The Keston Parish & Village Magazine

June / July 2016



In our opinion one of the nicest, most handsome, late spring / early summer flowering border plants has to be the peony (Paeonia).  Before planting the ground should be deeply dug and manured, and once planted the woody roots should be left undisturbed.  Peonies have thick red stalks which, according to ancient writers, are a cubit long (measured from the middle finger tip to the end of the elbow  - give it a go!).  It’s leaves are, in the words of John Gerard, “great and large, consisting of divers leaves growing or joyned together upon one slender stemme or rib, not much unlike the leaves of the Wallnut tree both in fashion and greatnesse.”


Its flowers range in colour from rose pink with yellow anthers to the pure white and highly fragrant P. albiflora - from which a large number of so-called Chinese peonies have been raised (good varieties include  ‘Albert Crousse’, ‘Bowl of Beauty’, ‘Festiva Maxima’, Sarah Bernhardt’ & ‘ Wiesbaden’).


Once the flowers have faded and fallen away, in their place comes three or four great husks which, once ripe, open to reveal shiny, polished black seeds as big as a pea.  These seeds, according to the great ancient writer Apuleius, shine in the night time like a candle hence why so much of it was found and gathered by ancient shepherds.  However he did also state that it must necessarily be picked at night for if anyone shall pluck it’s fruit in the daytime in sight of a Woodpecker, they’re in danger of losing their eyes (give it a go?!).  Furthermore, it is said that you should take a seed just before bed to stop you suffering from nightmares.


There are male and female peonies.  Stalks of the females tend to have more leaves on than the males; with smaller leaves which are nicked on the edges to various sizes and depths.  The flowers are of a strong heady scent, usually smaller and of a more purple colour than the male.  The roots of the females consist of many short tuberous clogs, fastened at the end of long strings and all from the head of the root which is thick and short, unlike those of the male which are thick and long, spreading and running deep down into the ground.


The fresh roots of the male Peony are said by ancient physicians to hold a cure to the falling sickness (epilepsy) either by hanging it round the neck if young or by crushing it, infusing it for 24 hours and then straining and drinking it it first thing in the morning and last thing at night if you’re older.

April / May 2016



Around Easter, many of us dare to venture into the garden for the first time each year.  Spring is in the air, British Summer Time is here at last and the coldest, wettest weather is hopefully behind us.  People want to engage in the feeling of renewal and rebirth and whether it’s rushing down to church or over to the local garden centre to start the gardening year off on a good note, there is a general feeling of looking forward to what is to come.


Lots of gardeners, rightly so, also love to grow from seed or potting on transplants and buying quality compost is the key to success.  Peat-based composts are being phased-out by manufacturers these days as the lowland raised bogs they’re sourced from are becoming an increasingly rare habitat throughout Europe.  So, as conservation of the flora and fauna that depend on this diminishing ecosystem increases, an ever-greater range of peat-free growing media becomes available.


Moving away from familiar or trusted brands of compost can be problematic and results varied, making gardening less rewarding.  Completely peat-free media could be the best choice environmentally, but consistency is problematic, so peat-reduced composts have become most popular amongst growers.  The non-peat part of these composts incorporate a blend of organic materials – e.g. composted bark, coir (coconut fibre), wood (woodfibre, composted bark, sawdust, wood or paper waste) and green waste – mixed with inorganic materials such as grit, sharp sand, rock wool and perlite. A good range of particle sizes making up the compost is needed to create a balanced structure which can hold a good mix of water and air, essential for root growth.  Wood (larger particle sizes) gives good drainage, whereas Coir has excellent natural water-holding ability and a sufficient mix of fine and coarse fibres to hold air in its pore spaces.  Neither hold nutrients well, which is where green waste comes in as it has a high nutrient content and a high pH. 


As bagged compost gets older, microbes naturally present start breaking down the organic material and consuming available nitrogen (from the green waste part of the compost,  for instance).  As a result, the soil when used can’t meet the plant’s needs and deficiencies ensue.  A similar situation occurs when people put down woodchippings in the garden, around shrubs, trees or between borders thinking this will save them time weeding or help the plant.  Unless they are very well rotted-down, which 9 times out of 10 they are not, the microbes present in the immediate vicinity will need to take vital nutrients from the surrounding soil to energise themselves to achieve the job of breaking down the wood chips.  The result is a nitrogen-deficient pool around the area of the wood chips and this often happens at the expense of the trees, shrubs and plants you put the wood chips down to protect in the first place.

So, be aware of old, faded or torn bags of compost and also ones that are compacted at the bottom of a pile as compacted compost or ‘slumped’ (due to decomposition of organic matter) soils will have greatly reduced air spaces in the material, leading to poor root development.  

