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Phil McCann from the RHS answers your gardening questions

(262 Posts)
RachelMumsnet (MNHQ) Tue 29-Jun-10 10:04:02

The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) is the UK's leading gardening charity. As a charity the RHS helps to bring gardening into people's lives and support gardeners of all levels and abilities; whether they are expert horticulturists or children who are planting seeds for the very first time.

Phil McCann, PR Manager for RHS Gardens, with support from gardeners at the four RHS Gardens, will be answering questions from Mumsnetters throughout this week. Whatever your query - from carrot fly to container vegetable growing, wisteria pruning to water-free gardening - Phil and the RHS team are on hand to give you advice and information.

Phil, who was previously Assistant Producer on BBC's Gardeners' World, is a trained horticulturist, a keen and knowledgeable gardener and allotment holder, a member of the RHS Vegetable Trials Committee and garden writer. Phil will be checking this thread each day and answering your questions on this thread along with his colleagues at the RHS. Final day for questions is Monday 5th July.

In return for posting a gardening question we will automatically enter you into a prize draw to win a pair of tickets to the RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show next week. Each ticket will allow an adult and two children under the age of 16 into the show free of charge. Tickets will be valid on any day from Thursday 8 July to Sunday 11 July. For more information about the show visit

CMOTdibbler Tue 29-Jun-10 10:14:48

Dear Phil. I am the shame of my (hugely avid gardening) family as my garden is just grass.

It's not that I am not interested, just that I don't have a lot of time, and a weird slopey garden. Plus a 4 year old and 3 cats for added disruption.

So, any suggestions for things I can do that are very low maintenance (ie, will survive when I go away for a week and DH forgets to water anything), and robust ?

jonicomelately Tue 29-Jun-10 10:17:34

Wow, the RHS. I am thrilled. I joined the RHS last year but haven't bothered renewing because I didn't find it particularly good value. But I digress...

My question is, I'm moving from a house with a large garden to one with a smaller garden (albeit there is a pretty, lawned front garden too). I'm really stressed because I have two sporty boys and a dog and I wonder how I'll manage to create a nice garden. At the moment the back is a lawn (which I'll have to keep so the boys can play football) and lots of conifers, a real monoculture. Where would you start?


MayorNaze Tue 29-Jun-10 10:41:31


hello I am a keen but v amateur allotmenter - i took over a v v abandoned plot and 2 years later am definitely reaping the fruits of my labour - but oh the weeds!!!! well established plots seem to have barely any weeds at all (and i'm fairly sure the owners aren't weeding in the dead of nighthmm)...what am i doing wrong?? is there any hope???!!!

thank you

JustineMumsnet (MNHQ) Tue 29-Jun-10 10:42:27

Dear Phil,

I was hoping to plant a New Dawn climber to go up the back wall of my house. I have left a hole (60cm x 60cm) in my patio to plant it in but there is only about 1.5 feet until you hit the water table. Will it mind having it's roots so damp? Should I go for a container and if so what size of container New Dawn would be happy in? Or is a container a non starter?
Any advice you can offer would be much appreciated.
Thank you!

ASmallBunchOfFlowers Tue 29-Jun-10 10:44:36

Dear Phil

I am an avid gardener, albeit I only have a small urban garden. I did a lot of new planting this spring, to fill the empty space left by the removal of a diseased tree and various things which expired during the winter. Everything in my garden was going to be lovely this summer, I thought. But I am waging a losing battle against foxes, which are digging up all the young plants, flattening other plants and pooping all over the garden.

I have tried to fox-proof the fences, but as my garden is higher than the one onto which it backs (where they live) they are still digging underneath. The back fence is covered in well-established climbers (honeysuckle, clematis, roses, jasmine) which makes further excavation and burying of paving slabs (my tactic so far) difficult.

What else can I do? Do those electronic fox scarer gizmos actually work?

Yours in despair


CuppaTeaJanice Tue 29-Jun-10 10:51:58

We're struggling to keep our large, hilly and wild garden under control.

What is the best way of getting rid of...

a. Brambles?
b. Pendulous Sedge?
c. That horse tail plant that grows everywhere?

And what can we replace them with that gives good ground cover without getting too rampant, keeps weeds down and preferably looks pretty too (not asking for much!!)?

Thanks! smile

SchnoogleDyBroogle Tue 29-Jun-10 11:09:28

Hi Phil,
we are having an extension next year and will unfortunately need to move an old wisteria, when is the best time of year to move it?
Thanks in advance.

wilbur Tue 29-Jun-10 11:11:28

Hi Phil
I have so many questions it would fill your entire time here, but I will restrict myself to 3. I am on London clay soil, if that's relevant.

