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Monthly Archives: May 2018

Ways to deter garden thieves

Once upon a time, the worst that could happen to your garden was that someone might dig up a few of your prize daffodils. Times, though, have changed, and today’s green-fingered thieves go equipped with devices a lot more sophisticated than just a small trowel and crossed fingers. They think nothing of removing hanging baskets by the lorryload.

Recently, an organised gang was suspected of stealing wisteria from gardens in Hampstead, north London. Plus, if a sculpture or stone statue is too heavy to move by hand, they won’t hesitate to bring in a bulldozer or small crane. They wait until you are away, and tell any inquiring neighbours that you have decided to get rid of your solid brass Venus de Milo, or collection of gnomes.

One home owner, for example, woke to find that both his 6ft bay trees, which cost £200 each, and took two burly men to install, had been removed in the night. Another unfortunate couple came back from holiday to find both their greenhouse and roses had been removed. According to crime statistics, each year, one in seven homes has something stolen from their garden. After all, even a modest home owner can typically have £5,000 of goods out on display: shrubs (£1,200), table and chairs (£2,000), barbecue (£300), granite bench (£400) and assorted fancy fish plus water features (£1,100).

A recent Home Office study found that thieves are actually more likely to steal garden furniture, including gnomes (9.6 per cent of thefts) than credit or debit cards (8.2 per cent). On the basis that a plastic figure is less likely to, well, grass you up. Unless, of course, you take the trouble to write your postcode on his underside in indelible ink. But even if you’ve already thought of that, it’s a constant battle to keep ahead of the crooks.

Today, professional garden thieves will often write over the top of your address with their own marker pen. The best way to counter this is to daub your property with a clear liquid called SmartWater. Each phial of SmartWater has its own unique chemical DNA, which the police distribute free of charge in certain high-risk areas. Once applied, the criminals can’t obliterate it; so if just one speck is left, it can be sent off to a central database to establish rightful owner. Of course, no garden thief wants to walk the streets carrying the tools of his trade. Instead, they rely on home owners to leave their shed unlocked, thus providing access to spades, forks, ladders and other handy aids.

But can thieves really be bothered to break into your shed? You bet they can. In 2014, there were 3,000 shed burglaries in Warwickshire alone. As well as keeping our sheds as secure as possible, it’s a good idea to chain all tools together with a bicycle padlock – preferably one that’s combination-operated so you don’t have to keep fetching the key.

According to rough estimates, some £4 billion of garden furniture, plants, paving stones and wildlife are stolen each year in Britain. You only have to type in the words “garden crime” into your computer, and you come up with heartbreaking stories of expensive and much-loved statues being uprooted and removed. Such as the 45kg stone wizard, spirited away from a house in Lindfield, Sussex.

Or the 150-year-old sandstone sundial that was reported stolen from a garden only six weeks after the owner had died. Or the 5ft 7in fairy statue, which was wrenched from the soil in Ipswich, despite having been cemented into the ground. Visit theft-alerts.com and the list of statues spirited away makes for depressing reading. So determined are these modern-day, Wellington-ed wrongdoers, that they will even target expensive paving slabs, made out of York stone.

Householders tell of waking up to find a mud path where there used to be a solid walkway. However, home owners have to resist the temptation to install low-level explosives or tripwires, and we must stop short of using deterrents like razor wire or broken glass. Putting these on top of gates or fences can land the home owner in trouble if injury is caused to the person breaking in.

A wounded intruder can haul you up in court to face prosecution. In which case, you will be the person facing a fine or imprisonment. Of course, it’s never a good idea to challenge an intruder in your house, when you are dressed in just your pyjamas. Increasingly, these days, people are resisting the urge to have-a-go. Instead, they install closed-circuit TV, in order to film wrongdoers in the act of removing their prized petunias or statue of Peter Pan. A cheaper alternative is to use hardened rubber spikes, such as Prikka-Strip, which are both legal and effective.

The other thing statue-snitchers don’t like, of course, is being spotlit mid-theft. According to guidelines issued by the police initiative Secured by Design, the most effective form of security is low-energy lighting. This is controlled by a “dusk-to-dawn” switch which is operated by sensors and comes on only when it’s dark. These are best fitted at a height out of the average criminal’s reach, at least 8ft above ground.

