The Oak Processionary Moth

By Helen Elks-Smith.

Oak processionary moth (OPM) was first found in south-west London in the summer of 2006 and was probably brought in on infected oak trees from Europe. The caterpillars feed on oak leaves and can strip the tree bare, leaving it vulnerable to other pests and diseases and less able to withstand extreme weather conditions such as drought and flood.

The caterpillar is also a problem to people pets and wildlife. The caterpillars have thousands of tiny hairs which can be blown on the wind. These hairs contain an irritating substance ‘thaumetopoein’ which causes irritation and rashes on contact, and in some cases sore throats, eye problems and breathing difficulty.


At the moment OPM remains confined to sites in the South and West of London and one in Berkshire, although scientists believe that it could survive and breed in much of England and Wales. It is imperative that we act now to protect our open spaces and prevent OPM from spreading to the wider landscape of England and Wales.

Biosecurity measures to help contain and possibly eradicate OPM include tree passports for imported oak trees and restrictions on tree movement in infected areas. Infected trees are treated with a combination of surveying, spraying and manual nest removal.

To be successful these biosecurity measures need to be fully enforced and you can help. If you visit an affected area, take care to ensure that you do not bring anything away with you that may spread the infection (such as plant matter , twigs and branches) If you already have oak trees on your property, survey them regularly for signs of the nests and caterpillars so any infection can be caught early before it spreads. If you are planting new oaks, make sure they are from reputable suppliers and, if from abroad or infected areas in the UK, that they have a plant passport

webtrailIf you think I have seen OPM caterpillars or nests:
Do not touch or approach caterpillars or nests.
Keep people away away from nests, caterpillars and affected trees.
See a doctor or vet if seriously affected by symptoms.
Report sighting (with photo if possible) to local council or Forestry Commission
For further information visit
Landscape and garden designer Helen Elks-Smith is a BALI Design Excellence award winner based in the New Forest. She feels passionate about conservation and the future of our landscape. Helen has teamed up with sponsor’s The City of London Corporation, to design a garden for RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2014, to raise public awareness of the threat of oak processionary moth and the importance of biosecurity measures to contain it.

Front Gardens – Let’s hear it for the Victorians!

By garden designer Helen Elks Smith. Our front gardens have a tricky time fulfilling everything that we ask of them and often the easiest solution to satisfying the parking, dustbin and access needs is to pave the whole thing over. But it doesn’t need to be this way and there are many good reasons to look at other ways of making our front gardens work both for us and the environment we live in.

When people ask ‘What did the Victorians do for us?’, one of the replies could be ‘they introduced front gardens to our cities and towns’. They valued the space as somewhere to plant flowers, relax and chat with neighbours, and to provide a buffer between home and the busy world beyond. In many parts of the country people are re-discovering the simple but enormous pleasure of a front garden and the benefits it can bring to our community and the environment. Getting to know your neighbours whilst gardening or watching the children play and reducing the amount of run-off water are just a couple of examples.

Front garden

My job as a garden designer is to create an attractive relaxing space that also fulfils a variety of practical needs. Some of the considerations I bear in mind are:

  • Pathways – how are visitors and family going to reach the front door? The path needs to be obvious but can be made attractive using hedges and planting.
  • Parking – How many cars need to park in the garden as opposed to the road? How much turning room do they need? How much area is left for grass, planting, pots and planters?
  • Drive materials – use of brick and cellular paving, gravel and plasticised mesh are attractive alternatives to tarmac and concrete and allow rain water to soak away instead of forming problematic run off.
  • Refuse – for ease of collection, bins often need to be in the front garden but screening with fencing or hedges means they do not need to be an eyesore.
  • Privacy – Using hedges and fencing to get the balance right between feeling exposed and feeling hemmed in.

Front garden path

When it is cold and wet we rarely spend much time in our back gardens but through necessity our front gardens are used every single day of the year. Planting trees with attractive bark such as Himalayan birch and paperbark maple, shrubs that flower through the winter together with snowdrops, narcissus and hellebores will lift your spirits at this time of the year when they need lifting the most.

So let’s hear it for the Victorians, and for the potential we have in all of our front gardens!

