La Mortola Gardens

EVER since I have been mixed up in gardening I have heard the name of La Mortola spoken in excited admiration by those who have been there, breathed in awe by thoss who know this miraculous garden only by repute. Every year at one time we used to read lists that were published of the plants which were in flower on New Year’s Day. And how long they were, how alluring the names!

Standing on its own promontory striking out into the Mediterranean just where the frontier between Italy and France is marked, it is a garden of 70 acres which has long been a place of pilgrimage for English gardeners, for it represents the noblest example of the truth in that familiar statement that ‘wherever the Englishman goes he makes a garden’. And shares it, too! La Mortola has always been open for visitors to enjoy. Down there you can sec all the plants flourishing that we struggle with at home, or admire in the Temperate House at Kew, or just read and dream about.

La Mortola deserves a special visit by more tourists than those who usually stop here as they take the Riviera coast road on holiday. The garden was begun by an Englishman, Sir Thomas Hanbury, then retiring early from a career in the East. Over the next 40 years, through a passion for plants and a profound gift for using them, he turned it into one of the most romantic gardens in Europe. A brother joined him in this enterprise, and his son inherited the zeal as well as, ultimately the property. In turn he married a girl similarly inspired and she, later Mrs. Dorothy Hanbury-Forbes, tended the garden from the time she went there as a bride in 1913 until her health failed late in life.

A little later an emergency resolution was carried at the International Botanical Congress being held in Canada that ways should be sought to secure the permanent preservation of the garden. Happily they were found. Now La Mortola is always open to the public, every day.

THE PROOF OF THE PRUNING is in the flowering

LET me tell you a story. Dame Nature employed three gardeners who carried out her pruning for many thousands of years. One was called Frost, another Fire and the third Teeth. Frost used to prune in the winter, turning up for work at various times. Fire usually pruned in the summer, and would have had less work if Frost had obeyed the book and burnt his prunings. Teeth pruned when he felt hungry, usually when bad weather hid his usual food; but also when the young growth was tasty in the spring.

Now Mrs. Nature is a lady who likes to do things to excess, but she is very clever at covering up. Because her pruning stafT were often over-drastic, she provided roses with suckers, so that if all the top disappeared roots could grow again.

As we growers have chosen to bud the rose on to a briar root, we must modify Mrs. Nature’s methods. A bed of briars is not highly thought of in horticultural circles. But I like to recall that without any pruning instructions Frost, Fire and Teeth delivered to us, through ages untold, a fine vigorous stock of wild roses.

For one thing, they never argued about when to prune. They struck willy-nilly. It should now be clear that when a rose is cut down, its response is to grow again as soon as it finds adequate warmth and moisture. I believe there is not one day in the 365 when you can kill a rose merely by cutting it down.

One can, however, choose the time. To my mind, roses are least attractive when pruned; and they are certainly in their most vulnerable state when a careless foot can break the best shoot off’. Therefore it is my aim in pruning to keep them in that state for the shortest time. When I think the worst of the winter is over, that’s when I prune my roses. I do not guess right every year, being an optimist. From early to Mid-March is usually the time in southern England, and as one travels north the period lengthens to late April. I hate to prune when the leaves are growing and the sap flowing – that sap should have gone into the shoots I had pruned to. Therefore, I prefer to prune too early, and chance the ensuing cold, rather than too late, and waste a week’s growth. The growing season is short enough in all conscience, and a week of it may well be 4 per cent interest, never to be reclaimed, down the drain.

No Arguing

Frost, Fire and Teeth never argued about cutting to an outward-facing eye. Mrs. Nature was responsible there, because she had told a lot of her insect guests to billet themselves in the stubs her gardeners left above the eyes. I have often felt mortified to look at my last season’s pruning, and to see the outward facing eye, so carefully selected, bearing a miserable twig; and lower down the stem, another eye has sprouted forth an enormous, admirable growth. Since, therefore, one does not know which eye will sprout most strongly, it is pointless to worry whether to cut to one that faces in or out.

We can take the lesson that nature did not prune to an eye and yet the roses grew. This thought can save much discomfort if you are pruning on a cold, windy day. If you cannot see an eye, just cut to the height you want. The next eye down the stem will sprout in due course; and on some sunny day in May, you can stroll round the garden like a king, secateurs in hand. As you do not need to lodge Mrs. Nature’s insect guests, you can then snip ofT the stubs above the sprouting eyes. You will feel like a surgeon of plants; you will be warm and comfortable, and cheered by the thought that you rattled through the pruning at high speed at the right time.