Feb / March 2016


In arboriculture, Phenology is the study of the outward appearance of trees and woody plants in relation to the time of year (the seasons).  The key events we see happening throughout the year are: 1) budburst, 2) blossom (flower buds), 3) full leaf (canopy), 4) fruit set, 5) bud set, 6) autumn colour and 7)leaf drop.  Witnessing changes in appearance is very connected to changes in climate (temperature and light).  The time between 7) leaf drop and 1) budburst (this time of year) has continued to shorten over the decades and this causes problems with budburst as trees are not resting sufficiently, they are not prepared for it, as many need long periods of cold to slow metabolism.  During budburst, for example, plants rely on stored energy in woody tissues (roots, etc) to respire, as no leaves are present for photosynthesis, so are therefore using more sugar than they are making.  Any tree work should, therefore, be done when the specimen is in a stable condition - when the tree is storing energy or in a dormant state.  To do work during budburst or budset (spring or autumn) is counterproductive and could well be damaging,  so best done in summer or winter.


On woody stems, flowers may eminate from the current season’s growth or older growth. Those that form apical flower buds (at end of a stem, like Horse-chestnut) on the current season’s growth will terminate vegetative growth at that point, i.e. it that stem won’t grow more in length.  Other species, such as a common cherry (Prunus avium), produce buds and flower on lateral ‘spurs’ which do not terminate apical growth.  They therefore tend to produce longer more horizontal or upright branches.  All trees, during their juvenile phases are not sexually mature, so no buds are produced and flowering does not occur; they therefore tend to be tall and slender - a strategy that aids their competition for light with other trees.


MK Landscaping and Property Services now has two qualified Arboriculturists (Hadlow College) ready to undertake all types of tree and woody plant services for the parishioners of Keston.  From planting and pruning hedges, shrubs or trees to felling older or unwanted specimens and sourcing more desirable replacements, we are ready for all eventualities and relish the chance to make real lasting change to our wonderful outdoors.


December 2015 / January 2016


Indoor winter flowering plants


It’s the festive season and what better way to embrace the “goodwill unto all” feeling than giving the gift of an indoor flowering plant to a friend, loved one or relative.  During the dark winter months they provide a welcome splash of colour when garden flowers are absent and cut flowers are expensive.  


An important group of flowering pot plants, sometimes known as ‘florist’ or ‘gift’ plants, have an essential part to play indoors.  The Azalea comes into flower early December and lasts well into January.  The secret to a prolonged flowering period is to place it in a cool, light, airy position during its stay indoors; West facing windows are ideal.  It is imperative that you only give rain water to this lime-hating plant and plenty of it as it is thirsty.  Tap water will soon cause the foliage to suffer.  Cyclamens are available from September until Christmas.  Their charm is obvious - compact growth, beautiful swept-back flowers on long stalks and decorative foliage.  The blooms are white, pink, red or purple; large in the standard types, small and perfumed in the miniature varieties.  Try buying a plant with plenty of unopened buds.  A warm room means a short life for a Cyclamen so a North facing windsill is ideal.  The Poinsettia (proper name: Euphorbia pulcherrima) has become the symbol of Christmas indoors. The flowers (which are really coloured bracts) last for 2-6 months.  Red remains the favourite colour but white and pink are available.  Once in the living room, put it in a well lit spot away from draughts, keep reasonably warm and avoid overwatering.  Solanum, aka the Winter Cherry is also a familiar sight at Christmas.  The orange or red berries among the dark green leaves provide a festive touch, and if this small shrubby plant is placed on a sunny windowsill in a cool room then the berries will last for months.  Be warned, the fruits can be poisonous.  Early leaf fall usually means overwatering; dropping berries indicate too little light or hot, dry air.


Bulbs are another superb gift choice with daffodils, hyacinths and tulips widely grown for house decoration.  However, few are as capable, or as generous in flower, as Hippeastrum, producing their star-shaped blooms in only 6-8 weeks after planting.  Large-flowered hybrids are most readily available today, characterised by their strong stems, carrying 3 or 4 broad-petalled, single flowers that often reach 20cm in diameter.  Yellows and reds are available but there are splendid white selections such as ‘Christmas Gift’  and ‘Christmas Star’.  Whatever we choose, we want disease and blemish-free bulbs in the largest size, to ensure the best flowers. 