Helen Elks-Smith has a busy design practice in the New Forest and is currently working on a number of projects across London and the South. She won the prestigious BALI Design Excellence Award 2013 and is being sponsored by the City of London to exhibit a garden at RHS Chelsea Flower Show this year.

Notes of pathways

By garden designer Helen Elks Smith. There is an increasing body of evidence demonstrating the impact of nature, greenery and the effect that simply being outside has on our everyday lives.

It has been shown that we react at a deeply subconscious level to our surroundings. There is evidence that it takes just 3 minutes for green landscapes to give significant relief from stress and anxiety.  Our gardens have a positive impact on our daily lives.

image 1-1

Building blocks used by garden designers are, in the main, green and these are used to define spaces.  The connections between these spaces have an atmosphere that determines how we feel when moving around the garden.  These pathways can hinder or encourage movement.

image 2-1

Closely planted avenues of pollarded trees such as limes have been used for centuries to create lightly shaded walkways where one might take a ‘turn around the garden’.   The narrower the trees,  the faster you will walk beneath them.   Planting the trees with a wider gap underneath also allows vehicles to pass beneath, although on this busy B road (below) in Dorset the cars are generally going too fast to appreciate the subtle pull of the landscape.

image 3-1

Under the strong heat and light of the Mediterranean sun, this high, narrow path in the Alhambra in southern Spain offers welcome shade.

image 4

But in the UK, this tall evergreen hedge would feel uncomfortable, despite the gentle curve, and it would be less used or cause you to speed up as you passed through.

The overall design works best if the path’s planting also supports movement.  Different plant forms create different atmospheres; strong uprights and arching forms such as stipa gigantea tend to dominate and create a focal point, which through repetition can lead the eye and encourage movement.  Here (below) at Wisley, wide planting beds of stipa gigantea  are balanced by the anchoring affect of the Achillea ‘Coronation Gold’  edging the paths as they curve away from the glasshouse. The overall atmosphere is restful as you stroll along the path.

image 5

More upright forms can be used to create quicker and more forceful movement.   Unless you want to create a stampede, soften and slow the movement by  anchoring the planting with dome-shaped plants to add more stability.    Here the vertical stems and form  of the chinese birch (betula albosinensis ‘Fascination’) and the white foxgloves are balanced by the flat leaves and mounding form of the hosta, the horizontal leaves of the cimifuga, the pincushion flowers of the cirsium rivulare ‘Atropurpureum’ and astrantia

To maximize the impact of our gardens on how we feel we need to ensure that there is somewhere  we can simply sit and enjoy a cup of tea.   If we plan our pathways well we will be encouraged out into the garden and the countdown on those 3 minutes will start as soon as we set foot outside.

image 6

Capturing that essence

By Carol Sharp Photography

How wonderful it is that ‘capture’ devices are so easy, and we can endlessly snap our favourite plants endlessly.  But do we really capture that special feeling we experienced when we were lit up with joy or fascinated at the sight of a plant, so we can share it and re-live it in the darker days of winter? So many images are hardly above average, great for a quick look but they don’t invite us to stay with them for a while. It’s a bit like fast food and slow food. The latter takes care and attention but is well worth the effort.

Like anything, its takes skill to do it well. I have been photographing flowers as a professional and as an artist for 20 years, and would like to show you how its done.

Join me for a workshop giving you the tools to make those special images that stand out from the crowd.


MyGardenSchool Courses £45 OFF

By Elspeth Briscoe, MyGardenSchool.

Just in time for The Chelsea Flower Show, we’re delighted to announce that the world’s first online gardening school, MyGardenSchool, has teamed up with Shoot to sell online gardening courses via the Shoot Marketplace.

MyGardenSchool is offering all Shoot members a £45 discount off four week online gardening courses as part of their membership package.

MyGardenSchool has attracted some of the world’s greatest gardening authors and horticulture experts to teach via this thriving global online horticulture school.


You actually get personal advice from these experts in the online classrooms, as well as video lectures, downloadable notes, and critiqued assignments.  The latest course to be developed is by Michael Marriott, Chelsea Flower Show regular for David Austin Roses.  The new online gardening course on roses goes live on May 4th for the first – just in time to co-incide with The Chelsea Flower Show (which starts on May 20th this year).

All MyGardenSchool online gardening courses start on the first Saturday of each month, and run throughout the year. More can be found about  How it Works here.