Of Mrs. Nature’s staff. Frost was the only one who showed proper discrimination in the matter of taking out inferior wood. He froze on to everything unripe and soft, and laid it low. Fire cleared out old wood first, but unfortunately did not always know when to stop. I’m sorry I cannot give Teeth much credit; with whatever four-footed creature he operated, he had a sad tendency to spoil the best wood.

Nevertheless, Frost and Fire are admirable guides. They take first of all soft wood, old wood, spindly wood. Soft wood may be tested by squeezing it tight between thumb and forefinger (provided you can find an area free from thorns). If it feels squeezy, it did not ripen properly last summer, and is unlikely either to survive the winter, or to produce vigorous growth next season. Therefore it must go! No arguing.

Old wood was kindling to Fire, and no wonder. The supply system in plants operates by the transmission of sap through one cell wall to the next. In a young shoot, the cells are young, their walls soft and moist. With age, the cell walls become woody and sap transmission more difficult. When it is really difficult, the sap must find another course, as any liquid does; and then the plant throws out a new shoot. The old one is gradually starved away, its cell walls stiff, dry, ready to burn.

Look upon your plant as a living thing, always progressing through some stage or other of these changes. It consists of shoots which are too old, and gradually starving, and other shoots which are the larders of the plant, where food and strength are stored for its use (and your flowers) next summer. This parallel should give you an insight, when pruning, into what is to be kept and what discarded.

Shoots to keep up

The state of the bark should invite you to guess the ages of your shoots, and you will obviously prefer to keep those which are greenest. The old black shoots, however, may have life in them yet, and the way to detect it is to look for the strength of the side shoots they bear. If strong young shoots are still coming from them, those old shoots are still worth keeping.

Having thus assessed the plant and recognised its larders, make sure to cut out all the less productive parts as low down as you can. If they are cut flush with the base, so much the better; or it may be that some of the unproductive parts (unripe, spindly, too old) stem from some of the larders, those best shoots, you wish to retain. If so, cut them off very close to the shoot they spring from. Or it may be that some of your best shoots are coming fairly high up from an old shoot; then cut off the rest of the old shoot close above that junction.

Rule of Finger

All that remains is to ask how short the plant ought to be when it has been pruned? Here is my suggestion, and it refers equally to hybrid teas and fioribundas, in fact all the most popular bush roses grown today.

If your plant is new, the best shoots when pruned ought to be approximately as long as the average of your fingers.

If your plant is in its second year, or in its third but not looking too robust, the best shoots when pruned ought to be much longer than your fingers, too, meaning to the junctions with older wood; or, if basal shoots, to the ground.

If your plant is in its third year, it ought to be approaching maximum vigour. If you see robust shoots that look just great, you can leave them the length of their optimum vigour, say up to 12 in. long. This will give you a huge bush next year. But anything not up to that cut short.

If your plant is old, remember there is a limit to the number of shoots it can produce from the base. You can’t cut everything off for 20 years and expect annual replacement. You have to make the established larders work for their full span. Therefore, be just as drastic with sub-standard wood, but leave old wood so long as it has good off shoots shortening it to the point just above the top off-shoot you wish to keep. This place can often be detected by a perceptible narrowing of the wood above that junction point.

I don’t suppose that Messrs. Frost, Fire and Teeth ever read an article like this; they worked a pretty rough method, but we are more refined nowadays. If you can’t prune your roses better than they did, I’ve wasted paper and ink. But we can all take heart from the fact that nature’s methods worked. If we can sum them up, and apply them in our gardens to our more sophisticated needs, I think we shall find the proof of the pruning about the end of June.

FLOWERING PLANTS INDOORS

THE keen house-plant grower soon realises that though flowers are not essential to his display, some perennial specimens will give a bonus of flowers if conditions are favourable, for instance, bromeliads, some begonias, beloperone, anthurium, aphelandra and spathiphyllum.

Many people who think that indoor plants grown for foliage alone are a bit dull try to cultivate flowering plants. Among the most reliable are the ubiquitous busy lizzie (impat-iens) and the African violet (saintpaulia). There are many permanent plants which can be bought in flower but may be difficult to bring into bloom a second time, like bougain-villea and stephanotis, and others are decidedly difficult to keep long, including columnea, hibiscus and Vinca rosea.

Many good flowering plants are tuberous-rooted and need a resting period, and may be tricky to start again the second year. These include achimenes and gloxinia. Bulbous plants like hippeastrum and vallota are easy enough but their rest period brings problems for the flat-dweller. The spectacular-blooming clivia is not very attractive out of flower, and the same can be said of many perennial or shrubby plants.