October / November 2015


Autumn is a time of great theatre in the garden with many stunning sights and breathtaking moments available exclusively now.  September, October and November is a period of dramatic change and if embraced can allow you to extend the enjoyment of your garden through the seasons, according to a natural progression of dominant colours.  The term autumn colour mainly refers to the change of deciduous leaf colour during this period, although it can also relate to any main feature of trees and shrubs, e.g. flowers, fruits/berries, bark and young twigs.  This aesthetic display in preparation for winter can be stunning and is caused by the various pigments found in leaves, including chlorophylls (greens) and carotenoides - divided into carotines (yellows and golds) and the xanthophylls (reds, maroons and purples).  Deciduous trees sense both day length and temperature decreasing and produce a hormone 4-6 weeks prior to leaf fall in response, which commences the process of abscission.  Abscission involves the production of a corky layer that gradually blocks the vascular traces where the leaf petiole meets the stem, ensuring that the tree doesn’t bleed to death once the leaves fall off.  The effect is to gradually cut off the flow of liquids to and from the leaf.  Water is an essential ingredient of chlorophyll and as the water supply diminishes, and ultimately ceases, the chlorophyll malfunctions.  The other pigments contained in the leaf ,normally masked by the chlorophyll, are far less susceptible to the water loss and show through as strong reds, flames, oranges, golds or yellows depending on the concentration of carotines and/or xanthophylls. 


Perennials are often overlooked at this time of year.  Good examples include the rich butter yellow then reddish brown of the Royal Fern, the gold of Hostas like shafts of sunlight, the bonfire shades of Miscanthus and the beetroot glow of Heuchera.  In the herbaceous border we find many stars in particular Michaelmas daisies (and other Aster species - mostly of A. novae-angliae and A. novi-belgii) as they flower later than most other perennials and continue the display until late autumn, alongside Begonia, Sedum, Kniphofia and Rudbeckia which will all provide flashes of late colour worth considering when planning planting combinations with or without dramatic backdrops of trees. 


Recommendations for trees of various sizes with exceptional autumn colour are:

Shrub / small tree - Disanthus cercidifolius, Rhus typhina.

Small / medium trees - Acer palmatum ‘Osakazuki’ and Nyssa sylvatica (probably the best tree for fiery autumn colour).

Larger trees - Liquidamber styraciflua.

All deciduous conifers.


August / September 2015


We are lucky to not have to worry about water, although we are becoming increasingly concerned with its conservation in the garden.  Let’s face it, the last few spring / summer seasons have been particularly dry with very little rain and, at the time of writing (mid-June), many clients’ lawns are turning brown and the soil is getting harder and dryer with less moisture content by the day.  So, you could argue our concerns are justified and we should all increase our efforts to reuse & recycle water wherever possible and limit its use at every available opportunity.  If the climate continues to warm then we will no doubt see more introduction of Mediterranean & South African plants, succulents and other species of genera that can tolerate dryer conditions during our growing season.  


In the meantime, we need to practice tried and trusted water conservation methods as well as innovate to keep the gardens we know and love looking at their best.  All the usual advice applies: Water more but less frequently (little and often is not good for strong root development), water morning or evening to minimise evaporation, use rainwater collected in butts, apply a good layer of mulch around the base of plants, use cooled grey water etc.  However, there is a growing trend among garden centres to market products alongside potting compost (or in some cases included in it) that claim to retain water more effectively in the soil than ever.  But what’s it all about?


Water-retaining granules or hydrogels can be added to growing medium to increase its ability to retain water for longer periods of time.  They can be thought of as long chains of molecules (called polymers) making up lattice-like structures.  They absorb incredible amounts of water when irrigation or rainfall occurs (up tho 400 times in size and weight when wet) and expand into thousands of self-contained ‘reservoirs’.  The developing plant roots quickly grow right into, and though, these ‘reservoirs’, thus gaining access to almost 100% of the stored water.  They may help reduce the demand of frequent watering during dry spells and are particularly handy in hanging baskets and containers, and where coarse-textured free-draining potting media is used (the greatest increase in water retention by polymer treatment can be expected in media containing large pores). It is also said that these gels can also store nutrients in solution and are capable of absorbing and releasing water many times, over many years.


With products being developed for use when planting trees & shrubs or during hard landscaping or garden design, it certainly looks like our imagination will be the only limiting factor for its use.  


Let MK help turn your ideas into reality…

June / July 2015


At this time of year, which we all look forward to, when the days are at their longest and the winter wardrobe is all but forgotten about, it would be easy, as we have done in the past, to talk about this seasons garden showstoppers.  There are literally dozens to choose from, each peaking our senses in their own inimitable way; the sight of a dazzling rose bed; cut peony flowers in a vase on the table; the familiar and sweet perfumed scent of the mock orange (philadelphus); the pungent aroma as the side shoots of tomatoes are pinched out; and so on, and so on.This is the time to indulge in nature’s bounty as it blooms all around.


