In The Garden

IN WITH THE OLD -- a recycled bike turned into a garden feature
IN WITH THE OLD -- a recycled bike turned into a garden feature
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THE LATEST tips, advice and information crucial to maintaining your oasis of green space.

Recycling proficiency

CHELSEA Flower Show unveiled its new artisan gardens category for the first time this year, where designers were asked to use natural, sustainably resourced materials in an artistic manner.

Driftwood, reclaimed bricks and cockleshell edgings were among the items which featured in the displays. Yet you shouldn’t have to look too far to find bits and pieces that can add historical, elegant and quirky touches to your own garden, whatever the setting.

Second-hand shops, reclamation yards and even car boot sales can provide an Aladdin’s cave of unusual containers and statues, chimney pots which can be upended to house colourful plants, quirky garden seating and ornaments.

Old railway platform seats and seating from boats have been put to use in the past, while DIY enthusiasts have constructed seats featuring little more than a short piece of scaffolding plank resting on two neat piles of old bricks. Funky benches have been made using old tyres at either end supporting seats of painted scaffolding planks.

If you live near the sea, explore the beach to search for large pieces of driftwood, or shells out of which you could make a feature mosaic to hang on your house wall. Mosaics and patterns can also be made out of pebbles or broken coloured tiles arranged Roman style.

Fallen logs can be used to edge paths, while those on a budget may be more inclined to go for local gravel.

Eye-catching containers can be made out of anything you may otherwise dump, from old food cans painted with brightly coloured weather-resistant paint, to sinks which can house a myriad of rock plants, and teapots, mugs and rusty buckets with holes drilled in the bottom which can be planted up and strategically placed to brighten up the scene.

Old wicker baskets can also make good plant pots, stained, varnished and lined with black plastic, while broken pots can be used for a display of rock plants such as sempervivums, surrounded by broken bits of pot.

Wine aficionados who are lucky enough to have had their wine delivered in wooden boxes with lovely embossed logos should consider growing salad crops in them. See if your local wine merchant might have any boxes spare and preserve the wood with Danish oil to weatherproof it as well as drilling holes in the base for drainage. Port boxes can also act as good containers.

You can also grow crops in old drawers, weatherproofing the wood first and then drilling holes for drainage and lining the drawers with plastic. You may also have to add corner braces to the drawers to stop the wood from warping, but they will make eye-catching veg containers.

Use your own home-grown stems of bamboo, when the canes are green and flexible, or red dogwood, to cut and weave into plant supports.

If you want to create an arch which will be smothered in flowering plants, but don’t want to spend a fortune, you can do it cheaply by bending old lengths of metal pipe or builders’ reinforcing bars, which will all be hidden by the climbers.

You don’t have to go to Chelsea to find inspiration in recycling your junk - just think twice before chucking out that old chipped teapot...

Weird or wonderful?

Some of the out-of-this-world show gardens at this week’s RHS Chelsea Flower Show — including Diarmuid Gavin’s display suspended 25m above the ground by a crane, although strong winds at times prevented it from being lifted - have attracted two schools of thought.

One group of the gardening fraternity feels that the creations which are made for Chelsea should be unattainable to the common man, a fantasy spectacular to admire and enjoy for art’s sake, but not to aspire to.

The other green-fingered faction believes visitors should be able to take some inspiration and ideas home to try out in their back gardens and that it should be all about the planting rather than the hard landscaping.

However, there’s enough of both at Chelsea to please all sides this year.

Exhibitors had great difficulties holding the plants back because of the unusually warm weather. Colours are muted - soft blues and creams rather than sizzling oranges and reds - and as ever, there’s a huge amount of green.

For me, among the best is the M&G Garden by Bunny Guinness, which bangs the drum for the grow your own movement, an elegant pattern of raised willow beds topped with cedar coping and filled with edibles, rich dark-leaved varieties rubbing shoulders with warm greens, in a design punctuated by bold fruit trees in huge terracotta pots, underplanted with French lavender.

Stylish cloches within the garden make a gorgeous feature and colour is provided by rambling roses and clematis mingling with cabbages and beans.