Of course, with a greenhouse, conservatory or house extension- the problems diminish. It is seldom that room conditions are really satisfactory for flowering plants to remain attractive long. For this reason they appeal to our experimental instincts but we should not be too upset if they prove temporary.

Many pot plants sold by florists in season are only annual at best, or otherwise unsuitable for growing on, like cinerarias, calceolarias and dwarf chrysanthemums. These simply have to be discarded after flowering, and usually it is far better to do the same with cyclamen, azaleas, poinsettias and primulas.

Flowering plants deserve a place of honour indoors and are often displayed alone. Alternatively, a more or less permanent arrangement of foliage plants plunged in peat in a container can have niches left where flowering pot plants are put in when at their best, to be regularly replaced.

Almost all temporary flowers last longer in relatively cool conditions; cinerarias, cyclamen and azaleas, for instance, are far better in a very cool room than a hot one where the dry air shrivels the flowers. Some of the perennials, however, are basically hothouse plants and need moisture in the air.

Single pot plants can with advantage be stood in a larger bowl either on a layer of pebbles or a block of wood with water below, making sure that the water level is below the base of the pot. The evaporation greatly helps to prevent flowers shrivelling..

If you take a bucket of tepid water round the garden with you, and put the cut flowers straight into it, you will not have a revival job on your hands when you get indoors. And if you also take a basket or tray, you can strip off all the lower leaves and tip them on to the compost heap. Leaves are greedy about their intake of water and will actually rob the flower heads.

Handle with Care

Cut all flower stems (except hollow ones like delphiniums) on the slant, so that they have the maximum area to take in water. Very fleshy stems, including some flowers grown from bulbs, should be recut under water, to prevent an air bubble forming and stopping the water travelling up the stem. They should then be stood deep in tepid water, preferably overnight.

The large hollow-stemmed spikes are worth taking trouble with; few of us have gardens large enough to grow them in quantity, so they tend to be rather precious and special. Delphiniums should be cut straight across, not on the slant, and the stems filled with tepid water. Pour very slowly through a funnel or use a medical ‘dropper’. Be sure not to let any air bubbles form. When the stem is full, plug it with a tight wad of cotton wool to

Correct water levels for cut flowers

YOU can always tell the expert from the amateur, can’t you? They both reveal themselves in little ways. Not long ago, helping to organise a charity event, I was working beside a florist who had arrived with a vanload of flowers and foliage in buckets of water, some lying in troughs, and mountains of crumpled chicken wire. She happened to remark that she would have liked a few more blue flowers, but would have to manage without. ‘Oh,’ said our hostess helpfully, ‘do go and take some from the garden.’ And then came the voice of the professional. ‘That’s very kind, but they wouldn’t be any good at all. They wouldn’t have been conditioned.

There and then I vowed never again to rush out in the heat of the day, tear a few stems from the border and hope for the best. Early morning or, if you can’t get up that soon, dusk are the best times to pick flowers, when they are at their freshest. It’s no good being overcome by the loveliness of a summer afternoon, and rushing out to gather a few emotive bursts of colour. They will wither before you have made the lea.

It is equally important to cut flowers at the right stage of development. Roses, for instance, should never be cut in tight bud, for they will never open indoors. On the other hand, they should not be left until they are fully open and have only a short life-span. Gladioli and lupins should be cut when the first of the flowers are beginning to open. After that it is best to leave the spikes where they are, and to enjoy them in the garden.

As we all know if we have bought early spring flowers from a barrow, daffodils and narcissi enjoy a long vase life if they are cut in bud. But remember to allow extra space in your arrangement for them to develop! Nothing looks more sad than a clutch of flowers jostling each other hungrily for room to breathe in a container.

Keep in the water, then stand it in water for a long time.

Milky stems, such as all types of poppy, and spurge, must be sealed completely at the ends to prevent the sap running out. To do this, hold each stem over a candle flame, or immerse it in boiling water, and then seal the cut with sand or a waterproof lacquer.

Woody stems – this group includes buddleia, roses, forsythia and lilac – should have their stems crushed so that they can easily drink.

The addition of Chrysal, or a variety of household preparations, can help to clarify the water and prolong the life of your flowers. Try using vinegar in the proportion of one part to eight parts water for anemones, lilies, lily-of-thc-valley and other soft-stemmed flowers. A teaspoon of sugar to a pint of water is the longevity factor for asters, cosmos, marigolds, sweet peas and zinnias, while a little block of salt is recommended for the daisy-type flowers, such as gaillardias, marguerites and Esther Reads.