However, there are many plants that are easily forgotten about, but which thoroughly deserve a mention as they punch so much above their weight. 


We shall focus on one which creates excitement for the entire family.  It is considered indigenous to Britain, having grown wild and been cultivated for many hundreds of years.  It is a green and blue vascular plant.  Can you guess what it is?


- Its blooms are brilliant for busy pollinators especially bumblebees and honeybees who find the nectar-rich flowers irresistible. 

- Its seeds feed wild birds and are easy to sow: perfect pollinator project for kids.

- It self-seeds freely but will never get out of hand as the large seedlings are easy to see and to remove.

- Pliny called it Euphrosinum because it makes a man merry and joyful.

- In very mild areas it will flower continuously for most of the year.

- Its flowers and leaves (especially when young) are edible.

- The flowers can be frozen into ice cubes and put into summer drinks along with the chopped leaves.

- It is very useful as a mulch and in the compost heap as the stems and leaves are rich in calcium and potassium.

- It is extremely competitive against weeds and has very few pest and disease problems.

- The oil from its seeds contain the highest natural source of Gamma Linolenic Acid (GLA) so far discovered (used in treatment of wide range of conditions), yielding 25% GLA compared with evening Primrose Oil 7-12%.

- It has pretty true blue star-shaped flowers (can be pink or white also) giving it its common name of starflower.


It is definitely an unsung hero and, believe it or not, it is Borage (Borago officinalis). 


Have a great summer and remember biggest is not always best!


April / May 2015


The lawn is an essential part of most gardens, providing the foreground to many a cherished scene in which its lush greens meet the dark browns of the fertile soil, providing a superb counterpoint to a vast array of colourful borders and a background of trees and shrubs.  It links areas together throughout the garden, allowing our eyes and selves to be taken along its soft paths as dictated to by seasonal changes in growth, colour and movement.  Aristotle said the whole is greater than the sum of its parts and rarely do we realise the lawn is so important in this instance.


We say of the oak, "How grand of girth!" 

Of the willow we say, "How slender!"

And yet to the soft grass clothing the earth

How slight is the praise we render.  Edgar Fawcett


If it’s green grass you’re after then now is the time to get your turf in shape for the summer to come. Typically most lawns contain a mixture of grasses, weeds and moss.  There are several activities that can get these lawns in shape: killing the moss and weeds, feeding the grass & paying attention to mowing.  Moss colonises lawns for various reasons.  Poor fertility, lack of aeration, bad drainage or excessive shade will all result in weak, sparse turf that allows moss to establish.  Moss can be temporarily controlled by using mosskillers (make sure you don’t overdose as this will likely scorch the grass) but, unless the reason for infestation is established and then corrected, moss will return.  Examine the lawn and identify factors causing weak growth.  If you are using a product to kill the moss then within a week or 2 the grass will green up but you’ll also notice the moss blackening, so rake it out.  Now you need to feed the grass with a high-Nitrogen content product to stimulate vigorous growth.


The final activity crucial for the lawn is mowing.  The height of the cut really makes a difference throughout the year.  The golden rule of mowing is that you never remove more than one third of the total height of the grass in a single cut. Early in the season you want the mower set high, then you can reduce its height.  But if the weather is hot and dry keep the grass longer as it will be able to withstand the drought much better.  By cutting and rolling the individual grass blades, you are encouraging the plant to ‘tiller’, or shoot again from the base.  This results in a short, bushy plant which can withstand being walked on, rather than a single leaved one which, if damaged, will die away and leave a bare patch.  Lawns are seldom made up of a single species of grass, as the finer ones which give the best-looking finish are not hard-wearing underfoot and benefit from the presence of tougher varieties to protect them.  If the lawn is not cut regularly, then the stronger species will dominate the finer ones, resulting in a much coarser and more uneven finish.


“Each blade of grass has its spot on earth whence it draws its life, its strength; and so is man rooted to the land from which he draws his faith together with his life.” Joseph Conrad.

February / March 2015


Winter has been similar to last in that we’ve hardly had a cold snap worthy of note but different in that it has been much dryer.  This combination is certainly beneficial for all aspiring gardeners and lovers of the outdoors, as it gives us a chance to get out in the fresh air, without causing too much lawn and soil compaction, and enjoy the sights and sounds of the marvellous winter months.  As arboriculturalists it’s especially pleasing for us to admire the fine structure that deciduous trees display when leafless. It is humbling for us to appreciate something that humanity could never replicate in terms of its strength, longevity & beauty, and you don’t have to be qualified to wonder at such a fine silhouette on a bright winter’s day. Furthermore, woody plants such as Cornus (dogwood) are grown for their wonderful and varied winter stem colour.  Yellows, reds, oranges, whites and even combinations of all the above can be found on stems from this genus.  If you own a Cornus sanguinea, for example, which has become a bit leggy and outgrown it’s space then now is the time to stool it (prune very hard).  This will keep its size manageable and, magically,  make the colours of its stem regrowth much deeper for next year.