Book now to secure a place.  Next courses start 1st June.

o Planting Design with Perennials – Noel Kingsbury

o Designing with Shrubs – Andy McIndoe

o David Austin’s Growing Roses – Michael Marriott

o Edible Gardening Made Easy – Alex Mitchell

o Flower Photography – Sue Bishop

o An introduction to Garden Design – John Brookes

o Planting Design with Grasses – Michael King

o Garden History – Toby Musgrave

Please contact founder Elspeth Briscoe if you have any other questions.

Garden designing downunder

By Garden Designer Andrew Fisher Tomlin.

Just back from a quick week trip to New South Wales where the inaugural Australian Garden Show Sydney was launched. I’m honoured to be one of three Ambassadors for the show and, together with Tom Harfleet, have been commissioned to create the main show feature from 5th to 7th September in Centennial Park in Sydney. The show is support by Destination New South Wales and is a sure winner in a city starved of garden shows!

It’s a vast garden called September Sky, that celebrates the wide open landscapes of Australia and emphasises the beauty of the native flora to be found. As travellers wherever we are in the world it’s these skies that bond us together and link us back to our different homelands.

Our garden references the need to protect and conserve highlighting typical Australian natives from a perspective of the outsider to the country in a contemporary garden where strong architectural forms engage with a much wilder planting. The challenge is that we don’t use Australian natives in our daily work so it’s been a bit of a baptism of fire to work out the trees and plants to use. So far we’re looking at Waterhousea trees and a visit to Alpine Nurseries just outside of Sydney revealed some stunning specimens and a whole range of grasses and shrubs like Westringia that we can use.

I have two key people arriving for Chelsea next week – they are our landscaper and main design support – so we’re working on drawings and plans to discuss with them. Then we have just 12 weeks to pull it all together! I’ll keep you up to date with progress.

Contact Andrew Fisher Tomlin

Field of Dreams

By Helen Elks-Smith MSGD

One of my strongest child hood memories was of walking to the Post Office with my mother through the village playing field. The field buzzed with life. Grassy stalks and flowers gently swayed before me, stretching out in all directions on one of those glorious summer days that at times only our distant pasts seem to hold. As I grew older management of the playing field changed and the grass was never allowed to reach more than an inch high. Even as a child this struck me as sad, a missed opportunity. I was left with a lifelong delight in meadows that quickly re connect me with those feelings of warmth and wonder.

It was not that many years ago when the mention of meadows would place you firmly on the fringe. The work of many designers over the years and the success of the Olympic park in 2012 has boosted interest once more and this year we have seen a big increase in interest in meadows as part of the garden design.

Meadows work in many situations; from small urban gardens through to large country estates. A couple of years ago our winning entry for the Jacksons Fencing Show Garden competition was for a design for an environmentally sensitive  young couple who had little time for gardening yet enjoyed the outside. The planting was made up of rosa rugosa enclosing the deck and Acer globosum and box rounds to provide a contrasting shape and texture.  Rosa rugosa ‘Roseraie de L’Hay’ has a bold pink colour and wonderful fragrance but the more compact R. rugosa ‘Fru Dagmar Hastrup’ is good if space is a premium.  The rest of the garden was planted with meadow turf and enhanced for an early show with aquilegia.  By mid May the meadow turf is full flow and filling the ‘borders’.  The meadow is simply cut in summer making this a very low maintenance scheme and quietly atmospheric design solution.


Wilder spaces, plantings and meadows have often been used throughout garden history to settle properties into their surroundings and to connect to the borrowed landscape.  Close to a house familiar garden styles and forms often work well to create spaces within which we live yet can jar against a rural landscape.  Meadows and naturalistic plantings act as buffers to ease the transition between house and setting.



Meadows can be established in a number of ways and as in all planting, success depends greatly on the ground preparation.  For our clients we strip back the topsoil and use wild flower turf rather than seed or plug plants as we have found this to be the most successful approach.  We also use a wildflower turf which is sown with Yellow rattle (Rhinanthus minor) which is semi-parasitic on grasses) as this helps establish the meadow.   The meadow may need cutting 4 times or so in the first year if the soil is too rich and the grasses dominant.  Once the meadow is in balance the yellow rattle is removed before it sets seed.  If you are in a very sensitive site an ecological survey can be carried out and wildflower turf developed from particular seed mixes as a special order.  Meadow turf is available for full sun and shade.