Alternatively, if you have a tree or shrub that is worth hundreds, or thousands of pounds, you can invest in an automatic alarm that wakes you (and the neighbours) should anyone try to remove the plant container. Mind you, losing the odd yucca is not as distressing as losing the world’s smallest water lily (Nymphaea thermarum, smaller than a pound coin, extinct in the wild). It was removed last year from the Princess of Wales Conservatory, at Royal Botanic Gardens Kew.  And Kew is not the only public garden that has felt the rough imprint of the felon’s spade.

Last year, the Sir Harold Hillier Gardens in Hampshire had so many rare snowdrops stolen (street value £100 a time), that they now only keep them on limited display. The fact is, plant crime is big business: while there are just 5,000 animals on the endangered list prepared by the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), there are 30,000 plants registered as being at risk.

Which means that an unscrupulous plant-snitcher could get £1,000 for a South African cycad (some are 200 years old), and as much as £5,000 for a rare lady’s-slipper orchid. Not bad for a night’s work, and a lot less risky than having to force entry into someone’s home, and risk being confronted by an angry householder. That said, some institutions are waking up to the possibility of sneak thieves coming and helping themselves under cover of darkness.

Try and dig up a snowdrop bulb at Anglesey Abbey, in Cambridgeshire, and you’ll find it almost impossible to sell (£725 the going rate), because it has been security tagged. One-nil to the upholders of horticultural rectitude.

Ten ways to foil the burglar in your garden

  • Don’t plant tall trees or shrubs around a garden gate; this provides cover for thieves.
  • Use’s Nature’s defences: thorny hedges of holly, berberis, hawthorn, pyracantha and blackthorn. Good prickly climbing roses include: ‘American Pillar’, ‘Compassion’, ‘New Dawn’ and ‘Maigold’.
  • Strengthen your ramparts by installing 18in of trellis on top of your fence; it breaks and alerts you to an intruder.
  • Install a gravel drive; you can hear footsteps a long way off.
  • Put two locks on a side gate.
  • Secure hanging baskets with locking brackets; one set of thieves customised their van roof to carry up to 70 baskets a time, and were making £1,000 a time from selling the plants.
  • Secure your containers and ornaments with a land anchor (e.g. Platipus).
  • Find out the insurance situation; frequently stolen plants and statues aren’t covered.
  • Chain up your bin; thieves often use them to climb over garden gates.
  • Microchip your prize specimens – bonsai trees and koi carp can easily be worth £500 each.

Growing Herbs Tips

To grow this tender annual from seed, sow in flats about 6 weeks before last frost. Sow seeds and cover with the growing medium to about twice the depth of the seed. Keep soil at 70-72 degrees F, and keep moist. Basil seedlings are very sensitive and most losses occur due to low moisture and low temperatures. If not crowded in the seed flat, do not thin, but let them grow to 3 to 4 inches before transplanting. Basil likes the warmth of full sun to grow best. Lift transplants carefully by the leaves instead of the stem. Set outdoors only after soil and air temperatures are warm. One chilly night can set plants back.

Basil can be directly sown in the garden after soil has warmed up and nights are not too cool. Be sure to sow to a depth of twice the size of the seed or heavy rains may wash the seeds away. Purple basil, lacking chlorophyll, is more susceptible to shock in the early stages.

Sweet green basil can be dried, frozen in ice cubes, or used fresh. Blended with pine nuts, oil and cheese, this basil is the prime ingredient in pesto. It is also good for making flavored vinegar for salad dressing, or suffused in oil for flavored oil. Purple basil is best used fresh in salads, and for making flavored vinegar. In the garden, purple basil is a colorful contrast to annual flowers, and its color is useful in cut arrangements.

Chives

There are several forms of chives, but the most common one has roundish leaves that are used for their onion-like flavor. This perennial is hardy to Zone 3. In spring, it has lovely purple flowers made up of masses of florets.

From seed, sow indoors and cover lightly with the medium about 6 to 8 weeks before the last frost. Plant in potting soil in a deep container or flat. Sprouting will occur in about 10 to 14 days at 60 to 70 degrees F. Set seedlings in clumps in the garden. Outdoors, seed can be sown in furrows or broadcast to grow in clumps. Chives like full sun and rich soil. They can take partial shade, but will not grow as fully erect. The leaves will die back in the summer heat, but may return in the fall. Clumps should last four to five years before dividing.