Some flowers grown from bulbs – daffodils, hyacinths, ranunculi and tulips – need no addition to the water, and, indeed, are quite happy to be arranged in shallow water.

KEEPING PLANTS HEALTHY

If a plant begins to look sickly or discoloured, chances are this is due to your own treatment of it or something wrong in the growing conditions. A yellowing leaf, say, is often likely to be due to some sort of check several weeks back -effects of a chill or a draught develop slowly on a rubber plant, although they will show quickly on a thin-leaved fern or maranta.

Pests

Various insect pests do attack house plants including the easily recognised common aphis or greenfly. The scale insect – like a minute limpet – is a kind of sedentary aphis. The most insidious pest is the almost invisible red spider mite; if leaves start looking yellow-mottled, look on the undersides with a magnifying glass for the tiny spider-like creatures.

Greenfly can often be washed off. And wiping off is the best way of dealing with scale insects. Red spider, however, needs spraying, using non-poisonous derris or more effective malethion.

Most pests can be controlled by infrequent sprays of an insecticide containing both malathion and the systemic dimethoate (rogor).

Simple Precautions

Here is a quick run-down on how to avoid trouble: Watering – check the plant’s needs rather than watering by the calendar; do not waterlog the soil or let it dry out; don’t let water stand under the pot; don’t use freezing cold water. Feed little and often – never over-do it. Avoid draughts, fluctuating temperatures, scorching sun; hot dry air from heaters; and try to ensure moist air round the plants. Finally, an occasional sponging or spraying keeps dust off the leaves.

WATER, POTS AND COMPOST

Watering

We usually buy plants ready grown in a pot, and watering is the main problem, at any rate in the first few months. The only rule for watering is ‘when the plant needs it’, but this is rather like the chicken-and-egg riddle. The amount of water depends on the plant, the warmth, the pot, and the soil.

With a few exceptions potting compost should not dry out between waterings, so keep an eye on it, and feel into the pot with a finger, because the surface may be misleading. Shrinkage from the side of the pot indicates dryness. As a general rule, plants may need water every other day in hot summer weather, every three or four days in moist weather, and every seven to ten days in winter – more often in a hot room than a cool one.

Repotting

A house plant can stay in the same pot for years, but if it looks top-heavy, move it into a larger pot. This is best done in spring or summer. Plastic pots keep in moisture more, and are better with soil-less composts; but they are sometimes too light to keep a big plant in balance.

Compost

Modern soil-less composts are excellent for house plants as long as you remember that they will run out of nutrition in a fairly short time. So it is essential to feed regularly. John Inncs compost is not always what it seems and in any case it is wise to add at least I part extra peat to 3 parts compost. If you like mixing your own soil, use 2 parts good fibrous loam, 2 parts peat or rotted leaf mould, and 1 part coarse sand.

Feeding

A plant in a soil-less compost will need feeding from say two months after purchase, with a little balanced liquid fertiliser, added to the watering can every week or fortnight roughly between April and September. In a warm room feed about monthly through the winter. A soil-based compost needs less feeding until the plant has been in it for a year or more. Never feed a plant that is dry.

Easy Growing Houseplants

No-one should have any difficulty in producing a marvellous display with them, provided they are given the conditions recommended.

A plant pot in a room is almost like a man on the moon: it is in a strange, alien environment, a far cry from its home jungle. Like the scientists working out what’s best for an astronaut, we have, in a simple way, to consider just what we are subjecting our indoor plants to and how best they will cope, and indeed thrive as we hope them to. MOST keen gardeners like to have plants around them indoors as well as outside. One might say that no room is properly furnished today without plants, while they provide interest in winter when the garden is apt to be dull. Perhaps most important, indoor plants give the many frustrated gardeners who live in flats something to test their skill with.

What is a house plant, in fact? Our view is that it is basically a plant which will thrive in the particular room conditions available and remain permanently attractive. Obviously some rooms are better than others; but there are a number of plants which have been proved over the years to stand the draughts, changing temperatures and lack of air moisture of the average living room. These are the true house plants.

They are often tropical in origin and are grown mainly for their leaves. Although many of them have a bonus of flowers, their leaf colourings and patterns are often so attractive that this is unimportant.

ENVIRONMENT

This word may be fashionable but it’s appropriate. There are three main things we need to consider in a room environment – temperature, light and air humidity. All these can be measured and we are quite used to having a thermometer, but one of them – air humidity – is very difficult to assess, and must be thought of in relation to temperature.