Maintenance once established is pretty straight forward.  An annual cut and a bit of weeding will probably be all that is needed.  Cut from July to the end of summer for a spring meadow or late August/September for a summer meadow. Spring meadows are often preferable for family gardens where extended lawn space for play is highly desirable over the summer holiday.  Summer and Spring meadow maintenance cuts encourage different plant species. If your lawnmower struggles then a strimmer should make short work of it but make sure you remove the cuttings to keep fertility low.  Before you cut take a look and see whether the seed has fallen.  Either delay the timing of the cut or leave the cuttings for a few days before clearing them away.

Of course meadows don’t simply have the capacity to distract small children from thoughts of blackjacks and the long walk top the Post Office, they also support insects and butterflies.  But that is a topic for another day.

Elks-Smith Garden Design is an award winning garden design practice based on the borders of East Dorset and Hampshire.

Reduce Plastics in the Garden

By Tim Wells Agents for Becausewecare.

Most of us want to reduce the amount of plastics we use in our households. In some countries such as Wales, Ireland and Northern Ireland there are Government imposed levies on disposable plastics e.g. for plastic shopping bags. However, in horticulture there have traditionally been vast amounts of plastics used, whether it is plastic plant pots, weed retention matting or other uses. Unfortunately most of these plastics are difficult to recycle and end up clogging up garden sheds up and down the land or worse, end up in landfill where they will stay for hundreds of years.  Horticultural pursuits which should be natural and environmentally focussed still rely too much on disposable, non-recyclable plastics.

In the UK alone a staggering 500 million plastic plant pots per year are brought into circulation with the majority of those being used once and then discarded.

The plastics that these pots are made from are difficult and expensive to recycle, and council or privately run recycling stations often refuse to take them. But what is the alternative? Plastic pots are easy to use and handle and are cheap. Ideally most gardeners would like to use a more environmentally friendly alternative. Peat based pots that can propagate a seed and then be planted directly into the soil have been around for years. However, as they are peat based there are issues surrounding the sustainability of the material used to make them. From a practical point, peat pots have a habit of crumbling and falling apart when the seedling is growing and being watered. Also due to their thickness they can often take a long time to degrade in the soil and the roots of the growing seedling can find it difficult to grow through the walls of the pots. In addition the pots themselves absorb the moisture from the soil within them, meaning that the growing plant may have to be watered more often with a risk of over watering.

There are other pots available that are made from cow manure, coir and other natural materials, but they all have compromises, whether it is cost or ease of use, compared to the plastic plant pot. It would be great if a pot was available that had the flexibility, ease of use and affordability of plastic pots with the benefits to the environment of being compostable and biodegradable and made from sustainable resources. Such a product has been recently introduced to the UK marketplace.

Becausewecare™ is an Australian company that manufactures a range of environmentally friendly alternatives to disposable plastics. One of their products is the becausewecare™ compostable seedling pot. The pots are designed to propagate and grow a seedling, and when ready, be planted directly into the soil, where they will biodegrade, releasing nutrients into the soil as they do so. The Becausewecare™ seedling pots are made from a by-product of corn production, they are literally made from waste corn that is not suitable for human or animal consumption. In addition the corn that is used is grown in an area of high natural rainfall, so the crops do not require irrigation. Unlike peat based and plastic pots, these compostable pots are made from an annually renewable and sustainable resource. They are certified compostable to European, US and Australian standards for compostability.

One of the key things about the Becausewecare™ pots is that they have the advantages of plastic pots, they are light and easy to handle, and can be watered without significantly altering the rigidity of the pots. The pots do not absorb water, thereby leaving the compost within nice and moist for the growing plant with no risk of over watering. Once planted in the ground the pots degrade quicker than peat based pots and because they have very thin sides, the seedling’s roots can grow through the sides of the pots rapidly.
The pots are ideal for grow it yourself gardeners and are perfect for growing any plant from seed. They minimise root disturbance from transplanting and help develop strong root systems. The best thing is that these pots are kind to the environment and are step towards cutting down on the reliance of plastics in the garden.

