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Garden Ramblings, Issue #017
January 15, 2006
January 2006

Monthly musings on the garden scene

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In this issue:

- Letter from the Editor
- Plant of the Month
- Traditional Wisdom or Old fashioned Nonsense?
- One Way to Cure GWS
- Special Offers
- Useful Resources



Welcome to the January issue of Garden Ramblings your monthly window on what's going on in the world of gardening.

The "Plant of the Month" is honeysuckle. While this is mostly found blooming in high summer, I am featuring the winter flowering variety.

There is no Guest Article this month. Instead you have my investigation into whether the traditional gardening methods taught in all the books are still the best to use in your garden today.

In "One Way to Cure GWS" I try to provide some help for anyone suffering from Gardening Withdrawal Syndrome.

Now that the Christmas Holiday is behind us the "After Holiday Sales" are in full swing. Perhaps more interestingly there are several new varieties on offer some of which are well worth a look.

The resources section this month is devoted to Garden Planning. I have listed several websites which offer both online planning and software that you can download to help you with making plans for anything from a new flowerbed to a complete new garden.

If you want to keep up with all the news in the gardening world, you can read my blog Garden Supplies News.

Enjoy the issue.



Plant of the Month

Name:Honeysuckle (lonicera fragrantissima) common name woodbine.

Description: A partially evergreen shrub which grows to a height and spread of six feet. Unlike most other honeysuckles this variety flowers between December and March. The flowers are a cream-white color and strongly fragrant.

Origin: There are some 200 species of honeysuckles which originate from different parts of the Northern Hemishere. L. fragrantissima is native to China.

Cultivation: Grow in any ordinary, well-drained soil with added organic matter. The ideal situation is partial shade with the roots fully shaded. Propagate by cuttings in late summer or by layered branches. Can also be grown from seed but plants take several years to reach flowering size.

Pests and diseases: Generally trouble free but aphids can be a problem. Can also be affected by Leaf Spot and Powdery Mildew.

Folklore: The name of the genus, Lonicera, was given by Linnaeus in honour of Adam Lonicer, a physician and naturalist, born at Marburg in 1528, who is the author of a book on natural history which contains much curious information about plants. Ancient herbalists prescribed honeysuckle, also known as woodbine, as a cure for many ills including asthma. Here is a recipe for dysentery: Woodbine and maiden-hair, pounded and boiled in new milk, with oatmeal, and taken three times a day, the leaves to be burned afterwards. Ivy, woodbine and rowan woven together in a wreath and placed under the milk vessels or over the lintels of cow sheds were believed to protect the animals and their milk. During Victorian times, teenage girls were not allowed to bring Honeysuckle into the home as it was supposed to bring on erotic dreams. Placing honeysuckle flowers under your pillow is said to have the same effect. Clearly honeysuckle is a plant to be treated with respect.


Traditional Wisdom or Old-fashioned Nonsense?

The traditional gardening methods that we have learned from our parents or older gardening books are the best, or are they? Modern commercial growers have often proved that this is not always the case.

Take the common practice of digging over your beds in late fall so that they will look tidy for the winter. While this will improve the appearance of the beds, disturbing the soil will tend to bring to the surface annual weed seeds and also encourage the spread of existing perennial weeds.

When it comes to sowing seeds tradition dictates: "One for the rook, one for the crow, one to rot and one to grow". These days with all the competition from slugs, snails, marauding cats and unpredictable spring weather it is often better to sow seeds indoors in seed trays where they will be free from these problems.

"A woman, a dog and a walnut tree, the harder you beat them the better they be" is another traditional saying that is well past its sell by date. While there is clearly no excuse for beating a woman or a dog, what about the walnut tree? Apparently the idea was that cuts resulting from the beating would allow soil-borne bacteria to enter and cause galls which were supposed to encourage the growth of the prized burr-walnut wood. However modern arborists agree that such treatment will only cause more harm than good.

When planting a tree you were always told to support it with a stake. Sensible advice you would think but apparently not. It seems that staking can now cause problems and that the tree is likely to become better established if left to grow on its own.

Pruning techniques have always been the subject of much debate. When removing larger branches from a tree the painting of the exposed end to prevent disease was a common practice. Research many years ago proved that a tree stands a far better chance of survival if the cut is left bare.

Lavender pruning is another example where traditional ideas have been proved to be wrong. To encourage new leaves and avoid leggy bushes everyone agrees that most of the previous season's growth should be removed. Most books will tell you to do this in late spring once the threat of frost has passed, the idea being that the buds are protected through the winter by the foliage. But a commercial lavender grower has achieved far better results by pruning immediately after flowering.