Cold or Warm

In part this depends on the plant’s native climate, but it is often surprising what low temperatures a tropical native will stand. Try to keep the room constantly at the same sort of temperature. Of course we are likely to warm up our rooms when we need them, especially in the evenings, and let them cool down when we don’t, but as central or background heating becomes more general it is easier for many houses to have a fairly constant heat.

If the temperature does vary a lot, many of the more difficult temperamental plants will simply not stand this variation, but you can succeed with the easier ones.

In a bad winter an unheated room can become very cold, and if plants must be kept in it, take them away from windows. If they have to remain on the windowsills, a few thicknesses of newspaper between them and the glass give some insulation. Remember what insulation a curtain give you, and avoid leaving plants behind the curtains on cold nights.

Cold draughts are very harmful to plants, and so are currents of hot air which may rise from radiators or heating pipes. Obviously too the direct heat from a gas or electric fire is likely to wither up leaves.

The Air

It’s easy enough to see smoke in the air, or to smell gas or other fumes. Here again the tougher plants will stand a certain amount of such pollution in their environment, especially those with hard, thick leaves.

What we cannot see or sense is the amount of moisture the air is holding. Anyone who has a greenhouse knows how we ‘damp down’ by spraying the staging and floor, to fill the air with moisture. Once again there’s a range of tough plants which withstand arid conditions cacti are good examples, although they do not come into this series, and so are bromeliads.

The more delicate the leaves, on the whole, the more air moisture is needed. Without it the plants begin to go yellow and wither. Even tough kinds like palms tend to get brown leaf tips – this tender developing part of the leaf suffers through the air dryness that the rest of it will stand. Incidentally, this air dryness is nothing to do with the water needed by the roots.

It is worthwhile working out how low a temperature a plant can stand – and how cool you are prepared to have the room – for most plants will do better indoors at the cooler end of their temperature range than the hotter one.

Although we cannot ‘damp down’ indoors there are ways of increasing local humidity. With a single plant, stand the pot in a bowl either on a layer of large pebbles or gravel or on a block of wood. Water in the bowl evaporates around the foliage; it must not reach the bottom of the pot or the soil will become waterlogged. If you top up the water from a hot kettle the steam gives a splendid bonus.

In a metal trough the pebble method is again excellent, or try sinking the pots into peat or sphagnum moss, kept moist. This has the added advantage of concealing the pots, especially when several are grouped together in large bowls.

With very tender plants we need a miniature greenhouse of some kind which will hold in the air moisture.

Fresh air, incidentally, is usually helpful to plants, except on the coldest winter days, as long as it doesn’t come in the form of a draught.

Light

Some plants will stand quite deep shade; most of them like good indirect light. Full sun in summer is quite likely to scorch or discolour even the toughest leaves.

Remember that plants grow towards the light, so turn the pots from time to time to keep the growth even. If a plant becomes spindly, with smaller leaves and long spaces between them, this means it is not having enough light.

TOPIARY-THE GRACEFUL ART OF TREE SCULPTURE

With its roots in Roman times, and now enjoying a popular comeback, topiary brings out the true artist in every creative gardener.

ORNAMENTAL box and yew trees lake on a new and interesting perspective when they are shaped, curved, carved and coaxed into three-dimensional, but living, garden ornaments. A small, formal garden treated in this way can become a chess board with dark, mysterious pieces; a hedge can be embellished with prowling cats – as in an amusing Hertfordshire garden, with classical urn shapes or a prowling, lifelike owl. The possibilities are endless. Even without the use of colour, topiary brings out the true artist in every creative gardener.

And now, after close on two centuries’ banishment at the hands of the landscape gardeners, who despised and even ridiculed the formal gardens of their day, this fascinating art is enjoying a popular come-back.

Topiary is one of the oldest of garden crafts and can be traced back some 2,000 years to Roman times, although it is believed to have been originated by the Chinese who, with the Dutch, are probably the most skilful and enthusiastic exponents of the art today. Its name is derived from Topiarius, a Roman gardener, famed for his masterly trimming of box trees to give them the appearance of boats, animals and geometrical shapes.

Sentries in Box

One of the most famous of all Roman formal gardens was the one in Tuscany belonging to Pliny the Elder. It contained hundreds of fantastic designs, including sentries carved in box mounting guard over evergreen initials of fair ladies, and a whole menagerie of weird and wonderful animal and bird forms.

