Talk Report: 2016-09-14

Gardening Talk ‘Minimum effort for maximum effect’ by Mary Payne

On Wednesday September 14th the well-known horticultural consultant and expert Mary Payne MBE came to talk us on the theme ‘Minimum effort for maximum effect.’ Addressing the members, few of whom are under sixty, Mary ‘s opening remark to us was “Anno Domini creepeth onwards!” This being so very true …., how can we best rationalise and organise our gardens to minimise the upkeep?

The talk started with advice on the ever-present problem of lawns, which have been analysed to be the most time consuming part of a gardener’s work. If you already have a large grass area to cope with, try leaving areas of it uncut, perhaps with bulbs planted. Dwarf rye grass mix is a good practical lawn seed. When planning a lawn, avoid making it a shape that adds extra work every time it is mown: narrow strips and tight curves require a lot of extra manoeuvres. A circle of bare earth around trees can greatly help the mower’s progress but it is tricky to cut right up to soil and foliage. A good idea is to have a ‘mowing strip’ to define the edge of flower beds which can be made from a row of small pavers placed alongside the soil at the same level as the grass. Think of incorporating gentle curves into a lawn which are is much more satisfying than straight lines, but it’s best to avoid grass paths which are difficult to mow and can easily get muddy with use. When creating beds of flowers or vegetables, make sure that a wheelbarrow and mower can pass between them.

Never buy plants on impulse! Buy for seasonal interest; getting plants that will bloom in each season as it comes around. Mary suggested that we should try to find plants that are disease resistant. This is often possible because modern selective breeding has improved massively. Read packets of seeds carefully and look on-line to find out disease resistant varieties of both flowers and vegetables.

The blight of all gardens are slugs and weeds and these inevitably took up a lot of the talk. Slugs are a menace but Mary warned against using anything containing metaldehyde, which can be fatal to pets and birds. Read the label and use a slug killer containing ferric phosphate instead. We should be aware that perennial weeds are the greatest hazard: dandelion, brambles, nettles, couch grass and bindweed amongst others. Once spread the seeds of perennial weeds can last for years. “One year’s seed gives seven years’ weeds.” Roundup is an effective way of killing persistent weeds but has of course to be selectively applied. To avoid the wanted plants, spray the weed killer through a protective column made from a cut down plastic bottle. Another good idea is to wear a woollen glove over a rubber glove and dip your hand into a bucket of the solution. The sodden glove can then squeeze the weeds one by one.

A layer of mulch such as wood chips spread immediately after planting is great for controlling weeds. After rain this traps water and eventually returns to organic matter. Beware of bamboo stakes, which can be dangerous with their pointed ends. To stop tall plants flopping, try instead to use hazel sticks and supple hazel branches can be twisted to form circles around the taller stems. When chopping back, chop back firmly. Clematis can be taken right down to encourage future growth and the ebullient wisteria should be pruned twice a year.

All this practical advice was accompanied with a series of relevant and often beautiful photographs. We saw all kinds of gardens, some showing how plants carefully chosen for colour and height can transform flowerbeds even in a small garden. We also saw examples of one or two impractical gardens; Mary thinks that garden designers should be made to work in gardens themselves so they realise the complications that result from over fanciful designs! There were a lot of questions at the end which were all answered patiently and helpfully and we were left full of ideas and good resolutions for the future. Mary was thanked enthusiastically for an inspiring and informative talk.