Green Fingers I Wish

Monday, March 26, 2007

Popular Springtime Favorites - Hyacinths

Grown for their dense spikes of highly-fragrant, tubular flowers, hyacinths have been deservedly popular spring-flowering bulbs for centuries. Read more about their history, and how best to grow them in your garden.

A treat for the senses

These powerfully-scented flowers are a welcome sight in the garden as some of the very first spring flowers to bloom after winter. They are most effective planted in blocks of a single colour along a path, or in containers near the house where their fragrance can be fully appreciated. Specially-treated, winter-flowering bulbs are also available in time for indoor Christmas displays. After flowering, these forced bulbs can be planted outdoors in a sheltered spot.


Hyacinths were originally cultivated in Europe by the ancient Greeks and the Romans. Hyacinths take their name from the Greek Hyakinthos, a handsome young man from Greek mythology. However, this early hyacinth, H. orientalis, was a rather simple species that was only valued for its scent. Despite its simplicity and small flowers, the delicious scent of the hyacinth was still enough to ensure that, when introduced in 17th century Holland, the bulbs were exorbitantly expensive and only available to very wealthy flower collectors.

The hyacinth was so popular in the 18th century that more than 2000 cultivars of H. orientalis were developed, producing plants with large, fragrant flower spikes in shades of red, blue, white, pink and yellow. Today, all hyacinths found in the modern garden are a result of this centuries-long 'fashion make-over' as man-made hybrids of the original species. They remain a firm favourite in formal bedding schemes and patio pots.

Growing tips

Hyacinths perform best in an open, sunny or partially-shaded position with fertile, well-draining soil. When selecting bulbs, make sure they are not damaged or drying out. Plant bulbs in the autumn before the ground freezes, in order to ensure proper root development. Plant bulbs six to eight inches (15-20cm) deep and about six inches (15cm) apart. Spread a small amount of bulb fertilizer in the hole during planting, in order to encourage bigger blooms. After blooming, it's important to allow the plants to continue growing until the leaves die off, as the leaves send energy to the bulbs for next year’s growth.

For winter flowers you can force bulbs by potting them up in early autumn, then keeping them cool and damp for several weeks to ensure they develop an adequate root system development. When the shoot tips appear, move the bulbs into a temperature of 10°C (50°F), and then into a warmer environment as more shoots appear, giving them as much light as possible. After forcing, keep in a cool place to finish growth.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Planting Summer Bulbs

Planting summer bulbs

Summer bulbs are ideal for patio containers and add colour to mixed borders without taking up much space.

Lily bulbs close-up

Buy dry bulbs when they are as fresh as possible. Summer bulbs are usually on sale from early spring onwards, when they are dormant. Healthy bulbs will feel firm and show no signs of mould or damage. Look for bigger bulbs as they will produce bigger blooms.

When to plant

Summer bulbs should be planted in spring, when the soil is beginning to warm up. The ideal soil temperature is13°C as in colder soil bulbs will not start to grow and may rot. Aim to plant dry bulbs directly after purchase. Bulbs you have stored over winter should be planted at the end of their dormant season.

Soil type

Different bulbs need different soil types but summer bulbs generally like a warm, sunny position. Free-draining soil is important as bulbs are susceptible to rotting. If you have heavy, clay soil dig in one to two buckets of coarse sand per square metre. Adding well-rotted organic matter will also improve drainage.

How to plant
Placing bulb in hole

Dig individual holes for each bulb or a trench for many bulbs. Place bulbs in the holes without pushing down hard. Make sure the growing point is pointing upwards. Cover with soil and firm.

Pot-grown bulbs may be planted directly in their desired position in a border where you want them to flower. This is known as planting 'in the green'. For these plants make a hole wide and deep enough to allow room for the roots to spread and plant the bulb at the same depth as before.

Many summer bulbs are ideal for growing in patio containers, especially tender species. These can then be lifted in winter and stored.

Planting depth and spacing

Use the bulb as a guide and plant it two or three times its depth. Space them approximately two to three bulb widths apart.

Lifting and storing

Most summer bulbs are not hardy so need to be lifted before the first frost. Bulbs generally prefer to be stored dry. Remove loose soil, carefully pull or cut off dead and dying leaves and leave to dry overnight. Dusting with fungicide will help keep the bulbs healthy. Store the bulbs in dry paper bags or trays of almost dry sand in a frost-free place.

A few bulbs need moist conditions and can be kept in slightly damp bark chippings.

Bulbs to try

* Allium christophii - huge, globe-shaped, purple flower-heads
* Agapanthus 'Castle of May' - tall South African plants with deep blue, showy flowers
* Canna indica - lush green foliage and bright red flowers
* Lilium 'Arena' - impressive, scented, white flowers, with yellow and deep orange stripes
* Nectaroscordum siculum - large, nodding clusters of pink-cream flowers

Thursday, March 15, 2007

New Clouded Leopard found in Borneo

New 'Clouded' Leopard Species Discovered in Borneo

The clouded leopard of Borneo discovered to be an entirely new species is the latest in a growing list of animals and plants unique to the Southeast Asian country's rainforest and underscores the need to preserve the area, conservationists said Thursday.

Genetic tests by researchers at the U.S. National Cancer Institute revealed that the clouded leopard of Borneo and Sumatra islands is a unique cat species and not the same one found in mainland Southeast Asia as long believed, said a statement by WWF, the global conservation organization.

"Who said a leopard can never change its spots? For over a hundred years we have been looking at this animal and never realized it was unique," said Stuart Chapman, WWF International Coordinator of the Heart of Borneo program, which is dedicated to preserving the flora and fauna in the deep jungles on Borneo.

The secretive clouded leopards are the biggest predators on Borneo, growing sometimes to the size of a small panther. They have the longest canine teeth relative to body size of any cat.

"The fact that Borneo's top predator is now considered a separate species further emphasizes the importance of conserving the Heart of Borneo," Chapman said.

The news about the clouded leopard comes just a few weeks after a WWF report showed that scientists had identified at least 52 new species of animals and plants over the past year on Borneo, the world's third largest island that is shared by Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei.

The Heart of Borneo, a mountainous region about five times the size of Switzerland covered with equatorial rainforest in the center of the island, is the last great forest home of the Bornean clouded leopard.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Gardens lost as sea walls collapse

The collapse of part of a sea wall at West Sussex has seen several homes have their gardens washed away.

A 30ft (9.1m) stretch of land at Selsey Bill was affected when the 40-year-old coastal defence was compromised.

Chichester District Council had used concrete as an emergency means of plugging the breach in the sea wall.

The Environment Agency is currently consulting on future defences at Selsey Bill and along the West Sussex coast.

The deadline for comments on how the threat of erosion is managed between Pagham and Chichester Harbour is 31 March.

Roland O'Brien, from the Save Our Selsey campaign, said local people objected to one proposal that they might have to contribute significant amounts of money to any new defences.

The Environment Agency's Jonathan Hunter said: "With some of the draft proposals there are going to be winners and losers, but nothing has been decided."

Donald Clark was one of the Selsey Bill residents affected by this week's collapse.

"I looked out and thought that the view had improved, and then I saw that the wall had gone," Mr Clark said.

Neighbour Paul Anderson added: "The council assure me it's all going to be put back and it will be better than it was before.

"They're going to put reinforcing bars in whereas they didn't when they first put the sea wall in there in 1967."