The pride of Genoa in the 16th century, according to the diarist Evelyn, was a clump of yews cut to resemble a flock of sheep complete with a shepherd, while in the back- ground stood a menacing horde of evergreen animals apparently awaiting their chance to pounce on the flock.

Evelyn himself, incidentally, was a topiary enthusiast and boasted of a holly hedge 400 ft. long and 9 ft. high – through which Peter the Great drove a wheelbarrow and had to pay £150 in compensation for disfiguring the masterpiece!

If you take to the art of topiary you will be following in the steps of many famous personalities. It was Cardinal Wolsey who laid out the famous evergreen maze at Hampton Court. During the reign of William III the royal gardens in Holland were full of fantastically clipped shrubs and bushes, while one group of ancient yews was carved out to form a complete summer-house.

Some of the finest topiary work in Britain was thought to have been the handiwork of the famous French gardener, Le Notre, who planned the gardens of the Palace of Versailles ‘that the Nation and the Court might be dazzled and enchanted by its novelty and singularity’. His skill was such that he could even clip the trees to represent architecture of different periods.

His representation in box and yew led a writer of the day to declare, ‘He can shape the lesser wood to the form of men armed in the field, ready to give battle. Or swift-running greyhounds to chase the hare. This kind of hunting shall not waste your corne, nor much of your coyne.’

The topiary work at Levens Hall must be seen to be believed. It was designed by M. Beaumont, a French gardener, who came to England at the time of the Restoration. Many of the trees are the actual ones he planted two-and-a-half centuries ago, while the rest are identical in size and shape to those they replaced.

The trees represent not only geometrical designs such as cubes, spheres and spirals, but such objects as boats, umbrellas, a giant cup and saucer, an Indian wigwam and even a judge’s wig, so large that its hollowed-out interior contains a table and seats and is, in fact, a living summer-house. It is, indeed, a kind of Alice-in-Wonderland garden where fantasy reigns supreme. Crowns vie with peacocks and everywhere trees have been disciplined into forms that nature never intended. Or, as one writer has observed, ‘The useless but charming art of leading nature up the garden path.’

It was just when the art had reached its peak of excellence in the 18th century that men of wit and literary ability began to spurn it as lacking in artistic taste. Pope’s satirical ‘Catalogue of Greens to be Disposed of’ probably did more than anything else to bring the art into disfavour.

Here are just a few of the ‘bargains’ that Pope’s nimble brain contrived: ‘The Tower of Babel, not yet finished; St. George in box, his arm not yet long enough, but will be in a condition to stick the dragon next April; a pair of giants, stunted, to be sold cheap; a quickset hog, shot up into a porcupine by being forgot a week in rainy weather; divers poets in bays, somewhat blighted,’ and many in like vein.

Pope and his contemporaries all but shot the art to death – but not quite. Here and there a country cottager, a jobbing gardener, or a strong-minded squire, kept the art alive for us to build upon.

CARE-FREE CHRYSANTHEMUMS

IF you want plenty of colour in late summer and autumn to keep your garden gay when the bedding plants are reaching the end of their season – get some chrysanthemums. Not the varieties that produce those large disbudded blooms and need a lot of attention, but the garden sprays and pompon varieties. They need no stopping and dis-budding, not even staking in the case of the 1 A – 2ft. High ones. Just leave them to grow as they will and they’ll give you a marvellous show from August until the hard frosts arrive. What’s more, these chrysanthemums are just as good for cutting as their large cousins, lasting for ages in a vase. In fact, many arrangers agree that they are easier to handle. And they’re so generous with their blooms that you can cut plenty from a bed without spoiling the display.

The short growing ones have an extra virtue: they can be carefully lifted with plenty of soil about their roots while they are in full bloom. Planted in pots and brought indoors or put in a greenhouse, they’ll carry on blooming for weeks when those outside have been cut by frost or spoiled by heavy autumn rains.

You can get them in all the usual chrysanthemum colours, with flower shapes ranging from single-daisy flowers to the neat little round pompons.

Set out the young plants in their flowering positions in May, taking care to see that their top-most roots are only just covered with soil. Make sure the ground does not dry out for a week or two, to give them time to send their roots into it. Once they are established you’ll have no more worries. The taller-growing spray varieties will have to be staked, but they’ll need only one cane per plant and a loop or two of string around both plant and stake to hold them up.

When the flowers are over for the year, cut off the top growth of the plants about 6in. Above the soil. Then dig them up, shake the soil off their roots, pick off any leaves or green shoots, and plant them close together in a box of potting compost. Finally, water them to settle the new soil around their roots, and put the box in a greenhouse or frame for the winter.

