Thursday, 31 December 2009

Are you eating your garden?

Some time ago I wrote a piece about my new social front garden and how, in the summer, it became a focus for cups of tea with neighbours, and chats with passing strangers. Now I’m hoping the interest will increase, since I’ve planted some fruit trees – a line of columnar plums, greengages and cherries (minarettes and duo-minarettes from the Ken Muir mail-order nursery) alongside my decked path, leading up to a standard cherry “Merton’s Glory” on the dwarfing rootstock “Gisela” from the same supplier. In between the trees, I’ve planted Blueberry and Bilberry bushes in large meshed bags which are buried in the ground and filled with a mix of soil & ericaceous compost. The intention of this is to provide the berry bushes with the acid conditions they enjoy, whilst keeping the soil around the trees a more neutral pH. As this is my front garden, I’m hoping not to resort to netting to protect the fruit from birds – I’m quite happy to share some of the produce with them, but I’d like some reward for myself too. We already have an Amelanchier tree in this garden which produces edible berries as well as being very decorative – though I’ve never yet managed to beat the blackbirds to the crop!
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Eating flowers ...


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Many ornamental plants are also edible.


Obvious things are the culinary herbs – we grow various species of Thyme and Oregano in our Purbeck stone planter wall (these will also grow readily in rocky crevices or gaps in paving, etc), Rosemary in small bush form (keeping it compact and fresh by clipping back after spring / early summer flowering), Sage in several colours, Bronze Fennel in the very dry places, Chives in moister places and Apple Mint (in a pot to stop it being invasive).

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Less obviously we grow Borage - the leaves can be used like spinach and the very pretty cucumber-tasting flowers used in salads or to decorate desserts or drinks; the peppery leaves and flower petals of Nasturtiums (cleaned of aphids!) are great in salads or sandwiches where I use them in place of watercress. Rocket is a very common ingredient now in “gourmet” salads. Daylillies - Hemerocallis, NOT Lillium species which are poisonous - can be deep fried, or used in desserts; Lavender flowers are also sweet & fragrant in savoury dishes & baking.

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Most of these aromatic plants are also nectar-rich, providing a food source for bees as well as ourselves, so doing a valuable job for the environment generally, as discussed in my earlier blog posts here and here .

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Do please be careful – some flowers are poisonous or can affect allergy sufferers – for more information see these recipe sites:



Sustainable gardens ...


Sustainable gardens expert, Mark Laurence has some great ideas on urban living and sustainability that he calls “whole systems” thinking - including green roofs which I've previously blogged about - and green walling. What I find most interesting are his ideas for growing foods – the edible landscape - where most of the plants in a design can be used as edible crops.

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Mine is a small garden, and the potential for expansive cropping is limited, but if you have a larger space available, an article in the Telegraph by Bunny Guinness explains about forest gardens, first pioneered by Robert A de J Hart in the sixties.

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The edible playground garden, which won an award at Chelsea in 2008 was created to encourage schools to build their own vegetable garden. There’s more information on edible school gardens here.

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Encouragement from the top?


Even the American president is “on message” - growing crops at the White House !

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Lastly, I can’t leave this topic without a mention of my Twitter friend, Tracey, whose blog Norfolkkitchen provides amusing stories & fabulous recipes for food using ingredients from her garden and foraged from the local environment. Happy eating in 2010!

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Disclaimer: The author, Steve Rice, has thoroughly researched all the plants (leaves or flowers) mentioned in this article as edible. However, individuals consuming the flowers, plants, or any derivatives do so entirely at their own risk and the author cannot be held responsible for any adverse reactions.
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If you would like to read this blog regularly, but are not sure how o suscribe, click here.

Friday, 18 December 2009

School Woodland / Wildlife Garden: Progress

Earlier this year I was invited to design a woodland / wildlife garden for a local infant school.

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The school has a good-sized playing field alongside the playground and they had already planted a corner of the field with mixed tree saplings, but wanted help to develop it as a wildlife area with trails and study spaces which could be used as an educational resource, but which would also be fun for the children.