While some baulked at the six-storey building in the B&Q Garden, the show’s highest ever, a plethora of trailing tomatoes cascade over the balconies mixed with nasturtiums and the tremendous displays of vertical planting show that you really can grow your own even if you have a small balcony or windowbox in a tower block.

At this year’s Chelsea visitors could have the best of both - artistic, fantasy gardens, some oddities (bright blue Astroturf instead of a regular path, for instance) and others which looked so natural they might have been there for years.

And despite the moans and groans from the traditionalists, it’s still possible for all visitors to leave Chelsea with a few new planting ideas.

Best of the bunch — Peony

Well-known for their huge blooms in late spring and early summer, these blousy perennials will add a romantic, feminine touch to any border. They take a couple of seasons to settle down and produce flowers, hate being moved and prefer an open sunny spot, sheltered from cold winds - but the reward is a vast array of large blooms in colours from cream to deep red. The common peony, P. officinalis, is a cottage garden favourite, growing 60cm (2ft) high and producing 12cm (5in) blooms in a variety of shades, flowering in May and June. The most popular are P. lactiflora, which flower in June. Good scented varieties include ‘Duchesse de Nemours’ or ‘Sarah Bernhardt’. For big, bold flowers, go for ‘Bowl of Beauty’, which produces pink flowers with a cream centre. Others to watch out for include ‘Peter Brand’, which produces deep red blooms and whose foliage turns red in autumn, contrasting well with ornamental grasses and bearded irises.

Peonies need mulching in spring, staking and feeding with a general fertiliser in late summer. The stems should be cut down to ground level in autumn.

Good enough to eat - Basil

It’s not one of the easiest herbs to grow as it blackens at the first signs of frost and slugs love the foliage, but its delicious flavour which goes so well with sweet, juicy, home-grown tomatoes is among my favourite tastes of summer, so it’s worth having a go. There are so many varieties it’s difficult to recommend just one and there are all sorts of flavours including lemon-flavoured, minty and orange-flavoured. Basil is best treated like a tender annual and sown in pots in a warm, well-ventilated spot indoors before placing outside in a sunny, sheltered position. By mid-June you can start sowing seeds outside, shallowly, in pots alongside tomatoes and peppers, which like the same conditions. Pick the end leaves, because more will then be produced from sideshoots. Once it has gone over, just pull it out and put something else in its place. You’ll need several pots on the go if you use a lot of it. After picking the leaves feed the plant with balanced liquid feed and let it grow again.

Three ways to... create easy-care flower beds

1. Avoid disturbing the soil around the plants unless necessary. Each disturbance produces a new batch of weed seedlings.

2. Choose plants which are self-supporting, particularly if your garden is exposed. Don’t choose short-lived plants which need replacing every few years and avoid using annuals.

3. Don’t overfeed or plants will become vulnerable to damage.

What to do this week

Tie in new growth of climbers to prevent severe tangles later on. Tie in climbing roses horizontally to encourage flowering.

Fill gaps left between spring and summer with tender perennials and easy-to-grow annuals including cosmos, nigella and pot marigold.

Buy potted lilies in bud and plant them in the border for quick colour and fragrance.

Harden off aubergines, courgettes, marrows, peppers, pumpkins and tomatoes grown from seed before planting outside.

Start to cut lawns with naturalised bulbs, making the first cut high.

Sow French and runner beans and erect supports for climbing beans.

Ensure fruit trees and bushes have enough water while the fruit is setting or fruitlets are often shed.

Cover the ground under strawberries with straw or matting to protect the ripening fruit from mud and from slugs and other pests.

Feed newly shooting hardy fuchsias with a nitrogenous fertiliser and keep the base free from weeds.

Dig up and dry off tulip and hyacinth bulbs for replacing in the autumn.

Pinch shoot tips from broad beans once the plants are 45cm high to discourage blackfly.

Give tired lawns a liquid feed for a quick pick-me-up.

Remove suckers from rose bushes as soon as they are seen.

Thin out the fruits on greenhouse grapes.