In March, when the new shoots that have grown from the old roots are 3-4in. Long, use them as cuttings to raise a new batch of plants. Trim.each one to a length of 2in., by cutting it through just below a leaf joint, and remove the bottom leaves. Plant the cuttings lin. Deep in a pot or box of John Innes compost, water them in, then put the container into a clear plastic bag or an electric propagator. If you use plastic bags, push bent pieces of wire into the soil to hold the plastic off the cuttings.

About three or four weeks later they will cease to flag and begin making new growth – a sure sign that they have rooted. This is the time to dig them up and plant each one in a small pot. Keep them shaded for a few days to help them recover from the move.

A week or two later, put them into a cold frame, but protect them from frost. If you don’t have a greenhouse the cuttings are easily rooted on a windowsill indoors. Or you can strike them in a cold frame, though it will take longer there.

Towards the end of April begin to acclimatise the young plants to outdoor conditions by giving them more air each day until the frame top is left off altogether and only put on if it is raining heavily or a frost is forecast. They should be ready to plant out of doors in mid-May to begin a new season.

Charm chrysanthemums form another group that need no staking or other form of training. They naturally form compact bushes 18 – 24m. High and 2ft. Or more across, smothered with small Michaelmas-daisy-type flowers.

This kind of chrysanthemum can be raised from seed sown in February. Prick out the seedlings into small pots as soon as they are large enough to handle, and later acclimatise them to outdoor conditions ready to plant out 2ft. Apart in their flowering positions in early summer. These charm chrysanthemums will start blooming in September, making great cushions of colour.

There is also a range of charm chrysanthemums that begin flowering in October and make a splendid display in an unheated greenhouse or conservatory. They are also marvellous for a home extension – even as large pot plants for a living room. These, however, must be grown in pots throughout summer.

You have the choice of raising late-flowering charm types from seed, like the early-flowering ones, or you can buy rooted cuttings of named varieties in spring. The colours include yellow, pink, tangerine and shades of bronze and red. The following year you can raise more plants by taking cuttings from the old roots, whether you originally grew them from seeds or bought plants.

If you’ve never tried growing chrysanthemums before, make a start with these. I’m sure you’ll find that they really are care-free and will reward you with masses of blooms and a spectacular show of colour.

CAPTIVATING MINIATURES

ALPINES really come into their own in these days of small gardens. What could make better sense than to plant tiny gardens with tiny plants? Not only do they look right because they are in scale, but one can include more of them and enjoy them in greater abundance.

The rich variety of rock plants – for they are not all strictly alpines, but come from seashore, tundra and desert too – provides inexhaustible interest. There are wide-spread carpeters, those that make tight little cushions of growth, tiny shrublets and dwarf conifers like the Noah’s ark juniper, Juniperus communis compressa, to provide vertical accents in a fiat scene. Even miniature bulbs can be scattered among them to provide clusters of surprise blooms at various times of year.

With their great charm and usefulness, it’s no wonder that these plants hold an increasing number of enthusiasts in thrall. The membership of the Alpine Garden Society – an organisation all lovers of these plants should join – is continually expanding.

Such a multiplicity of differently shaped plants, which also vary in colour, texture and flowering season, docs not stop at providing the gardeners who tend them with endless fascination. Alpines also yield plentiful material for striking contrasts of shape, happy associations of colour and other extra delights you can contrive by skilful and thoughtful planting made with an eye to future development into mature specimens.

How should you make your entry into this magic domain of the miniature? Well, there are many ways of displaying rock plants. A full-scale rock garden is by no means essential, though it is every alpine enthusiast’s eventual aim. Many of these plants grow contentedly and most rewardingly in pots or the more capacious pans.

You can graduate from them to sink gardens. These were originally made in old stone sinks discarded from country cottages, but any well-drained stone container of similar shape is suitable. The result is a rock garden in miniature, which can form a point of special interest in a large garden, or in more restricted circumstances provide the only means of displaying a collection of these plants. Each should be a little alpine cameo with cushion and trailing plants, a conifer or two, a few pieces of rock and perhaps some miniature tulips or narcissi for good measure.

Here you have scope for careful arrangement, planting the carpeters to drape over the Carpets & Cascades side, masking the rectangular shape, and contrasting cushion and upright-growing kinds. You might even settle a saxifrage to grow in a rock cavity as it might do in nature.

A sink garden is best supported on a stone or brick plinth so it is nearer eye level. It will be ‘quite safe outdoors throughout the year, though it will probably need watering during dry spells in summer.