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My design includes a variety of habitats - scrub & hedgerow, trees with underplanted storeys of shrubs and perennials, a sunken bog area alongside a raised pond with a pebble beach, and adjacent wildflower meadow areas. There's also a living willow tunnel, a green-roofed shelter and we intend to include nesting boxes for birds, bats, hedgehogs, bees, lacewings and ladybirds.

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After completing and agreeing the concept design with the school, I structured the project into self-contained stages - each of which has an incremental, usable result, within a limited budget.




I'm very pleased to say that the school's fundraising efforts have been progressing well and the school "Friends" committee has approved starting work on the first 2 stages early in the new year. We're hoping that volunteers from amongst the community will take on some of the physical work - which will not only save costs but give everyone involved a sense of ownership and pride in the end result.

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The "Friends" group is a registered charity and organises events throughout the year to raise funds for projects at the school. They also liaise with businesses who may be willing to give donations or sponsorship. If you are in a position to help, please contact me and I'll be very pleased to introduce you to the school.

Monday, 14 December 2009

A Tour Around My Blog

If you're already familiar with blogs, and how to subscribe to them, this post will not be of interest to you - my apologies! On the other hand, if you’ve found your way here, but don’t know much about blogs, here’s a quick description of mine own humble offering – including how to get more, if you should like it!

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The intention of my blog is to write short articles which are related to garden design – could be design ideas, gardens to visit, book reviews, gardening topics, ecological aspects, and so on. The material is written by me, usually related to something I’ve recently experienced or thought about, but could also be prompted by something in the news media or “blogosphere”. I try to write at least one post (a short article) per week. I also try to include links to other related sources on the web so that you can get further information, as well as my personal opinions, about the post topic.

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The format of the blog screen





















There is a central, scrollable, panel – the grey sidebars to the left and right are blank space which could be used for advertising, but I don’t currently do that. Within the scrollable panel, beneath the main heading, the wider left side is the series of posts, whilst the narrow right side has various “widgets” that add function to the blog – for example, the “follow”, “subscribe” and “search” facilities – more about these below.
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The post itself is text, pictures and/or video clips, which you can scroll through. I try to structure it with paragraph blocks and sub-headings to make it more readable, and to allow you to more easily scan through for a sub-topic of interest. Within the text, certain words or phrases may be underlined and in a different colour - if you hover your cursor over them it changes to a hand symbol – these are links to other places either within my blog or another source on the web. Just click to go there – you can use the back arrow on your browser to return to the blog post.

At the bottom of the post























are the labels (keywords) which I’ve tagged the topic with – click on any of these to show other posts in my blog which include the same label. The labels are followed by any comments left by other people (if it just shows a value, e.g. “3 comments” click on the word comments to see them) and a box where you are welcome to add your own comments & opinions and so take part in the discussions. Beneath the comments section there will either be the heading for the next post or, if you came into the blog via a specific article link, the words “newer post” (which is the next post in time sequence), “home” (which takes you to the top of the blog – i.e. the latest post) and “older post” (which is the previous post in time sequence) – just click on any of these words to take the indicated action.

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Just before the labels is a small envelope icon with an arrow pointing from it. If you found the post interesting and have a friend or contact who might be interested, you can notify them of it by email. Click on the envelope symbol to bring up a window to enter your friend(s) email address(es), together with any message you’d like to include, then hit the send email button. They will get your note and a link to take them directly to the blog post; they can read it and, if they like it, follow, subscribe or email to their friends.
























The widgets ...

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As I said at the beginning, the right hand side has a series of action “widgets”. Starting from the top these are:

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Followers – if you like my blog and would like to automatically receive new posts, one way is to become a follower. Click on the follow button which is just above the symbols (avatars) of my current followers. If you’re not signed-in to a Google account, you’ll get a window asking you to sign in using an existing Google, Twitter or Yahoo account – if you haven’t got one, there’s an option to easily set one up – it’s free!


























Once you’ve signed in, you’ll be asked whether you want to follow the blog publicly or privately, as explained on the screen. Click the button to select your choice, then click Follow this blog – my blog will be added to your reading list and show new posts as I publish them.

























