Members all set for mulching

Amanda takes charge of a delivery from Thompsons of Crews Hill shared by five members in De Beauvoir. A total of 37 bags of Mix and Mulch will be spreading its way over gardens near you soon, along with a whiff of horse manure and a range of composts. If anyone else wants to share an order there are a few more members interested so shout if you want to be put in touch – the savings are good and the quality is excellent.



North One increased gardeners discount

To celebrate North One Garden Centre’s 15th birthday (Beryl cannot believe they’ve been part of the community now for 15 years), they are extending their discount to De Beauvoir Gardeners to 15% off all items until the end of July. After such a terrible year for gardeners last year and the cold spring thus far, they hope this provides a little extra encouragement! As usual they have a fantastic selection of great plants, including unusual and beautiful herbaceous perennials and colourful summer bedding.

July Garden Walkabout

Despite the drizzle and the weather forecast the annual garden Walkabout on 3rd July was very well attended and we made up a very jolly crew pounding the streets of N1. Here is a brief summary:

  • We started at St. Peter’s where Elizabeth Haines talked us through the planting and funding of the church gardens as well as the introduction of bird boxes and beetle hotels!
  • Next up was Jayne’s lovely purple and blue garden in Mortimer Road. There was more than one member marveling at her clematis expertise.
  • This was followed by Mary’s pretty cottage style garden in Lawford Road. An abundance of flowers and the air filled with the delightful scent of lillies.
  • Just along Northchurch Road we visited a garden in transition where a new garden office (complete with sedum roof) has meant that Maggie, the gardener, has had to move a lot of plants and work around the builders.
  • This year we included the award winning Ockendon Road tree pits – we didn’t quite have time to see all 35 of them but we were given a great tour by Tony and Tessa Campbell. They have who have kindly sent along an advice sheet which I include at the end of this post.
  • Onto Oakley Road where local designer Jenny Bloom has created a peaceful, low maintenance garden for DBG member Barbara. An urban sanctuary with distinct eating, sitting and woodland areas.
  • Lastly we all ended up at my own garden (Avril) further down Oakley for drinks and nibbles. Luckily my Big Daddy hostas had staved off the slugs and snails!

A big thank you to Miranda for helping me organise the evening and for taking these wonderful pics:

Things to think about when planning to create and plant a tree pit
(the experience of Ockendon Road)

Ockendon Road, in East Canonbury, Islington is regularly lined on either side with 35 trees. Eleven of the trees are new; the remainder were planted in the 1970s and a number of those are coming to the end of their life. One resident created a treepit garden about 20 years ago, a few others followed, and in 2002, when two of us retired, we decided to extend to the entire road.

Ours is a community effort. While there are three residents who deal with the street as a whole, there are about ten others who assist in one way or another – in one case taking care of one end of the street.

1. Check or gather materials

  • Earth – from neighbours or, as last resort, buy
  • Compost – ideally make, otherwise buy (non-peat)
  • Edging
    1. tiles – already in some Victorian gardens and, if you’re lucky, are thrown out. Expensive to buy (probably even reproductions cost c.£4). Might need 15-30 for a tree pit.
    2. bricks – we found the best and cheapest at Homebase – attractive (8 x 4 x 2 inches., slightly smaller than standard) grey bricks at about 45p each. Need fewer than tiles and require less depth.
    3. stones – similar in size to the bricks, again from a builder’s merchant.
    Tiles/bricks/stones can be tamped down (with a hammer and strip of wood). Drop in small stones behind/under them to make the fixing stronger.
    4. strips of small wooden posts (wired together – ‘half log roll’). These are relatively cheap (B&Q) but will rot after about 3 years. Islington Council recommends continuous, bendy Everedge strip, whose spikes you push into the soil.
    5. however, if faced with the spreading base or roots of an established tree it may be impossible to edge all the way round, which may rule out the options above.  An alternative is to make a rectangular box using strips of preserved wood, placed level with the surface. Those can, if necessary be nailed together and anchored into the earth with vertical wooden strips (placed so as to avoid the roots) or held together by brackets at the corners.

Allow for the earth level to fall. Keep well below the height of the surround and leave a groove for the water.

Waterproofing. To stop water running out through the gaps in the edging, plastic strips can be cut and pushed down. For example, B&Q sell green rolls 3½ inches high (‘Lawn Edging’), which are easy to cut.

2. Prepare the bed
It is likely that the existing ‘soil’ is of poor quality. There may be sand, rubble, bricks, concrete etc. Taking great care not to damage the tree roots, and ensuring that they remain moist, you may want to dig out the existing materials to a depth of 6 inches where possible and replace with earth and compost.