Chives can be harvested for fresh use in salads and recipes. Cut a few leaves to the base, but don’t shear the whole plant down to the base or they won’t be able to manufacture food for the roots. The flower heads can be used to make chive vinegar, and the flowers can also be dried. To dry the flowers, put them in a paper bag, but leave the mouth of the bag open. Don’t tie the stems together or they may rot instead of dry.

Chives can be dried by snipping the leaves as you would for a salad, and then placing them on a fine screen or nylon mesh in a warm place, out of direct light. Stir regularly for several days. When dry, seal in jars.

Lemon Verbena

Lemon verbena is a tender perennial that is best purchased as a growing plant. In the garden it needs full sun and temperatures above 65 degrees F for best growth.

Lemon verbena leaves can add a fresh flavor to fruit salads or beverages, but they are best removed before serving because the leaves are very difficult to chew. The leaves can be dried by placing them on a screen or mesh in a warm place out of bright light. The dried leaves can be used to make a tea.

Oregano

Origanum vulgare  and its cultivars are the familiar forms of oregano. This is a perennial hardy to Zone 5.

To start from seed, sow on a bed of well-soaked sphagnum moss. Cover with a sheet of glass, and place in the dark at 60 to 65 degrees F. Germination will occur after about five days. After germination, water with a weak fertilizer to spur growth. After a month, transplant to pots, growing cells or seeding flats of potting soil. After all danger of frost is over, harden the seedlings for a week by putting them in full sun for several hours each day, and then returning them to the shade before night. Transplant to the garden in full sun.

Oregano can be used fresh, but is most often dried. To dry, cut the stems to the base just as the plants come into flower. Place tips down in a paper bag. Tie the bag around the stems and hang in a warm place. Check for drying after two or three weeks by rubbing the bag between your hands. If you hear leaves falling to the bottom of the bag, it is ready to be opened. Strip the leaves off the stems and finish drying in a 100-degree oven, checking frequently. Let cool, and then run the leaves through a coarse screen before bottling. If saving whole leaves, be sure to remove any bits of stem.

Oregano is used in a wide variety of cooking, in addition to sprinkling it on salads and pizzas.

Parsley

Parsley, a tender annual, is slow to germinate when sown directly into the ground, taking about three weeks. Germination can be sped up indoors by sowing on wet paper towels and placing where the temperature is a constant 70 degrees F. After germination, place on a soilless growing mix, cover lightly and keep moist in a plastic bag for several days until first leaves appear. Remove the bag and keep in a sunny location and keep moist. Transplant when small to a sunny location.

For sowing in the garden, soak the seeds overnight, sow shallowly into moist ground, and keep well watered.

Once in the garden, parsley responds well to a weak fertilizer every two weeks or so. This is especially important if it is cut frequently.

Parsley is frequently used as a decorative addition to a plate of food, and it is a tangy addition to salads. When de-stemmed leaves are chopped in a blender with a little water (pack a 2 cup measuring cup with leaves, then fill with water), they can be frozen into ice cubes for later use. Parsley also makes a decorative hanging basket or pot, whether or not it is planned for eating. The green leaves can be dried quickly when spread on a cookie sheet and “cooked” at 400 degrees F for about 15 minutes. Stir every 5 minutes and do not let it burn, just crisp. Crumble the crisp leaves, remove any limp bits, allow to cool, then store in a tightly closed jar. Parsley does not dry well by hanging.

Rosemary

Rosemary comes in many cultivars, and the same cultivar grown on the West Coast may look very different when grown in the Midwest. It is a perennial, hardy to Zone 8; and since seedlings can take months, it is best purchased as a potted plant for most home gardens. Outdoors it likes full sun, and can be kept on the dry side.

The pungent, curved needle-like leaves have many uses. It is easily dried by hanging woody stemmed bunches in a warm place. The leaves can then be stripped off and bottled. Rosemary is a very pungent herb, and it is best used sparingly on bland foods. In cooking, it is frequently used with chicken, and in baking, such as in breads.

Sweet Marjoram

This is a tender perennial best grown as an annual in most parts of the U.S. It is hardy to Zone 10. A member of the oregano family, sweet marjoram and oregano are often confused, but their flavors are different.