Whilst the amount of foliage and greenery is at a minimum in our gardens it is certainly prudent to take the opportunity to inspect our fences, walls, hedges and boundaries in general.  Replacing a fence can be expensive but many times we have seen them ruined by climbers such as ivy or Virginia creeper left unchecked having made their way into gaps between featherboards or panels and posts and then expanding, causing serious damage.  Ivy can also be a real nuisance to boundary and house walls, growing as it does into the mortar between bricks, causing structural instability.  Pruning hard now will not damage the plant but it will give you a chance to clear away the stems attached to your property and make any repairs before regrowth starts again soon.


Other climbers, such as Wisteria & Campsis, need to be pruned now to keep them floriferous by cutting back the side shoots to within 2/3 buds of main branches forming the framework.  Likewise Clematis (late summer & autumn flowering varieties) can be pruned as hard as you like down to the lowest pair of strong buds.  You know they’ll grow with vigour throughout the spring so take control of your boundaries while you can!


Sometimes, our garden boundaries are hedges formed of evergreen shrubs (such as cherry laurel).  These too can be cut now, including any reverted green shoots on hardy variegated evergreens to prevent them reverting back towards plain coloured varieties.  A deciduous hedge can still be renovated before leaf burst, if necessary.


Whatever is growing up, down and around your boundaries, remember to add loads of organic matter to beds and borders after pruning shrubs, trees, hedges and climbers to give them the energy they’ll need to grow back at their best.


Let’s make this year one to remember in the garden!

December 2014 / January 2015


During the winter and especially at Christmas time it has long been tradition to bring some greenery in from outdoors to decorate our public and private spaces to provide happiness, joy and an enormous sense of well-being.  Examples being holly, ivy, bay, fir, rosemary, laurel, boxwood and mistletoe.  One of the most important and perhaps favourite ornamental of the English evergreens, common Holly, with its glossy leaves and clusters of brilliant scarlet berries has been from very early days in the history of these islands gathered in great quantities at this time of year for decorations, both of the Church and of the home.  In old church calendars we find Christmas Eve marked templa exornantur (churches are decked) as old legend declares that the holly tree originated by springing up here and there beneath the footsteps of Christ as he walked the earth. The sharp points of the plant prophesying of His crown of thorns, the bitter bark representing His death, the red berries His blood, the white flower His resurrection.  Although Holly does not get its name from holy, its ancient origin is from “prickly”, the holly tree has become the holy tree even more so courtesy of the legend that the cross had been fashioned out of holly wood.


The use of ivy during winter also goes back thousands of years. The fact that ivy, like most hollies, stayed green throughout the year led some to believe it had magical properties and led to its use as home decor in the winter months. It too, symbolised eternal life and rebirth. In some cultures Ivy was a symbol of fidelity, marriage and friendship, and was often wound into a crown, wreath or garland. It also served as a symbol of prosperity and charity, and thus it was adopted by the early Christians, for whom it was a reminder to help the less fortunate. 


Together, holly and ivy make not just the mainstay of christmas decorations for over 6 centuries, but also a marvellous carol:


The holly and the ivy, when they are both full grown,

Of all the trees that are in the wood, the holly bears the crown.


Oh, the rising of the sun and the running of the deer,

The playing of the merry organ, sweet singing in the choir.

The holly bears a blossom as white as lily flower,

And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ to be our sweet saviour


The holly bears a berry as red as any blood,

And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ to do poor sinners good.


The holly bears a prickle as sharp as any thorn,

And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ on Christmas Day in the morn.


The holly bears a bark as bitter as any gall,

And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ for to redeem us all.

October / November 2014



With the passing of the autumn equinox, we wave goodbye to summer and embrace the inevitable shortening of days by celebrating the feast of Michaelmas.  Michaelmas, or the Feast of Michael and All Angels, celebrated on the 29th September every year is said to be the day upon which harvest had to be completed.  It therefore naturally marks the end of the productive growing season and the beginning of a new cycle of farming (and gardening), as well as the beginning of university terms.  Within the parish, many households are undergoing change as sons and daughters leave home for the first time as they embark upon higher education courses.  We wish them all well. 