Rock banks, low walls and similar features can be most attractively planted with carpeting rock plants, which soften the outline and provide brilliant cascades of flowers from time to time. Do not despise the commonly grown purple aubrietia, yellow alyssum and white candytuft for this purpose, but bear in mind that they all flower in the spring. Be sure to include campanulas, helianthemums and polygonums as well, then you’ll have something worth looking at in the summer too. A careful selection can give you flowers for six months of the year.

The idea seems widespread that to succeed with alpines you must grow them among rocks. But there is no magic about rocks, though it’s true a few rock plants, such as ramondas, prefer to grow in the cool shade they cast. The main reason for building a rock garden is to provide a natural-looking setting for your rock plants.

What is essential for thriving rock plants is the right sort of soil mixture. It is this that will cause them either to flourish or to languish. Almost without exception, rock plants respond best to a deep, gritty, porous soil through which their long roots can spread in search of moisture. See that the soil contains some peat or leaf mould and start them off with a generous dressing of bone meal. They need sharp drainage, too; many of them will die in heavy, poorly drained soil.

A great many alpines come from mountainous areas of limestone and flourish in chalky soils. They include many of the saxifrages. On the other hand, lewisias and rhododendrons or heathers won’t tolerate lime, but like an acid, peaty soil.

As for its siting, it is important that a rock garden – or even a sink garden, for that matter – should be out in the open, well clear of the shade of nearby trees and buildings and any drips or fallen leaves they may scatter over it. If you think for a moment how these plants grow on a mountainside, it’s hardly surprising they want unrestricted sun and air.

Creative display is all-important: whatever you plant will look all the more impressive set amidst rocks thoughtfully and convincingly placed in a natural-looking setting. Don’t attempt to cram in a lot of small rocks scattered haphazardly about like currants in a cake. There’s no virtue in that. Use a modest number of larger rocks, in scale with the area you are planting, and arrange them to create the illusion that they are just the visible part of a much larger mass of rock hidden under the soil. Like the tip of the iceberg!

This means setting them the right way up and at the right angle in the soil and relating them to each other. The strata lines you’ll find on them will form your guideline and at least prevent you setting them up on end like gravestones. Try to have the strata lines running the same way throughout your rock garden to preserve unity of design and a natural appearance. The rocks should also tilt backwards into the soil, which will probably form a slope. They will then help to retain the soil and direct rain into it to irrigate the plants you set there.

Follow these few simple principles as you experiment with just a few rocks and examine an expert’s rock garden if you have the chance, and you’ll soon get the hang of natural rock gardening-and derive a great deal of fun and creative satisfaction from it too.

Finally, spend plenty of time choosing the plants you are going to grow on your rock garden. Remember, it’s not only their individual charm or character that counts, important though that is. The contribution they can make to the total scene is just as significant.

Succession of Flowers

It’s particularly important to avoid planting mainly those that flower in May, the height of the alpine-flowering season. This is a trap it’s so easy to fall into. The result is a stunning display for a few weeks, then nothing to look at until next spring. So be sure to include some plants like the campanulas and helianthemums that flower at midsummer, some for late summer like Polygonum afline and Gentiana sino-ornata and Saxifraga apiculata for its early flowers, others of interesting shape or foliage, like the many intriguing dwarf conifers and the house leeks or sempervivums, which are worth more than a glance at any time.

Proceed along these lines, guided by the descriptive catalogues of the leading nurserymen, and you can soon assemble a most fascinating collection of little plants. It’s then up to your artistic sense to arrange them pleasingly. Then there won’t be a day between March and late September when you’re unable to lead a visitor to your rock garden to point out some treasure there.

Tips on Growing Dahlias

COLOURFUL, energetic and easy to grow, the dahlia is one of our leading summer and autumn flowers. It came from Mexico almost two hundred years ago. In that time it has changed dramatically from a single-centred bloom with a mere half-dozen petals to a variety of form that would make it unrecognisable in its country of origin.

A dahlia can grow 15 in. in diameter on a bush 7 ft. high, or nestle delicately in a border with tiny blooms just an inch or so in width. It can take the form of a water-lily, anemone, paeony, carnation, chrysanthemum and even the rose! All this, in addition to the recognised forms that embrace broad, flat-petalled blooms known as decoratives; a narrower and rolled petalling that shows in the cactus and semi-cactus forms, and the popular Ball Dahlias with symmetrical formation that include the tiny pompons that look like drumsticks and are only 2 in. in diameter.

The dahlia also commands a range of colour that is unequalled and literally rampages