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Students aim to sustain standards
7:00am Saturday 8th December 2012 in NewsXtra
Tips on how to create sustainable gardens of your own - plus, find out what else needs doing in the garden this week.
By Hannah Stephenson
Older gardeners could pick up some tips from a new generation of young horticulturists who have grown up with the eco-friendly, sustainability mentality.
So says TV gardener David Domoney, who is mentoring students from six UK horticultural colleges as they create gardens with a sustainability theme as part of the Ideal Young Gardener of the Year competition, in association with the Prince's Foundation.
Young people are becoming much more aware of the importance of sustainable gardening, thanks to programmes such as Countryfile and other horticultural shows, he says.
"Television has greatly influenced kids to an acceptability that wildlife is very important. There are a lot of little quirky designs in their gardens that really work."
Natural stone and brick have been used to create mini pizza ovens, bulbs utilised to create 100 days of colour, while other students are using a combination of planting to create fluid movements in between timber and stone.
Herbs will be used for flowers and foliage. Ornamental plants which are also edible are being planted in blocks to create an attractive view.
"Kids today are working more with landcraft. Dry stone walling is immensely popular. When I was at college in the 1980s, things were very different. Today, there's floristry and blacksmith work, as people hammer out their own statuettes and embellishments, and make woven wicker fencing. Land-based skills which have become popular at Chelsea have been adopted."
Youngsters have a different attitude to sustainability than previous generations, he agrees.
"It's become such an important part of the teaching, there's an affinity to it, whereas other generations had to re-learn it. In the past decade we've seen a huge change. Who would have thought 10 years ago we'd have been separating our rubbish inside our kitchens? But kids of today are used to it. It's part of their natural psyche."
So how can amateur gardeners make their own plots sustainable?
Domoney says: "There's a huge amount of confusion about what is sustainable and what is natural, whether everything has to be indigenous species and aspects of chemicals, peat and landcraft.
"But for the general public who have their own gardens and like the feeling of sustainability, there are a few steps they can take to try to encourage that style of thinking."
Attracting as much wildlife as possible into the garden is the first step any amateur gardener should take towards sustainability as part of an equal balance, he notes.
"That means attracting everything from wild birds - creating not only a feeding and water station year-round, putting up bird boxes and roosting pouches - to insects that visit the garden, not just bees. Make little bee stations using cut bamboo canes tied together, or leave a section of the garden uncut.
"To create an eco-climate in your own back garden, you need to do less gardening, in some aspect," he explains.
"Having a section with old logs stacked in the corner will attract a phenomenal amount of overwintering insects as well as hedgehogs, which eat slugs. Let a section of the grass grow wild."
"Interacting with the nature that visits your garden is a good step forward for sustainability."
As green space becomes more scarce, sustainable gardens will become more valuable in the future, he predicts.
"The garden is becoming much more influential for young families and new home owners. A garden is becoming an investment, a fashion statement, rather than just somewhere to put the bikes."
:: The student gardens can be viewed at the Ideal Home Show London, which runs from March 15-April 1, 2013 at London's Earls Court. For details on how to view the gardens, visit www.idealhomeshow.co.uk
Best of the bunch - Holly (Ilex)
It's the shrub of Christmas, perfect for adding to wreaths and table decorations, its prickly leaves and bright red berries bringing both colour and texture to any arrangement.
Some hollies are grown for their variegated foliage, such as I. aquifolium 'Silver Queen', whose leaves have a pale edge. Despite its name, it's a male holly without berries, as only female plants produce berries, so make sure you have several varieties or you may be disappointed.
I. aquifolium 'Handsworth New Silver' is a great choice, bearing glossy dark green leaves with spiny cream margins and vivid red berries in winter.
If you are going for variegated types, put them in full sun for the best result, although they will tolerate dappled shade in any fertile, well-drained soil. Prune to shape, if you need to, in early spring.
Good enough to eat - Keeping brassicas healthy
With the persistent rain and wind of recent weeks, it's doubly important to earth up spring cabbages and other winter brassicas to give them better anchorage in inclement weather.
Prevent tall-growing Brussels sprouts from being blown over by supporting them with canes and tying them in firmly.
Remove yellowing leaves regularly as these encourage fungal disease. Sprouts should be harvested from the stem upwards once they have reached 2.5cm (1in) in diameter.
If you planted spring cabbages in the autumn around 15cm (6in) apart, during the winter cut every other one as winter greens, leaving the others to grow on and produce good hearts in the spring. Earth up the ones you are leaving in the ground, removing yellowing leaves when they appear.
Three ways to ... Take care of trees
1. In mid-spring, when the soil is moist, feed and mulch both newly planted and established trees, sprinkling general fertiliser or rose food around them, particularly the area overhung by the canopy of branches.
2. Leave trees grown in grass with a ring of soil around the trunk at least 90cm (3ft) across, as grass competes with young trees for water and nutrients.
3. Give trees a late-summer feed high in potash and phosphates, such as liquid tomato feed, to help ripen the current year's growth and encourage spring-flowering trees to produce buds.
What to do this week
:: Take hardwood cuttings of cornus, salix, forsythia, ribes, roses and gooseberries.
:: Check bulbs, corms and tubers in store and remove any showing signs of rot.
:: Plan new features, such as rock gardens and ponds.
:: Place forcing jars over clumps of rhubarb to encourage early stems for picking.
:: Remove dead or yellowing leaves from pelargoniums, fuchsias and argyranthemums which are overwintering in the greenhouse.
:: Firm down round newly planted stock to stop hard frosts lifting the soil.
:: Tie string round upright-growing yew and conifers to prevent snow pulling down branches.
:: Protect hardy trench celery with straw until ready to harvest.
:: Reduce top growth on standard roses to prevent damage from wind rock, but leave full pruning until early spring.
:: Fork over bare patches between plants in borders, to relieve soil compaction, adding compost to the soil as you go.
:: Spread straw over the crowns of slightly tender plants and round the base of tender climbers to protect them from the cold.
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