However, for parents with children still at home the autumn seed gathering season is upon us (23 September - 23 October) and it provides a fantastic way to inspire everyone to get outdoors and gather seeds, fruits and nuts to make delicious and nutritious autumn treats.  Who doesn’t love a good apple and blackberry pie?  Roasted sweet chestnuts on an open fire, or sipping on a homemade Damson, Sloe or Quince gin?  Delicious. We encourage everyone to go and raid nature’s larder, now’s the time!



In the garden, at a time when the majority of flowers are coming to an end, the Michaelmas daisy will provide colour and warmth late in the growing season between late August and early October.  As suggested by the saying below, the daisy is probably associated with this celebration because St Michael is celebrated as a protector from darkness and evil, just as the daisy fights against the advancing gloom of Autumn and Winter.


                         “The Michaelmas Daisies, among dede weeds,

                         Bloom for St Michael's valorous deeds.
                         And seems the last of flowers that stood,
                         Till the feast of St. Simon and St. Jude.”



As well as gathering food to consume, let’s not forget to gather the seeds to grow the trees of the future.  National tree week is from 29th November till 7th December so get ready as it’s the UK’s largest tree celebration annually, launching the start of the winter tree planting season.  Growing trees from seed collected locally can be really advantageous in restocking areas with wood of local provenance, meaning the trees are proven to be adapted to the local environment and circumstance and so are more likely to flourish and help restore, conserve and beautify the local urban and rural areas.   Whatever tree you choose, planting can be made with the children, in memory of someone special, just for fun or to mark an important occasion.  Whatever the reason, a tree will be admired for years to come and possibly even generations, so chose carefully and make sure you get the right size for your particular space or requirement.  


As always we’re here to help with all your planting needs, why not consider planting your own hedgerow if you have the space - good for you and good for the environment and the creatures within it.

August / September 2014


This summer you may notice that some shrubs and trees are casualties of winter waterlogging and summer drought. They need to be removed but this gives rise to new opportunities to plant!  Autumn is the best time of year to do so as it gives them a chance to settle in before winter arrives and grow important feeder roots for the spring when a high level of nutrient uptake is required for bud-burst.  So start planning which tree you want and don't worry if you've only got a small garden, trees are grafted onto different rootstocks which determine their mature size, meaning you don't have to miss out whatever you're size of garden. 

Correct planting is paramount in ensuring its establishment and survival. You need to dig a square hole 3X the diameter of the root system, making sure it is deep enough to come up to where it is planted in the container but not so deep as to cover the grafted region.  Square holes prevent the roots from spiralling and restricting growth of the root system itself.  If working with a clay soil, care should be taken to fork the sides of the hole to prevent smearing (smooth sides from spade digging) which can prevent roots from penetrating into surrounding soul and thus causing problems later on. Place the tree in the hole and position the stake, usually on the windward side of the tree, before removing the tree and hitting the stake at least 2 feet down. You may want to remove the top layer of soil from the tree before reintroducing to prevent introduction of weeds to the site. The hole can be backfilled with topsoil first then subsoil and the tree wiggled to ensure the fine soil particles come into contact with the fine root hairs. Once the tree is heeled in and tied to the stake correctly, you can apply a mulch upto 5cm deep over the hole but not touching the trunk as this can cause rot and allow the introduction of disease. 

Correct planting cannot be underestimated, as a tree can give you pleasure for many years if given the right start in your garden. At MK, we provide a consultative service on which trees to plant given your unique situation and requirements and, furthermore, provide proper planting, maintenance and aftercare for years to come. We look forward to hearing from you and wish you all a nice, long Indian summer.

June / July 2014


After such a marvellous Spring, many plants, shrubs and trees are looking so wonderful already and the gardens of Keston are a riot of continually changing colour, scent and texture - what a joy for all the senses!


One particular English genus of plant is at its zenith now and it is surely worth a mention - the Rose.  According to John Gerard (1597) the Rose “… doth deserve the chief and prime place among all flours whatsoever; beeing not only esteemed for his beauty, verities, and his fragrant and odiferous smell. Which pleasant flours deserve the chiefest place in crowned and garlands, as Anacreon Thius a most ancient Greeke Poet affirmed in those Verses of a Rose beginning thus;”


The Rose is the honour and beauty of floures,

The Rose is the care and love of the Spring,

The Rose is the pleasere of th’ heavenly Pow’rs,

The boy of faire Venus, Cythera’s Darling,

Doth wrap his head round with garlands of Rose,

When to the dances of the Graces he goes.