It makes sense to try and use natural and eco- friendly products such as these to grow your own produce and plants and cut down the crazy amounts of non-recyclable plastics in the garden. Once these pots have been used they will leave no trace on the environment, even the packaging they come in is compostable and biodegradable, and importantly they are a practical and useful alternative without compromise.

Roses for North-facing walls

By Carolyn Dunster, Simply Roses

In the course of my work as a planting designer specialising in roses, my job is to advise clients on the best varieties to grow. All too often, I hear people complaining that they have no success with roses in their gardens and that there is no point planting them as they fail to thrive. This is never the case but is down to the fact that they have planted the wrong rose in the wrong place.

Right Rose, Right Place

There is also a common misconception that roses are high-maintenance plants and that you need to be an experienced gardener in order to care for them properly. Again, I like to demonstrate that this is a bit of a myth. Although roses can be fussy and will let you know if they are not happy, the right rose planted in the right place at the right time of year will be content to do its own beautiful thing with minimal interference.  As a rule, this means that bare root plants should be planted in the autumn and pot-grown plants in the early spring.  Furthermore, the key to selecting the correct rose, when there is so much choice available that it can be quite confusing for novice gardeners, is to take advice from specialist growers. As a priority consider the planting aspect – this is more important than the soil conditions and think carefully about what you would like the rose to do. Pore over the catalogues and read up on the subject so that you get to understand the different types of roses and their habits rather than just selecting a favourite colour on a whim. Work out what kind rose you need for any given position and look to see what your neighbours are growing in similar spots – if their roses are flourishing the chances are that yours will too.

North-facing walls

North-facing walls seem to present the greatest challenge when it comes to rose growing but what better way to cover up a bare, dismal expanse of brick of concrete than by smothering it with clusters of fragrant blooms? Either a climber or a rambler will do the job beautifully. The difference between the two being that climbing roses are generally repeat flowering and have larger flowers and stouter growth than ramblers. Both will require some support such as a trellis in order for them to grow horizontally against a wall and this will encourage them to spread and cover the space. Rambling roses tend to flower only once in the season and have an abundance of smaller flowers growing in clusters or tresses.

Here are my top recommended fragrant varieties for north-facing walls:

Alberic Barbier: double creamy-white flowers with semi-evergreen foliage

Albertine: salmon pink clusters of flowers growing on reddish stems

Madame Alfred Carriere: warm double white flowers that can take on a soft pink blush

Climbing Iceberg: white flowers that will repeat all season

New Dawn: cupped double pearl-pink flowers

Danse de Feu: scarlet clusters of double flowers with abundant glossy foliage

Golden Showers: pointed double yellow flowers that open flat

Zephirine Drouhin: deep-pink cupped flowers

Following a career in publishing, Carolyn Dunster set up Simply Roses in 2000. She trained in floristry with the late Jane Packer and in garden design at the Inchbald School of Design in central London. Her design work and product range have featured in many magazines and newspapers. Over the years, the Simply Roses product range has been stocked in Liberty, Fortnum & Mason, Harvey Nichols and many independent lifestyle boutiques. Carolyn has also enjoyed creating bespoke, flower-inspired bath and body products as own-label ranges for individual clients including The Cross and La Forêt de Parfum.

Growing Asparagus

Posted by Stephen Read, Reads Nursery for the Shoot Marketplace.

The asparagus plant is grown as a perennial vegetable in the UK and can yield for 15 years, it is essential to get the planting and  preparation right. See our

About asparagus

Asparagus contains high levels of vitamin A, folic acid and dietary fibre, it is also rich in soluble fibre, known to have a protective effect against degenerative heart diseases. Asparagus also contains high levels of potassium and a  high folic acid content . Asparagus is also low in fat and sodium.It is also a source of iron.

The plant is composed of ferns, crown and a root system. The crown is a collection of rhizomes and lateral roots that initiate new ferns.
Spears, which are the harvested portion of the asparagus plant, are immature ferns. Thus, if the spear is not harvested, it develops into a large fern, which manufactures and stores energy in the crown for next year’s crop. Asparagus is a dioecious plant, which means that there are separate male and female plants. Male asparagus plants produce more spears than female plants do which is why they are planted commercially. Female asparagus plants produce numerous bright, red, berrylike fruits with seeds that can become volunteer weeds in the garden or field.