For illustrations of the bed preparation process see (

Suckers coming up from the base of the tree or its roots can be cut back. This should be done cleanly close to the base.

3. Organisation
Each group will find its own route but it might be helpful to share one street’s experience. There tend to be three levels of involvement:

  1. watering one or more nearby beds [though not all who agree will actually do it]
  2. maintaining a nearby bed, e.g. weeding, pruning  [ditto]
  3. total ownership – agreeing to take on a nearby bed (perhaps already prepared for them), source and put in the plants, and look after it continuously

In any street, much of the effective work is likely to be done by a small handful of people.  If a whole street is to be tackled, the hard-core helpers will probably have to take on a number of the ‘orphan’ beds.

Cooperation (e.g. over sharing equipment) and good co-ordination (for example about any watering rota) is essential.

4. Funding
If a group of beds, or even an entire street, is involved, and if no other source of funds is available, it is probably necessary to have a whip-round. In Ockendon Road we found a number of people happy to offer – indeed most would rather pay than do the work!

5.  Starting off
Look at the bed first. Are the edgings intact? A gap makes watering all the more difficult. Does the compost not quite reach the top of the edging? But remember you will be adding earth as you plant, though not so much as to cover the base of the trunk. How much is taken up with the tree roots? The depth of the soil will vary according to the root spread. How much shade is cast by the tree?

6. Choosing the plants.
Try and mix small shrubs with perennial flowering plants. The beds look very empty when first planted, and the bare earth is attractive to passing dogs. Ground cover plants are useful, especially those that can grow over the edging as it softens the bed. Scented plants add to the attractiveness of the bed.

Use bedding plants for instant colour, but they are comparatively expensive and perennials are better value. Plants sold as suitable for patios and containers are invaluable. Low-lying and long-flowering, they are excellent ground cover. New varieties are produced every year. Herbs are hardy and there are many attractive varieties.

If you are planting a group of treepits you might like to give each a different theme or colour range.

Choose plants of varying heights and hopefully find some that aren’t too demanding of water. Remember the WOW factor: beds at the end of the street ‘set the scene’ and strong colour at a bed’s inner corners can be seen when looking down the street.  Climbing plants again soften the appearance of the bed (nothing too dense as that makes inspection difficult for the Urban Forestry Team, who may have to remove the plant): clematis, honeysuckle, perennial sweet pea. Remember granular or liquid feeding: watering in Tomorite occasionally is helpful.

7. Watering
This will be the biggest single commitment. In the case of a mature tree it is a double whammy because the tree’s leaves stop most of the rain reaching the pit at all, and the tree roots take what they can. For this reason try to achieve a critical mass of plants so that little earth is exposed to the sun.

In summer it will probably be necessary to water once a week; in a heatwave, at least every other day.

When dealing with an entire street, and facing up to the reality that much/most of the watering will be left to the main organisers, it may make sense to acquire a water-carrier.  If houses have outside taps (and willing owners) those can be very helpful.

8. Problems
Expect and accept a few minor set-backs, e.g. dog mess, careless individuals and occasional vandals. There may be a plant thief, too. If so, see what they take and avoid those. In general, best not to put in expensive and unusually attractive plants [and remove the price label!]

For more details see the Ockendon website:

Gardeners Question time

Miranda Janatka has kindly sent us her notes (and images) from our Gardeners Question Time meeting on Tuesday 12th June. The panel consisted of Louise, Paul and Joel from the N1 Garden Centre and Chris Preston, our own club expert. The meeting was chaired by Nancy Turnbull.

Chrysolina Americana: Rosemary Beetle

Q1. How can I get rid of Rosemary beetle?
‘Provado’ was recommended for spraying but there is no point in spraying during June and July as the bug is dormant and it is best  not to spray while bees are collecting pollen. Squishing the beetles and the grubs is suggested, as well as covering the surrounding ground with a blanket and shaking the beetles off. Birds are beneficial in keeping the population of these bugs down.


Discoloured camellia leaf

Q2. What is the cause of curl and or discolouration in Camellia leaves?
If there is a low percentage of the leaves on the plant which are curled or discoloured, do not worry. As you get new growth, old leaves are shed. However if there is a high percentage of leaves with curl or discolouration it could mean that the plant is poorly fed, try feeding after flowering with ‘Miracle grow – Miracid’. Curling can suggest a dryness of the roots.

Q3.  How can I get rid of snails? (in particular pepper corn sized snails)
It was suggested that these tiny snails may be water snails. Beer and yeast traps are suggested to get rid of all snails. The panel and audience discuss the benefits and problems with using nematodes. It is reminded that nematodes only work when the soil is wet but not cold and can deter preditors of the slugs and snails. (Diana Weir also sends this LINK to an article with 20 ways to combat slugs and snails).