1 - I have a magnolia grandiflora that is growing like crazy but produces very few flowers. It also drops a lot of leaves all the time. Can I give it a huge prune so that it takes up less of my garden and has fewer leaves? What can I do to improve flowering?

2 - My Blue Moon rose bush has got out of hand and now is about 8ft tall. I would really like to cut it back and move it to a better location this autumn, if that possible, or have I missed my chance since it's now so big?

3 - Are the slug pellets that are sold as organic and safe for wildlife really, truly safe or am I kidding myself?

Thank you!

nigglewiggle Tue 29-Jun-10 11:15:26

I would really like to grow a magnolia tree in our garden as there was one where we got married and it looked beautiful. I see them everywhere looking fabulous, but whenever we try to grow them, they either die or (like the current attempt) fail to flower.

I am reluctant to fork out for a big tree (for obvious reasons), so we have tried to nurture saplings. We are about to lay a patio and I would like to try again with a Magnolia next to the patio area. Should we push the boat out and get a bigger tree?

Any other tips to avoid Magnolicide?

43Today Tue 29-Jun-10 11:18:14

Hi - two questions for Phil - am I allowed two? Anyway:
1. We have recently moved into a new-build house and we are planning to work on the garden next year (currently just turfed with edging of slabs at back of house). I would like to have 3 or 4 large perennial plants in containers, that will flourish on a south-facing patio, non-climbers but with attractive foliage, flowers if possible, not too high maintenance, to make it look less stark this year. What would you recommend?

2. We would like to plant a small tree in our west-facing front garden about 10 feet from house. Year round interest, not blocking out light, not too tall would be nice, also it mustn't have roots that would damage the block paving of our neighbours parking space (right next to our garden). Any suggestions?

Thanks ever so much for any help you can give!

Lymond Tue 29-Jun-10 11:48:42

Hi Phil,

We bought a house with a third of an acre, mature garden, and until 2 months ago had a wonderful gardener. We've got a bit credit crunched and had to let him go. He told me the top priorities for the spring (removing all dandelions, ground elder and other weeds, mowing the lawn once a week, dead heading flowers). I've managed these, despite, with 4 children of 7 and under, not having much time!

But now I don't know what my priorities should be for over the summer? (Except I can see that removing ground elder is going to be a year round occupation angry) What do you think the top priorities are in a garden, for a novice who doesn't know the names of many of the lovely plant and trees, over the summer?

Thanks very much for coming!

madrush Tue 29-Jun-10 11:52:24


We have a garden approaching 200ft long and mostly lawn. In parts it's very shady (two small oaks halfway and 3 huge black poplars at the back) so moss creeps in.

I tried raking it out and reseeding quite successfully once but I can't find the time to dedicate myself to such care every year. I am quite lazy and so like the idea of naturalising the moss or finding a lawn plant that would cope better with shade.

Do you think we should:
a) make time/get a grass care expert in
b) leave it to become a mossy lawn (please provide many reasons why this is more environmentally friendly and very much the done thing these days)
c) find a non-grass lawn type plant to seed there instead of grass - any suggestions of easy sowing shade loving ones?

Many thanks.

QSincognitoErgoSum Tue 29-Jun-10 11:53:22

Dear Phil,

I am trying to build a garden from scratch in the arctic. We have done a self build, on a plot of land that used to be a bog.

I have a really nice corner with mature Birch trees and Salix Caprea.
Last year I planted a Sambucus (H7) and it has not thrived. It turns out that the land is really water logged, and if I dig a really deep hole (tried to plant a John Cabot) water starts seeping into the hole from the sides.

Bearing in mind that the ground is frozen solid between December and June, the ground basically thaws by midsummer, what can I do to get the soil conditioned for roses, Philadelphus, and Sambucus?

Or, what shrubs/bushes, suitable for H7 and H8 can I plant, that just love a waterlogged ground? (Would love a nice bamboo, btw wink )

prettybird Tue 29-Jun-10 12:22:25

Last year, I started growing veg in some raised beds that we built into a sloping grass slope (the old drying green) of our north facing garden (raised to get maximum sun).

I had great success with peas, most (all?) of which germinated .

This year I have head really sporadic germination, with two attempts at sowing three different typs (in separate rows): Kelvedon Wonder, Alderman and Oregon Sugar Pod. Of these, only the Oregon Sugar Pod has germinated successfully (and even then, only 75%). The Alderman has only 2 plants showing (of c.20+ sown initially) with another one seedling from a repeat sowing, while the Kelvedon Wonder has a similar germination success rate.