Pruning roses is another area where the traditional methods are complicated and rather slow. Remove all weak and crossing shoots and prune down to outward facing buds. A few years ago a quick and simple alternative was tried; all shoots and branches were cut back by the same amount across the rosebush taking no account of the position of the buds. The following year it was found that rosebushes that had been pruned by this method were flowering just as profusely as those treated in the traditional way.

While traditional wisdom is certainly not all old-fashioned nonsense, we should be open to new ideas where these can be shown to be the better option.


One Way to Cure GWS

The Christmas holiday is over, you are bored with reading all your gardening books, your eyes are tired from squinting at all that small print in the seed catalogs and you are missing the warm fresh air of your summer garden. Sounds like you're suffering from GWS (Gardening Withdrawal Syndrome). Is there a cure for this ailment? Or will you just have to wait impatiently for Spring?

There is one activity that you can try at this time of year that will give you a supply of fresh, nutritious and cheap salads in as few as four days. I am talking, of course, about sprouting seeds. Many varieties of vegetables and grasses can be used including alfafa, broccoli, fenugreek and mung beans which produce the familiar chinese beansprouts.

What equipment do you need to get started? Seeds can be sprouted in glass jars or trays, so for your first attempt, you can use any jar that you have to hand. Purpose made equipment is available from nurseries if you decide to sprout seeds on a regular basis.

How do you grow them? First soak the seeds in water overnight, then drain off the water and place the seeds in your jar or tray. Since the seeds will expand up to 30 times their volume, do not overfill your jar. Keep the container at about room temperature (20c).

The only extra care required is regular rinsing which involves running the trays under a tap for a few seconds or filling the jar and then allowing the water to drain away. Do this two or three times a day, but at least every twelve hours. Make sure that the jars and trays are drained fully since too much water will encourage mould and the seeds to rot.

After a few days mini roots and shoots will develop. Harvest sprouts carefully by gently pulling ripe ones out from the rest. This allows less developed ones to continue growing so you get several harvests of perfect sprouts.

Why are they so good for you? When seeds have just sprouted there is an increase in proteins, enzymes and vitamins. They are also fresh, not having lost goodness in transit from the shop. Broccoli sprouts are rich in sulforaphanes, the anti-cancer agents which stimulate our body's natural resources. Adzuki beans are high in fibre, minerals and vitamin B and are good for weight loss.

Any recipe suggestions? Add them to your salads, use for stir fries and include some in your sandwiches. Scatter a few on your bowl of soup instead of croutons. Try adding some to your baked potato filling or include them in an omlette. After the excesses of the Christmas holiday they are perfect for lightening the load.

Both seeds and equipment can be obtained from Thompson & Morgan at


Special Offers

Two "After Holiday Sales" where you can find some big reductions and one or two interesting new varieties for 2006.

Gardener's Supply Company are having an After Holiday Sale where you can save up to 80% on over 200 items.

Dutch Gardens are also featuring an After Holiday Sale. You may be more interested in their New for 2006 where they are offering the "First Ever Fragrant Begonia".

Gurneys claim the "World's Greatest Apple Pie Deal". You get two apple trees for $29.99. They are also featuring a Josee Reblooming Lilac that promises "a cascade of gorgeous, heavenly-scented flowers continuously from late spring until frost!"

Brecks have a new "Glamini Gladiolus - A Gladiolus that needs no staking yet grows full-size blooms and blooms a full 10 to 15 days earlier!" And you can save 33%!


Useful Resources

Winter is the time of year when we make plans for the coming season so I have compiled a list of websites with garden planners.

There are two online versions, Lowe's Landscape and Garden Planner and Plan-a-Garden by Better Homes & Gardens.

For software that you can download and install on your computer there are two choices. Garden Planner is a simple and easy to use program. You can take a 15 day free trial to see if you like the program.

3D Garden Composer is far more comprehensive. It claims that it can be successfully used for private garden designing and cultivating and for planning of city parks and botanical gardens. The program includes a plant encyclopaedia with 15,000 plants. There is a free video tutorial which allows you to see all the features.

Finally for residents of Southern California there is a Heritage Garden Guide where you can plan your garden in seven easy steps.


Please feel free to pass on this newsletter to your gardening friends. Do let me have your feedback and suggestions to: [email protected]

That's all until next month but in the meantime you can always look at my Blog Garden Supplies News

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