Wednesday, 9 May 2007


I’ve just received a package through the post containing a new water sprinkler system for my polythene tunnel and the display beds. The system has been conveniently put into eight different packages for me to assemble, each one clearly labelled, reminding me of my youth when I used to make up Airfix models. This kit contains about the same amount of pieces as a model of the Cutty Sark I built when I was ten! It even comes with a pot of glue. Although it’s taken me a whole day to finish package number one, this system will save me loads of valuable time in the spring and summer, when watering has been known to take up my whole day. In summer, even when it has been raining, some plants still need a good watering. If you keep containers you will know what I mean. A lot of my shrubs in containers died this summer because of lack of water, so this system should rectify the problem next year (If I can assemble it by then!)

Steep slopes
Out of all the questions that I’m asked about gardening problems, the most frequently asked one is how to plant up a steep slope. A lot of housing sites, around the peninsula, are formed by excavating the side of a hillside and when the site has been levelled for the building, the owners are sometimes left with a large bank, usually to the rear of the property. In extreme circumstances, the bank is nearly all solid rock. Generally when the architects design the back of the site, they will recommend a retaining wall to keep the mud bank from sliding it’s way into the back door. I have no doubt this is a very effective method, but the result is usually a bare expanse of very poor soil or rock sloping up from the top of the wall. I will make my apologies now by saying there are no easy answers to this problem, what can be done with this sort of area largely depends on some key points.

How far is the bank from the house?
If the steep bank is close to the house then large shrubs shouldn’t be used as this will block off a lot of the light. Groundcover plants will be more suitable.

Which way does the bank face?
This will be an important factor when choosing plants for shade or sun. (Remember the house could shade even a south-facing bank)

What is the soil and drainage like?
If the soil is poor or the ground is very wet, this will limit the amount of plants you can choose for the site. The soil and drainage could be improved to enable a wider choice of plants to be used.

If the slope isn’t very steep: Then a ground cover mesh could be used and this could be gravelled or wood bark used. The area could even be grassed if you can get the mower on it.

If the slope is very steep:
Then fast growing groundcover plants could be used to hold the soil in place. The slope could benefit by using rockery stones or even to tier the area into different levels using bricks or wood. This again will stop soil erosion.

The biggest problem these banks pose, especially while they are establishing, is maintenance. Access is usually only achieved by fearless people with the use of a rope and tackle who have no fear of falling from high places! So this has to be taken into serious consideration before any work is carried out.

Top tip
Old bananas that have gone all mushy are one of the best things you can throw at the bottom of the rose bushes. They rot down quickly and are rich in calcium, magnesium sulphur and phosphates, all the things roses love. (Alternatively mix them up with custard and eat them)


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