The arrival of June means night frosts should have now disappeared meaning all bedding plants can be planted out. Before planting, add some Fish Blood & Bone fertiliser to the soil- to help roots establish quickly.  Always make sure the root ball is nicely moist and then water in again after planting, so the plants establish quicker.


By taking summer cuttings of your favourite shrubs now until early August you’ll have plenty of new stock for autumn planting. The best method for taking softwood cuttings - Hydrangeas being a good and popular example - is to cut off non-flowering vigorous shoots with 2-3 pairs of leaves.  Prepare each cutting by removing the soft tip from the shoot (because it is vulnerable to both rotting and scorch and means that once rooted, the plant does not grow upwards from the tip ensuring a bushy plant from the start) and then removing the lowest pair of leaves to make it easier to insert the cutting into the compost.  After making a hole in the compost, insert the cutting to just below the first pair of leaves. 

In the veg garden or on the allotment, pinch out any side shoots from yourtomato plants and feed once the first truss is setting fruit. You can pot up the side-shoots to create new tomato plants.  Continue to earth up potato plants as they grow. If you're growing potatoes in bags simply add more compost to half way up the plant stem.  

Look after your lawns by setting your mower blades higher in prolonged warm weather to reduce stress on the grass, not letting them dry out, applying a weed killer and applying a lawn fertiliser to encourage healthy green growth.

Over the coming 2 months, look out for amazing colour and heady fragrance with plants such as Poppies, Fox-Gloves, Monks hood, Saint John’s Wort, Coventry Bells; appreciate herbs such as Borage, Tarragon, Rosemary, Lavender, Sage, Angelica; enjoy fruit in season such as Gooseberries, Strawberries; and, indulge in seasonal vegetables including onions, fennel and potatoes.  Such a fabulous time of the year for all the senses!


As always, we’re here to help you with any jobs you may be less inclined or unable to do, please feel free to check out our website or contact us using the details below.  Happy gardening!

April / May 2014

April is a tricky month for deciding whether to sow or not.  The temptation is to tear open your new seed packets and get plants / vegetables off to an early start.  But outdoors that’s still risky.  Unless we’re lucky with a really mild spring, temperatures may not be high enough to guarantee that seeds germinate.  Especially after such a mild winter where, at the time of writing, we haven’t really had a cold snap whatsoever.  Most unusual.  Plants and trees that would normally blossom in April / May were out in early March. 


A more pressing concern may well still be the effects of the flooding this winter, causing waterlogged soil and the loss of (fruit) trees and plants for many gardeners - particularly shrubs which aren’t able to put out new roots as quickly as perennials and cannot cope for long periods of time underneath water.  Water and air occupy the same spaces within the soil structure so when the soil is saturated it prevents oxygen from reaching the roots and plants literally drown.  If you have lost trees or shrubs and are considering replacing them then good advice to follow before you replant is aerate the soil, add as much compost as you physically can (improves drainage and water holding capacity) and plant new trees and shrubs on a raised mound.  


This springtime, get out in the garden when time / weather permits and relish in the thought that summer is approaching and winter is behind us finally.  Whether to potter round and do a few jobs such as tidying paths, patios, greenhouses, preparing beds for planting or, more importantly to observe and delight in the flowers that nature provides.  If you’re lucky you may see prunus (cherries, peaches, apricots etc), camellias (if frosty, hose down before the sun hits them and damages the petals and their colour), forsythia, rhododendrons (Greek for rose-red tree (rhodo = rose red and dendron = tree), named because the first rhododendrons that were classified were very large tree-type arboreals that bore red flowers), flowering currents (ribes) and clematis species to name a few.


Jobs you may also consider include laying new turf, shaping box topiary, planting up hanging baskets and, towards end of May, planting out summer bedding.  All of which, and more, we’d be happy to help with your planning and execution.