Subscribe to is an alternative way to automatically receive new posts and/or comments which is useful if you already receive other internet news feeds via an RSS facility such as Google Reader. Click the down arrow alongside posts or comments to show the list of subscription services and just click on the one you use.

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Search this blog allows you to search my entire blog archive for words or phrases of interest.

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My website gives you a direct link to my main website http://www.blooming-good-gardens.co.uk/ if you’re interested in finding out more about my garden design services.
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Blog archive shows the posts, by title, for the current month, and the number of posts for previous time periods. You can click any title to go to that post, or click the arrow alongside a previous time period to show the post titles for that period, or click the time period name (e.g. September) to go to the series of posts for that period.

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Twitter updates shows the most recent tweets from my Twitter timeline – click on any of the names to go to that person’s timeline, or the referenced web page link. If you’d like to follow my tweets just click on the words follow me on Twitter.
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About me lets you see a bit more information about me – for example any blogs which I’m following via Google Friend Connect – just click on view my complete profile.

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So there you have it – my tour’s complete – now why not follow or subscribe – costs you nothing!

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Walking Around a Garden Design

Using 3D Animation in Vectorworks Landmark
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A short while ago, I blogged about Tamsin Slatter's book "Residential Garden Design with Vectorworks Landmark". With the help of this I've now mastered some of the skills of using Vectorworks to develop 3D representations of a garden design, and I've explored further into this, including the animated "movie" facility. So here's a short sequence which allows a client to "walk around" the design and see how it suits them.
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At this stage it may not be the most impressive artwork, especially the robotic-looking human figures, but even they help to give the animation a sense of scale - and my clients get a much better feel for the design than could ever be achieved from a 2D plan or sketch view.
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The next 2 clips show an animation of the sun sweeping around the garden so that the shadow effects of the house, structures and planting can be explored. The animation is set for the summer solstice (June 21st), but could be changed to explore how the light & shade work at other times of the year.
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For the "techies":
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My walk around animation is a "move along path" camera using 20 normal perspective views, rendered using "final quality Renderworks". I specified it at 10 Quicktime fps, so there's around 270 frames in the sequence. On my HP laptop (Windows Vista, Core-2 Duo T5800 2.0Ghz processor, 3GB RAM) it takes not far short of 2 hours to generate! The animation seems a bit "hurried" and plays much better at 1/2 speed in Quicktime, so I should probably slow it to "time scale 0.5" when I generate it - next time I've got 3 or 4 hours of idle time on my machine!!! The other 2 clips are "solar animations" using a high elevation orthogonol view and a normal perspective view. These take about 40 minutes to generate at 10 fps.

The British Garden in Winter

Considering all the rain we’ve had lately, and looking at my own soggy garden, I asked myself:


















“Can a garden look good in a British winter?”

I mean, it’s all very well the books & glossies eulogising about “frosted seed heads and frozen spiders’ webs on crisp, sunny days” but what about the dull, damp weather which seem to form so much of our winter months?

For gardens on a somewhat grander scale than mine, the Sir Harold Hillier Gardens, near Romsey in Hampshire boasts the largest winter garden in Europe, using massed plantings to give good winter structure and colour – though The National Trust now seems to challenge this, claiming their property at Dunham Massey: Cheshire, to be the largest winter garden of its kind in England! Their site also offers some advice on creating your own winter garden

Looking good whatever the season...

As a professional garden designer, I am (of course!) convinced that a great design can lay the foundation for a garden which will look good whatever the season - but what makes “a great design”? Well, it should be composed of strong basic shapes and have a balance of mass & space; it should employ structures such as walls, screens & pergolas - using materials which are sympathetic to the property and its environment - together with architectural planting such as hedges and groups of trees & shrubs, to create framing of any external views or to focus attention to interests within the garden space if there are no external views, as would be the case in most suburban / town gardens. The highlights in such a design then arise from the counterpoints of light & shade, colour & texture set against these basic elements - and it is the changing mood of this relationship through the seasons which brings dynamism, excitement & subtlety to the design. Andy Sturgeon addresses this subject in a Guardian article, stating that “Winter lays bare the bones of a garden and so is a good test of the strength of its design.”


