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Back to the future
7:00am Saturday 29th December 2012 in Homes & Gardens
Award-winning Chelsea stalwart Roger Platts looks at how gardening has changed in the last 100 years - plus, find out what else needs doing in the garden this week.
By Hannah Stephenson
The world's top garden designers will be celebrating 100 years of the RHS Chelsea Flower Show in 2013 with a mixture of old and new, demonstrating the glories of the past and the gardens of the future.
Award-winning Chelsea stalwart Roger Platts, who is designing the M&G show garden, Windows Through Time, is aiming to capture the design trends and themes of RHS Chelsea Flower Shows past and present, showing how British garden design has evolved while reflecting many recurring themes that have stood the test of time.
"I believe that the three major reasons driving the development in garden design are ever-changing architecture, climate change and lifestyle changes," says Platts.
"Extremes of weather have tended to kill off some new trends in planting in recent years. It is not long since we were being encouraged to plant drought-tolerant varieties, only to find them frosted or rotted in cold, wet winters.
"It only takes a couple of years of extreme weather in close succession to remove gardeners' confidence in certain plants.
"I have always enjoyed growing a wide range of silver-leaved plants but living on heavy soil and having wetter weather, I am reluctant to risk some of these.
"For the average gardener it will always be best to grow plants tolerant of a wide range of conditions. For the enthusiast they will always be trying to push the boundaries."
Low maintenance and the need for neatness will always be a factor in gardens for the future, he predicts, especially in urban environments.
"The terms 'disease free' and 'easy to grow' and 'uncomplicated' is as much as I can predict for future gardens. It is impossible to know what other factors will dictate how gardens will look in the future."
So, how much have our gardens changed in the last century?
:: Plant pots - in 1913 pots would have been made from clay. This then developed to plastic with a recent trend towards biodegradable materials.
:: Glasshouses - then heating and propagation for glasshouses and growing frames relied on solid fuel and manure. Nowadays, electricity and bio fuels are used.
:: Fertilisers - 100 years ago most fertiliser was organic. Over the years chemicals were developed for use in fertilising. There is now a trend to returning to organic fertilisers.
:: Garden construction materials - then natural timber, stone, clay and iron and aggregates were mainly used. These would generally have been locally sourced. In 2013 we use a very similar range of materials with a few additions, such as plastics, concrete, stainless steel (invented in 1913) and imported materials such as Indian sandstone.
:: Plants - varieties we grew in 1913 are similar to what we grow now but with a wider range today due to sophisticated plant breeding and selection methods. A century ago most were raised in the ground after propagation, being 'lined out' in the field as young plants, hence the term 'liners', which is still used in the nursery trade for young plants prior to final potting
:: Lawn mowers - were in their infancy 100 years ago. Technology has resulted in garden machinery becoming more widely affordable. The basic principles of cutting grass using a cylinder mower have changed little over the century. Plastics, battery-powered strimmers and the rotary mower mean that small areas of grass are easier to maintain nowadays. Robotic mowers may be the way forward for lazy gardeners.
:: Today we grow our own food at home more as a hobby than a necessity, whereas 100 years ago before supermarkets, refrigerators and fast transport, food was grown as a basic need.
Platts's 2013 Chelsea garden will embrace both new and traditional garden features, from modern sculpture to planting, threaded with historical shrubs popular in the 1900s.
His flair for planting will be apparent throughout the garden, from wild grasses and meadow flowers to cottage roses and nodding foxgloves.
Platts concludes: "The classic look we know today has been around for some time and I think and hope that it will be with us for many years to come."
Best of the bunch - Sarcococca (Christmas box)
This evergreen shrub is much loved by flower arrangers as its branches provide valuable material for late winter displays.
It has purple-tinged stems with long, slender leaves and clusters of white- or cream-petalled male flowers, and tiny female flowers, which smell delicious, are borne along the stems.
These fragrant blooms are followed by red or black berries. Most types sucker freely and will need to be contained.
S. hookeriana var. 'Digyna' grows to around 1.5m in height and width, but if you buy a small one, put it in a pot on your patio the first winter for the intoxicating scent.
S. confusa is smaller, growing around 75cm (2.5ft) high, with glossy, dark green, oval leaves, cream-coloured flowers and a powerful scent.
Christmas box will thrive in any well-drained soil in sun or partial shade.
Good enough to eat - Turnips
No haggis feast would be complete without 'neeps and tatties', which may prompt you to grow your own turnips in the new year.
Maincrop varieties are the easiest to grow and can be sown in July and August for cropping and storage from mid-October. Good varieties include Manchester Market, which is recommended for prolonged storage, Golden Ball and Champion Green-Top Yellow.
Turnips do well in non-acid soil with reasonable drainage. They should be sown thinly in a non-shady spot and thinned out as soon as the seeds are big enough to handle, until the plants are 25cm apart.
Water them regularly. If you don't, you'll end up with small and woody roots. You should also hoe regularly around the plants to keep weeds at bay.
Start lifting them as soon as they are large enough to use, as they deteriorate with age. However, in most areas, you can leave them in the ground and lift as required. For storage, remove the top leaves and place the roots between layers of sand in a box. Store in a cool shed.
Three ways to... Zap pests the natural way
1. Make a garlic spray by blitzing a garlic bulb with a litre of water, leave it to stand for a couple of hours and strain out the bits, before putting the liquid into a spray dispenser and spraying your plants in the early evening. The compounds in garlic should deter slugs, snails and other pests.
2. Sprinkle black pepper over seed beds or on soil above newly planted bulbs to deter mice and rabbits.
3. Plant marigolds (tagetes) next to vulnerable crops to deter whitefly and other pest infestations.
What to do this week
:: Sow overwintering broad beans in pots in cold frames or unheated greenhouses and they will be ready for planting out next spring.
:: Plant garlic cloves outdoors in their final position.
:: Clear up weedy beds for spring mulching.
:: Order bulky organic matter such as well-rotted manure or compost to use as a soil improver.
:: If gardening on wet soil, work from a long plank of wood rather than treading on the soil and causing it to compact.
:: In the greenhouse, check for overwintering pests such as greenfly or red spider mites and treat accordingly.
:: Continue to pick and sweep up fallen debris to prevent disease.
:: If you have fish, stop your pond freezing over by pouring hot water on the surface until it has melted through. Do not crack any ice as this is harmful to fish.
:: Add lights and power points to sheds and outhouses so you can garden on wet days and in the evenings.
:: Prune greenhouse vines when they are completely dormant.
:: Replenish the surface of rock gardens with stone chippings to prevent the soil becoming sodden.