Get the Chelsea Look! …with Ellie’s Eight for May
Posted 11th May 1:46pm
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Whatever the weather
The weather has been good for us this last month – only 10mm of rain in the month – making it the driest since we started keeping records. This low rainfall combined with almost continual winds will mean that we could all be short of water later in the year, with a potential for hosepipe bans.
Fortunately, the lack of rain has not yet prevented landscape contracts from being completed, or retail customers buying from garden centres.
Traditionally the best way to conserve moisture is to use some form of mulch as a ground cover, or to keep hoeing the ground to maintain a dry tilth on the surface, with no weeds. Watering is most efficient using drip irrigation to each plant, but, if not possible, give plants an occasional, really good drench, rather than a frequent spray overhead.
Seedbeds can be kept moist by covering with horticultural fleece, which will also give some protection against the cold and drying winds that seem to be so common this spring.
In the Vale of York we are particularly fortunate to have the biggest underground aquifer in the UK, which is great for those of us extracting water from boreholes, but we are not excluded from the national legislation related to water use.
In our area, natural underground water is alkaline with a pH of around 7.0 to 7.5, but a recent analysis has shown it to be relatively high in Nitrogen, originating from farm fertilizer applications and animal manures.
This means that the area is not best suited to the planting of acid-loving plants such as rhododendrons unless the soil is treated with sulphur, or sphagnum peat is incorporated at the rate of a 5cm thick mulch.
A spring in our step
We had another good sales month in April, exceeding budget in our three main routes to market and achieving £1m+ of sales for the third successive month. May tends to fall away somewhat as commercial landscaping reduces, but surprisingly, we still have a very substantial landscape order book.
Froghoppers wreak havoc
The bacterial disease Xylella fastidiosa continues to wreak havoc in southern Italy, particularly amongst Olive plants. The disease is spread by Spittlebugs, also known as Froghoppers, which protect their young with blobs of ‘cuckoo-spit’. There are 1000s of different species of this insect, which is common throughout Europe.
Over 170 species of ornamental plants are known to be affected by the bacterium carried by the bug, and at present no control has been identified to manage infection on this scale.
Dates for the diary
Anyone interested to know what the commercial UK horticultural industry is capable of would enjoy a visit to the HTA National Plant Show at Stoneleigh Park, Coventry, on June 20 -2. The event combines with the HTA Nursery Supply Show at the same location on the same dates – with loads of interest for anyone remotely stimulated by horticulture!
Two local events to savour are the Tulip Trail at Harlow Carr taking place throughout May, and the Rhododendron weekend on the 13th and 14th.
With well over 400,000 visitors to Harlow Carr in 2016, the gardens are second only to Wisley in visitor numbers, and should be congratulated on their continued investment and the development of horticultural projects to interest young people. Harlow Carr has been awarded a gold accolade by ‘Visit England’ as part of its Visitor Attraction Quality Scheme.
More than 400 gardens will be open on the weekend of May 27-29 to celebrate the 90th anniversary of the National Garden Scheme (The Yellow Book).
Old boys and older tractors
I have always had an interest in old agricultural equipment, and last weekend I went to the 60th anniversary reunion of my old horticultural college in Essex.
It had been arranged that we should visit the tractor and machinery collection of a local farmer who is in his 80s. I was expecting a dozen old tractors, but he had over 500, all fully restored and dating from the very first ever made, through those sent over by America during the two world wars, right up to about 1970.
There were all sorts of other machines, including thousands of ploughs, and other machines, waiting outside to be restored. The collection must be valued in the millions!
Finally, continue to stake and tie in herbaceous plants as they grow, not forgetting the ‘Chelsea Chop’ when appropriate!
Johnsons of Whixley
Posted 9th May 11:46am
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Summer is right around the corner!
As preparations of the warm weather continue, here are our gardening tips and reminders for the Month of May:
Posted 4th May 4:26pm
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Wow! Phew! It’s been busy. It’s stayed busy.
We were half expecting that after a fantastic selling March we’d be experiencing a pretty ordinary April, but it hasn’t turned out that way at all. The momentum is still there. They are all good signs but give ‘positive problems’ (if you can have such things), like keeping stock levels up, ensuring you’ve the staff resource to do all the production and operational jobs.
The planning & scheduling we did in good faith back in last summer now seems inadequate. The plan becomes increasingly flexible.
All the sales areas exceed expectation, but you really notice it with the supply to Garden Centres, as that’s the most labour intensive.
Mark Reynard, who runs that sales sector, tells me he can’t put his finger on exactly why it is so buoyant. Perhaps the ‘garden plant’ market is just booming in general? Maybe we’ve grabbed a little more market share? The answer probably lies somewhere between the two.
For sure, he and I have worked on our offer, making it more patio-style and more ‘flowery’, but the basic shrubs and background plants have been equally demanded.
On a fairly serious note, one thing that we had to collectively resolve across the business is our response to the frequent outbreaks of the bacterial disease, Xylella, in parts of Southern Europe.
For those not aware of this, Xylella is an aggressive pathogen attacking, and normally killing, an ever-widening range of woody and herbaceous hosts. The measures that UK Plant Health will take should there be a ‘find’ are very significant.
We have taken the approach that for now we will not import any plants, either directly from or at some point originating from, certain parts of Southern Europe.
We will possibly lose a little bit of business as a consequence but there’s a responsibility to the environment, to our customers and their landscapes, and of course to the business and the staff who rely upon on it.
The situation may change rapidly – hopefully in a positive way – and when we review in six months the decision could be reversed, but right now we are being cautious.
The sales teams are conscious that, for some specifics, Italian plants have been the traditional answer, so without that option the sales and purchasing teams are working hard to come up with solutions sourced elsewhere.
We could all do without this but hope that people can see we are doing the responsible thing.
I have 95% completed a review of all the numerous readily available Heuchera varieties. My trialling has been focused on finding the best three for the general colour range, and one for flowering.
I’m talking landscape durability more than fancy leaf pattern – how they look through winter, how strong they grow, tolerance of soils and how much abuse the plant can take – all just as much the criteria as summer prettiness.
The three top performers for colour are all from one breeding line, and the best flowerer (lots of flowers and not too tall – and not done after flowering) is I think also UK breeding.
I hope to finalise this before my next blog entry.
But as for now, I better get back out and see how the latest delivery of young plant Phormiums are looking, as that’s the focus for one of the nurseries this week.
Posted 3rd May 10:49am
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Honey bees play a vital part in the pollination of food crops and flowers.
In recent years, the number of bees has been declining due to pressure factors including disease and the UK’s recent cooler summers.
Recognising the crucial role bees play in our eco-system, Johnsons of Whixley is playing its own small part in reviving their population by providing a home for several colonies of honey bees.
We contacted our friends at the Harrogate and Ripon Beekeepers Association for guidance on how we might be able to lend a helping hand.
And as a result of our conversation we now have an apiary on our nursery site, which provides a home for colonies of honey bees.
The site is ideal for bees, as it provides foraging within the surrounding countryside and utilises the many varied plant stocks grown at Johnson of Whixley.
We are pleased to be able to benefit the bees in this way and provide an overall boost to these wonderful insects, who give us such delicious honey to eat.
If you are interested in helping the honey bee, or becoming a beekeeper, please see Harrogate and Ripon Beekeepers web site at www.hrbka.org.uk.
Posted 2nd May 3:16pm
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Set in the beautiful Yorkshire countryside, why not visit our nursery to discover what we have to offer?