Sweet marjoram can be very susceptible to damping off and can be difficult to grow from seed. You may want to purchase started plants. Place plants in full sun in a well-drained location.

Once established, leaves should be taken randomly rather than shearing the growing tips. When frost time nears, plants can be potted up and taken indoors for a few months.

Sweet marjoram dries easily on screens in the shade. Once dried, finish the drying in a 100 degree F or lower temperature oven to crisp the leaves. Remove leaves from the stems and store in jars.

Sweet marjoram can be used fresh in omelets, mixed with fresh vegetables, and added to casseroles.

Tarragon

Another  culinary herb, tarragon comes in several forms. French tarragon is vegetatively propagated and not available from seed. Russian tarragon is grown from seed and is attractive as an ornamental plant, but it is flavorless.

Common Thyme

Thyme, a perennial hardy to Zone 4, can be grown from seed in a flat kept at about 55 degrees F. Germination takes three to four weeks. The first year plants will be small and not flower, growing more robust and flowering the second year. Thyme needs good drainage for its deep roots. Plants should not be set too close together (12 inches apart), and should be hardened off before planting in the garden (a week or more of several hours of sunlight and then returned to shade before evening). Divide established plants in the spring. Fall transplanting can invite winterkill. Dry thyme by hanging bunches in a warm place out of direct sunlight.

Thyme is frequently used fresh or dried in soups, stews and sauces. Fresh thyme added to rice is a flavorful treat. Lemon-scented thymes are good for tea and potpourri.

Ways to Grow Sweet Peas

In the Victorian language of flowers, sweet peas symbolized delicate and blissful pleasures.  How very apt for this delicate flower with a blissfully pleasurable fragrance.  Whether you intend to send someone a secret message with your bouquet, or just enjoy the color and scent as you pass by a trellis full of sweet peas, this heirloom bloom is a perfect addition to every garden.

So Many Colors to Sow!

Sweet peas are native to many parts of the world, including Peaceful Valley’s own hometown Grass Valley, California, where Lathyrus latifolius, also called the everlasting pea, sends beautiful sprawling vines across the hillsides in early summer.  A perennial unscented sweet pea that is native to many parts of the U.S., it was much loved by Thomas Jefferson who cultivated it in his own garden.

The classic annual garden sweet pea Lathyrus odoratus is originally from Italy, where local wild flowers were collected and bred for new colors, sweeter scent, stronger stalks, and other desirable traits.  Many cultivars now available were bred in England, where the sweet pea has been a garden favorite for centuries.

Lathyrus odoratus is what is most commonly thought of as the sweet pea.  They come in a wide range of colors, from pastels to deep shades such as pink, purple, blue, and cream.  Some are climbing vines for trellises and arbors, and some are low growing plants suitable for containers or garden borders.  They all have in common a heavenly fragrance, which make them such excellent cut flowers.

Another uncommon and beautiful species of annual sweet pea is Lathyrus sativus azureus, which comes from Asia and is sometimes called the Indian Pea.  It has distinctive grassy foliage with vibrant blue flowers.

Planting Your Peas

Sweet peas are a cool weather plant that should be planted early enough to allow it time to grow and bloom before the heat of summer sets in.  For regions with warm winters, this means planting it in the fall after Labor Day.  For regions with cold winters, plant it as soon as the ground is workable and at least a month before the last frost.

Sweet pea shoots tolerate frost, and should be planted directly outdoors.  Before planting, soak the seeds overnight to improve germination.  Scarifying, or gently filing or nicking, the seed coat can also help the seed to germinate.

Select an area to plant your seeds that gets full sun. If you live in an area with especially hot summers, your sweet peas will appreciate some afternoon shade.  Planting low growing plants on the south side of sweet peas will help to keep the soil shaded and cool while allowing the climbing sweet pea to receive full sun on its leaves.

Plant your seeds 1” deep and 2 to 3” apart, thinning to 4 to 6” once the seedlings are a few inches tall. Seedlings should be protected from birds, slugs and snails right away, as they can quickly decimate a young patch of sweet peas.

For climbing sweet peas, install your trellis or lattice at planting time, as they will want to climb soon after sprouting.  They are happy to climb on nearly every vertical support; this versatility makes them perfect for creative landscape designs.