Q4. A range of plants are all dying in one part of the garden, what could the problem be?
Due to the ongoing wet weather, fungal problems have been a much larger issue, for several reasons but in particular the rain spreads the spores. It is recommended to take affected leaves away and spray with a fungal spray.

Curling rose leaf

Q5. For the second year running, the leaves on my roses are completely
curled over. What is the problem and what can I do?
The N1 experts suggested that the roses have a virus, and the best (though drastic) action would be to destroy the plants to avoid further spreading. It is possible to cut off the affected parts, but this will not cure the plant.

Q6. My Dahlias and broad beans do not grow straight, why is this?
The panel discussed whether the owner of the plants is staking them early enough or if staking actually encourages the problem. Inconsistent light and watering can cause this problem. A member of the audience suggests that planting in autumn might avoid
this problem. The panel ask if there are irregular nutrients being absorbed by the plants and over feeding is also suggested as a possible cause to the problem. It is considered that stringing up the broad beans helps and that watering the Dahlias well throughout Spring helps.

Q8. I have an infestation of mice in the polytunnel where I can
strawberries. What can I do?
Nancy suggested that putting the growing fruit inside jam jars as they grow prevents mice from eating them as the mice do not entering the confined spaces. It is also recommended that if there is a bird feeder in the garden, preventing any food falling from it helps discourage unwanted pests.

Clematis with mites

Q9. My Clematis flowers half the size that it use to. The leaves are brown and crispy? What is wrong?
On observation of the underside of the leaves, the panel spots tiny mites. The use of ‘Provado’ or a soft soap is recommended.

Q10. My secateurs require sharpening, is there anywhere locally that will do this?
The KTS hardstore on Englefield Road will do this, as well as Franchi on Holloway Road. The N1 garden centre also sells an effective sharpener to keep blades sharp between times.

Q11. I am going to install some plants into a school garden. Which plants would be the most suitable for dry and shady, south west facing area.
Many plants were suggested by the panel and audience, among them: Acanthus, Olive, Spotted Laurel, Mahonia, Aucuba Rozanne and Mock Orange – Sundance. If anyone wants to donate plants to Queensbridge School, please get in touch at

Q12. I have a bald patch on my lawn under a plum tree next to the boundary of the garden. The space is 2 yards square. What can I do about it?
It was suggested that the gardener hides it. Plants such as Iberis, London Pride, Companulas, Cowslip and Primrose are also suggested but it is warned that they may spread into the lawn.

Q13. What is a ‘Chelsea Chop’ and is it a good idea?
This is a technique used (about the time of the Chelsea Flower show) in which the gardener cuts back plants to make them more stocky and to stagger growth and flowering times. It is recommended that the gardener considers carefully which plants this is suitable to attempt this with. The members of the panel from the N1 Garden Centre comment that they may cover this in more detail in their next newsletter.

Gardening tips from Westminster Abbey

Our speaker in May was Chris Collins whose career in horticulture has been incredibly varied and includes many TV appearances as well as being the resident the Blue Peter gardener. His presentations to us included his first year as head gardener at Westminster Abbey and his first gardening experience in Japan.

Luckily Miranda Janatka has shared her notes:

On lawns
• Moss is a result of heavy soil.
• Spike a lawn and fill with horticultural grit if it needs help draining.
• Make use of fine grass to plant in gaps between paving in order to soften edges.
• Kentucky blue mixed in with other grass seeds helps make a rich lawn.
• In autumn; spike, scarify and use only round washed sand on your lawn so that it provides good drainage (as opposed to other types of sand).
• For the perfect lawn, seed a lawn every 3 to 4 weeks in summer and don’t cut any shorter than 2.5 cm.

On plants
• Avoid putting tender plants out before the 1st of June (there is always the possibility of a frost in mid May).
• Keep your compost damp for the best results.
• Roses love horse manure and look out for Old English roses.
• Make plant feed made from nettles – leave weeds for 3 weeks to rot down and then dilute 1 part to 20 of water (there are plenty of nettles by the canal). Seaweed extract also very beneficial to plants.

Bees in the City

© Stephen King

Our speakers in November 2011 were Brian McCallum and Alison Benjamin, co-authors of ‘A World without Bees’ and ‘Bees in the City’. They recently moved locally, backing on to De Beauvoir and gave us a wonderful insight into urban beekeeping as well as sharing some of their knowledge of the light of bees worldwide. You can find out more at Urban Bees.