Preparing asparagus bed

Preparing the asparagus bed is important, attention should be given to choosing the best planting site possible. Like most vegetables, asparagus will not tolerate wet, soggy soil. Choose a well-drained field, or use raised beds to promote drainage. Asparagus will perform best on sandy, light-textured soils. The crowns should be planted in the spring as early as the soil in the garden can be worked. Late March or early April is a good time in most areas, do not be tempted to plant earlier than the weather permits, wait until the soil warms up.

Separate crowns by size and plant similar-sized crowns together; this encourages uniform growth. If crowns cannot be planted immediately, store them in a refrigerator.

Planting asparagus

Make a 8-inch-deep furrow using a garden hoe or spade, well rotted manure can be spread in the furrow. This is covered with an inch of soil, and the crowns are spaced 12  inches apart in the furrow on a slight ridge , this will put the crown 6 inches below soil level. Beware of shallow planting as this will give you lots of thin spears -plant too deep and you will get very fat spears but not many of them.
Each row should be no less than 3 feet apart and ideally set at 5ft, so the ferns can close the canopy and shade weeds out during the summer. If rows are spaced too close together, spear size may be reduced. Cover the crowns with about 2 inches of soil, and as the ferns emerge and grow, gradually fill in the furrow through the summer.

Plants that are stressed by drought can become weak and susceptible to insect, disease and weed pressure. Gardeners and growers should be prepared to irrigate new asparagus plantings for the first two or three seasons after establishment. Drought stress after harvest can reduce yields for the following season.

Weed control is the most challenging aspect for successful asparagus production.  Organic mulches such as straw or compost can be applied 4 to 6 inches thick to suppress weeds or growing a green manure in the path can help. Use of a hoe is not recommended for obvious reasons. Salt has long been used as a weed suppressant and some still like this method, however , it can cause long term problems with the soil structure and where rain washes out he salt into surrounding areas.


Selecting a site with good drainage and optimal pH (6.2 -6.8 ) will prevent many asparagus diseases. Crown rot, a potentially devastating disease, can be caused by over harvesting, growing in acidic and waterlogged soils, and excessive pest problems.
Cercospora needle blight is often seen as reddish brown, elliptical lesions on the ferns. These lesions are followed by death of the foliage.

Harvesting asparagus

The yield of asparagus spears in the spring is directly related to the previous year’s fern growth. Asparagus can be harvested for a limited time (two weeks) the second year after planting crowns (three years from seed transplants). Over harvesting one year can weaken the plant and decrease yields the following year. Three years after planting the crowns, asparagus can be harvested for five to eight weeks. Each year, during the first several years of production, yields will increase if the planting is managed properly.
Average yields 2.5kg per 100 square feet. (On commercial plantations locally we have achieved 6.5- 8 tonnes per hectare)
Asparagus spears are best harvested by cutting them off with a knife near ground level. Most people prefer to snap the asparagus spears when they reach 7 to 9 inches in length in cool weather (less than 70 degrees F), and the spear tip is tight or 5 to 7 inches in warmer weather (more than 70 degrees). Cutting will break the spear cleanly at a tender point.

To preserve freshness, harvest during the morning or evening. Expect to harvest every one to three days as temperatures increase. Spring freezes will not harm the crowns or subsequent harvests but can damage emerging spears. Thus, emerged spears may be harvested before a predicted freeze.

Asparagus has a short shelf life and may be plunged in cold water after harvest and immediately refrigerated (36 degrees F) to maintain quality. After harvest, the asparagus planting should be fertilized with composted manure or a compound fertiliser to stimulate summer and autumn fern growth. Frost will desiccate the ferns, and they can then be cut in late autumn or early winter, removing all the old ferns and destroying them will help prevent disease build up. We mulch the crowns to protect them from low-temperature injury. The mulch can be raked to the row middles the following spring (early April), and spears will emerge for another harvest season.

Buying asparagus

There are many cultivars to choose from with attributes relating to season and size of spear and colour. Flavours also differ, modern commercial cultivars will yield better and with higher quality than many older choices. Visit the Reads Nursery Shop in the Shoot Marketplace to buy asparagus.