Getting the Most Flowers

Give your sweet peas moderate water throughout the growing season. Keep down the weed competition and watch for problems such as mildew and thrips. A balanced fertilizer for flowering plants such as E.B.Stone Ultra Bloom provides necessary phosphorus and other nutrients to promote flower production.

To get the most blooms out of your plants, make lots of bouquets!  Cutting flowers off the plants encourages them to make more flowers.  Deadhead spent flowers as soon as the blooms begin to fade also helps to keep the plants in flower-production mode.  Pinching back the tips of branches to 2 to 3 pairs of leaves when they plants are 6” tall will encourage your sweet peas to make more flower-producing branches and give it a fuller appearance.

For the longest bloom season, select varieties that are heat tolerant.  Standard sweet peas will go to seed when the summer temperatures get too high.  Some varieties have been bred to better withstand the heat, giving you a longer blossom season.  Royal Mix and Old Spice are good options for heat tolerant sweet peas.

For long lasting bouquets, harvest the blooms when the lowest blossom is just beginning to open.  Harvesting flowers in the early morning will give you bouquets with the best scent.

Sniff, But Don’t Taste

Despite what their name may seem to suggest, sweet peas are not good to eat! The only sweet part of this pea is the honey-like scent of the flowers.  In fact, sweet peas are toxic, so don’t be tempted to eat the pods when your sweet peas are finished blooming.

Ways to Grow Strawberries

Strawberry shortcake, homemade strawberry ice cream, strawberry jam and preserves, chocolate dipped strawberries – what could be better? How about growing your very own strawberry crop? All that luscious flavor just steps from your back door, can’t you almost taste them?

Strawberries are herbaceous perennials which may be cultivated in pots or in the ground. There are 3 different types of strawberry plants : june-bearing, ever-bearing and alpine. Your Southern States dealer can help you decide which types will meet your needs.

June-bearing strawberries produce most of their fruit during a 2-3 week period anywhere from the last part of May to the beginning of July depending on growing conditions and weather. Some varieties will produce a smaller amount of fruit again in the fall.

Ever-bearing varieties produce most of their fruit in the fall after a 2 month rest period. This follows their first fruiting in summer which produces a more sporadic, smaller crop. They grow best in areas with mild fall weather without frost.

Alpine strawberries produce small fruit all season.

Planting

Crop rotation is essential to successful strawberry production. Plants tend to deteriorate after the third year of being in the same ground. Ideally, you should plant strawberries in a different spot every year. Thus, you will always have 1, 2 and 3 year old plants. At the end of each growing year, dig up and discard the 3 year old plants. The next spring, plant strawberries where there have been none for at least three years. Do not plant strawberries where potatoes have been grown previously. The ground may be infected with Verticulum wilt, and this will destroy your plants.

Choose a sunny, warm site for your strawberries in order to get the best flavored fruit. Timing of the crop depends on the soil. For an early crop, plant in sandy soil. Loams and well drained clays will produce a little later, but the fruit will be heavier and more flavorful.

Keep strawberries free of weeds and work in generous amounts of Statesman Compost and Manure. In sandier soils, fertilizer may be needed as well. Plants should be spaced 18 inches apart in raised rows, so that rain water runs off. If locations are routinely wet, plant strawberries in raised beds. Good drainage is essential to preventing rotting of plants and fruit. Sheets of black plastic may also be used. Make sure it is well anchored with sturdy landscape staples. Cut slits to put the plants through. The plastic will warm the soil, keep weeds down and retain moisture. This will encourage earlier fruiting.

Water strawberries regularly and keep them clean. Ripening fruit should be protected with a layer of straw lain underneath or commercial strawberry mats placed around the plants. Stake fruit nets above the plants to protect the fruit from birds and squirrels. Pinch out extra runners from the plants as they appear. Some cultivars will have more runners than others.

Harvesting

Harvest strawberries for desserts when they are fully ripe, leaving a bit of the stalk attached to avoid bruising the fruit. Use them immediately for the best flavor. For jams and preserves, pick strawberries when they are ripe but firm. Pick fruit every other day, removing damaged or diseased fruit.

After harvesting is complete, clear away the straw and weeds. Cut off the mature foliage of the plants leaving 4 inches of stems above the young new leaves and crown. Apply a balanced fertilizer and water it in. this will help protect the plants from pests and diseases.