Is the dry weather we have had at fault? - I have only recently started watering regularly (and deeply). Half a row of tom thumb lettuce disppeared overnight in the same bed with no trace of slug trails - is that a coincidence. The runner beans in the same bed are doing fine.

The "seed beds" were/are protected by short peas sticks (both against birds and from our two cats).

The potato bed, brassica bed, onion bed and (1st year) asparagus bed are all doing well, but I had also had problems with germination in the cutting flower bed (sunflowers, asters, love in a mist) - although the fennel has taken no problem.

I'm in Glasgow.

kisamama Tue 29-Jun-10 12:27:11

Hi Phil
we have a row of damson trees in the middle of our southfacing backyard that in a perfect world would be along the fence. One is quite big (trunk about 10cms diameter and about 5-6 m high), the others smaller (6-8cms trunk and 3m high). Is it possible to move them? And if so what time of year? And when can we prune? They were full of beautiful fruit last autumn when we moved in and are looking like they will produce a big crop this year too so do not want to lose them but need more clear running/football space I am afraid.
Thank you very much.

prettybird Tue 29-Jun-10 12:28:48

Also: how long is it usually take from raspberries "setting" to cropping? We look like we are going to get a good harvest, but only one or two of the most "sunny" raspberries have ripened. Almost all of the rasps are still small and "white"

We are off on holiday for two weeks on Sunday and I am hoping that the crop won't be over by the time we get back on the 18th.

Or do I need to arrange for friends to come and pick them?

GrendelsMum Tue 29-Jun-10 12:38:17

QSincognitoErgoSum - couldn't resist making a suggestion while I muse on my own question. With your soil, I'd recommend reading Beth Chatto's book 'The Damp Garden' (should be available via your library, but you need a modern edition with photos), the doyenne of 'right plant, right place'. You'll end up feeling inspired by plants that would love your soil, rather than planting things that will stagger on looking ill for years.

eltham Tue 29-Jun-10 12:42:26

Hi there,
we only have a back yard which has a raised composite concrete section (previous owners built a car port). I would love to have some grass there but it would be too costly to excavate it and return it to the level of the area outside the kitchen. My question then regards the laying of turf onto this. How much soil does grass need to grow in? Is it at all possible? For instance, if we broke it up a bit for drainage and imported topsoil, would grass survive? There's also an area which is in deep shade alot of the time - are there particular types of lawn grass that do better in such places? - or do I just need to give up on my wish?

Butterbur Tue 29-Jun-10 12:49:15

Dear Phil,

I have just lost a ten year old lilac. It flowered well, although the flowers browned and stayed on, and then the leaves wilted. I tried watering it, but to no avail. It's definitely gone now. The roses (flower carpet series) around it look fine, apart from a little powdery mildew.

I'm sorry to lose it. The scent in May was exquisite.

choccyp1g Tue 29-Jun-10 12:50:39

We have a plague of parakeets at the allotment this year, and my strawberries were disappearing before even getting ripe. So I invested in a pair of "net cloche tunnels", and I am now getting some ripe strawberries, but I am worried that the bees won't get in to germinate the latest flowers. Should I leave them uncovered some times to let the bees in ?

Lulumaam Tue 29-Jun-10 12:59:22

Hello Phil

I am not much of a gardener, but I do like to try to grow herbs, but never get very far, they die regardless of what I do!

how can you get windowsill herbs to flourish, or is it impossible, is it best to plant properly outside in tubs?

If you can answer a second question, I have a peace lily, that is still going after several years, more by accident than design.. currently in a large pot in the bathroom.. what is the place place to keep it and re-pot it in as it grows?

much appreciated !

fruitshootsandheaves Tue 29-Jun-10 13:16:05

Hello Phil

Can you give me any suggestions for a small, low maintenance flowering plant that I could plant on a grave that won't be immediately eaten by the bloody rabbits sweet fluffy graveyard bunnies.

pebblejones Tue 29-Jun-10 13:22:20

Dear Phil,
Unfortunately my garden is full of moss, how can I get rid of it? If I returf will the moss come back?
Thank you, any advice much appreciated.

Lastyearsmodel Tue 29-Jun-10 13:23:14

I'm looking for a small-medium sized climber (or two) to grow up a 4-foot obelisk as a present for my Mum.

Two seasons of interest would be nice, eg. ivy for evergreen background and a summer clematis.

My problem is a lot of climbers are very large and vigorous - can you think of any more compact ones? Many thanks.

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