February / March 2014
February often brings the coldest of the winter weather and, more than any other month, what to do will be determined by it.  Although it’s always tempting to plant seeds to get some early colour, remember cold and wet soil will not germinate seeds, just kill them off.  So either wait till the soil warms up naturally or use cloches or heated greenhouses to do so artificially. 
March is traditionally supposed to come in like a lion and to go out like a lamb, but this is not always true as far as strong winds are concerned.  The lion has already been well and truly roaring this year and late last, bringing with it high volumes of rainfall.  In fact, the start of the year used to be The Feast of the Annunciation, 25 March until 1752 in Britain when we adopted the Gregorian calendar and started our year on 1 January.  This is the true start to the growing season but don’t panic if the weather is bad, as plants will catch up.  Seasons have tended to start later in recent years (remember the snow either side of Easter last year!) and perhaps this trend will continue in 2014 with Spring in the garden.  Another important factor is the height of the garden above sea level, for spring is about three days later for every 100ft increase in height, whilst a southern facing slope always earlier than one which is north facing.  Remember also that spring flowers depend on “March winds and April showers”, the purpose of the winds being to help dry out the top layers of the seed-bed so that the gardener can create a good tilth.  
For established trees, shrubs, hedges and climbers, why not apply a generous layer of organic mulching material around the drip lines / roots, as this is often overlooked and will provide valuable nutrition throughout the year.
Before the growing season really kicks in, why not sharpen your tools when you have a spare hour or so as the sharper they are the cleaner their cuts will be, and the quicker they will heal.  You should always keep spade and hoe blades sharp as well as blunted tools take longer and more effort to slice through the soil.  As Confucius said “He that would perfect his work must first sharpen his tools”.
After the frosts have passed, take a good look at the state of your paths as they can be lifted now and either repaired or new ones laid before the growing season really takes off.  MK Garden Services can provide a wide range of options to suit all tastes, please see our website for details.

December 2013 / January 2014


If this winter is cold most of us will be keeping warm inside our homes instead of venturing out into the garden at this time of year .

However for the hardy there are certain winter flowering shrubs worth considering for their elegance and charm during the cold months when everything else is sleeping.  eg Mahonia ‘Charity’, Winter Honeysuckle, Sweet Box and Witch Hazel not only add colour but also delight by giving a wonderful fragrance.

Winter is the time of the year when trees need pruning whilst they are dormant to minimise bleeding of sap.  This includes renovation pruning of some fruits such as apples & pears (not plum) to ensure a good crop the following season and pruning of most deciduous trees (except birch, walnut, maple, horse chestnut and cherry) which may have outgrown their space.  Furthermore it is a good time of year to remove all dead or diseased branches which may have become very dangerous after the recent storm or future snowy conditions.

Also be sure to check your fencing and shed or summer house roofing for damage or leaks as repairs left unattended now can lead to bigger costs to fix later.

Last but not least, keep putting out feed for the birds and wildlife as sources are scarce at this time of year.

We hope everyone has a very happy Christmas with their friends, families and loved ones and we wish all parishoners a prosperous new year.  Thanks for reading!

October / November 2013


What wonderful summer weather we've all had - we certainly got our wish for more watering!  


A sense of community in Keston underlies life here at all times of year but it is during the summer months when events and get-togethers are planned outdoors that this spirit is particularly strengthened and enjoyed.  Gardens become the focal point for socialising and spending time relaxing and enjoying life and all the hard work is constantly repaid as flowers come into bloom, shrubs grow and change colour and fruit and vegetables ripen and taste exquisite.


Now is a good time of year to take stock and start planning for next, before you prune things back.  You may want more of something you love and now is the time to collect seeds, take semi-ripe cuttings and / or divide herbaceous perrenials to ensure your borders are more full of this next year. Furthermore, if you've decided you want a hardy deciduous tree, shrub or climber next year, which you currently do not have, then why not pop down to the garden centre and plant it.


If you want to freshen up the layout of your garden rather than just what's in the borders, plan landscaping projects now. Think about laying new turf or repairing tired lawns, patios, paths, sheds; building retaining walls (using brick or railway sleepers); replacing fences or planting Kentish hedge rows as alternatives to panels; making raised beds for vegetable patches etc. If you've got a plan then we'd be only too pleased to make it into a reality.


Digging over beds now is importnat to cleanse the ground of annual weeds, bury crop residues and and enable winter frosts to break up the larger clods of earth.  If you've got a compost heap going then you can add all the dead and cut plant matter together with the increasing number of leaves.  Compost heaps are not only fantastic for continuing the garden's cycle of life but act as important 'homes for nature' for many declining UK wildlife species.


‘Wild About Gardens' Week between October 25–31 is aimed at making our gardens naturally more biodiverse.  The RSPB reports that 60 per cent of species in the UK have suffered declines in the past few decades. Gardens provide a valuable lifeline for struggling species like starlings, toads, hedgehogs and butterflies.  This autumn, don’t clean up your garden too much for the winter – leave some messy bits as 'sterile' gardens are contributing to the decline in wildlife. Instead, build ‘homes for nature’: nest boxes, birdfeeders, log piles, nectar plants, fruiting shrubs, wall climbers and ponds provide valuable habitats; leave some weeds and garden debris, let the grass stay long, don’t cut all the nettles, and cut a hole in your fence for the hedgehogs. 

If we all do our bit then we can help to maintain our existing community in the very widest sense, and create new opportunities for all life that exists within it.


MK's Garden Diary

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