lycopene. There has been, and in fact still is, a lot of research into whether or not antioxidants, and Lycopene in particular, could help prevent many forms of cancer and dementia.

Putting the health benefits aside, I cant imagine a garden from the end of July to the arrival of the frosty nights without picking a fresh tomato and savouring that sweet, spicy fruit!

I only ever grow tomatoes outside, I swear the flavour is more intense! There are many varieties suitable to grow outside including, Ailsa Craig, Alicante, Moneymaker, Tangella and my personal favourite, Sun Gold to name a few.

You could just pick one!

Given a warm, sunny and sheltered position there is no reason not to give one or two so-called Greenhouse varieties a go. The picture to the left shows a truss of the variety ‘Shirley’ ripening in the mid-October sunshine!

I normally grow five plants along a one and a half meter length of wall, as you have probably worked out - far too close together! The wall is sheltered (below), and in full sun for most of the day, in fact it’s adjacent to where I grow my Nectarine! The stout trellis used to tie-in the Espalier trained nectarine also makes an ideal support for the tomatoes.

The soil is given an occasional ‘top-dressing’ of wood ash from the open fire I light the moment the evenings get that ‘chill in the air’, well any excuse to light it will do really! An organic mulch each spring and that’s it! I never use fertilizers but I do ensure the soil does not dry out.

Research has shown that organically grown tomatoes have higher levels of flavonoids... perhaps that’s why they taste so good!

The Nectarine

Native to central and eastern Asia, the Nectarine (Prunus persica nucipersica) has all the qualities of its relative the Peach (Prunus persica), but with a soft skin - which probably was behind the reason why it was once incorrectly believed to be a peach/plum hybrid. As the nectarine in my garden testify, the fruit tends to be smaller, sweeter and even juicier than it's relative!

Nectarines will grow best in a slightly acidic to neutral loam and will need sunshine and warmth to really fruit well. As the plant is tender, the further North you are in the UK it would probably be best to grow in a large container in order to move to shelter during winter. I grow my nectarine as an Espalier along a west facing wall. A wall not only offers protection but the extra heat from the bricks aid the ripening process. In open ground the tree would be completely susceptible to the elements. The nectarine is self-fertile but flowers early in the season - before in leaf. This protection from the wall also helps shield the Bumble Bees which are its pollinator, but I still go over the Anthers with a soft brush to help ensure sufficient pollination.

As the leaves develop you will need to be on the look out for it's main enemy - the disease, Peach leaf curl. The fungus causes new leaves to become swollen, blistered and distorted. If left to develop, a white powdery bloom follows that can cover both leaves and fruit. The leaves will then drop to the ground which could in severe cases, drastically weaken the plant. If the debris is left it will re-infect the tree the following year.

Be vigilant - pick-off and dispose infected leaves and clear fallen leaves. Subsequent foliage is normally uninfected.

Scale insect can be also be a problem. Again, be vigilant - you will need to rub them away when noticed.

Peach leaf curl infected leaves

During late spring I give my nectarine it's first prune. All side shoots are pruned back to one or two buds - see the before & after above. This not only encourages fruiting spurs to develop but allows more light and air to ripen both fruit and wood.

The final prune will be during mid-summer when the side shoots are cut back again, but this time to three or four buds.

I do not thin the developing fruit clusters. There is always plenty of fruit-drop during May to take care of any weaker fruit!

To conclude; in common with my other plants grown for their fruit and flowers, the soil is given an occasional top-dressing of wood ash from my open fire.


Associated Links:

The Soil
The Plant
Plants for Places
Seasonal Planting


If you would like to me to cover your favourite plant here?

Let me know!

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