What sort of planting?

In the main, the planting of a garden that has winter interest will rely on trees & shrubs, not perennials, for its form, and on berries, stem/bark and foliage, rather than flowers, for colour.

Perennials, ferns & grasses...

To avoid it looking a soggy mess on those days when the climate is not bright sun & frost, select perennials with interesting seed heads that retain strong verticals, or good mounding forms, as they die back, or those that retain good leaf structure ready for flowering in early spring. Plants such as Echinacea, Echinops, Foeniculum, Geranium, Hellebores, Heuchera, Lythrum, Papaver, Rudbeckia, Salvia, Sedum spectabile and Veronica fit the bill.
Also make use of the ornamental grasses – in a garden of sufficient size to cope with its bulk I love the way a stand of Miscanthus species can capture low light levels in their faded-amber colouring; in smaller gardens use billowy drifts of Stipa tenuissima, perhaps blended with the taller and more erect grasses like Panicum and Calamagrostis. I’m especially fond of Pennisetum ‘Red Buttons’ which retains a low mound of arching basal leaves and holds the faded flower heads aloft on wiry stems through the worst of gales, to wave around in gentler breezes, looking delightful against even a winter sky, or a reflection of that sky in a still pool. Grass-like perennials such as Dierama and even some of the Irises & Kniphofias can be used to similar effect.

My last mention in this section goes to the ferns, which are, in the main, naturally at home in damp or soggy, low-light conditions. The various genera & species cover a range of sizes, and most have that beautiful “shuttlecock” shape with either glorious bronze deciduous fronds or semi- or fully- evergreen fronds in greens that range from pale-with-reddish tints through to near-black. They’ll also reward you with the fascinating “bishop’s crosier” forms of their new growth at the end of winter – these develop astoundingly quickly into their fresh fronds.

Don’t be too keen to clear up your perennials after they’ve flowered - you can see my earlier blog on the virtues of not doing too much autumn tidying up work here but remember that leaving fallen leaves to rot down beneath the trees will work best around shrubs and those perennial plants that would naturally exist as woodland marginals (Aconitum, Anemone hybrids, Astrantia, Bergenia, Brunnera, Dicentra, Epimedium, Geranium sylvaticum, Polygonatum, Pulmonaria, and Tiarella), not those which like sun & open spaces – as these may well rot themselves if buried under wet leaves.

Trees...

There aren’t too many trees (other than conifers, of which there are a great many forms & colours) which are reliably evergreen in our climate, the main ones being Acacia dealbata (Mimosa), Arbutus (Strawberry Tree), Cordyline (Cabbage Palm), Eucalyptus (Gum Trees), Ilex (Holly), Ligustrum lucidum (Chinese Privet), Luma apiculata (Myrtle family), Magnolia grandiflora, Pittosporum, Prunus laurocerasus or Prunus lusitanica (Laurel), and Quercus ilex (Holm Oak) – though, of these, all but the Holly will only succeed in sheltered aspects in the milder parts of southern England and many are very slow growing, more often regarded as shrubs or hedging than trees.

In fact, whilst I like to include evergreen structure – most often in the form of shrubs rather than trees – it’s the deciduous trees that can be the real stars of winter structure. Go for those with great “skeletal” form and amazing bark textures or colours. Some of my favourites are:

Acer griseum (Paper Bark Maple), with flaking, curling, coppery bark which reveals a shiny cinnamon-coloured “skin” beneath, and has pretty leaves through the summer that take on great autumn colours too; it’s a small, slow-growing tree, so is ideal for a small garden’s focal point and associates really well with ground-cover perennials & grasses.
Acer capillipes (Snake-Bark Maple) which has striped grey-green bark on the trunk and older branches. This is also a small tree, but with a much denser crown and larger leaves that have all the colours of New England in just one tree during the autumn.
Betula albosinensis var. septentrionalis (Chinese Birch) a taller, graceful tree with grey-pink peeling bark or Betula utilis var. Jacquemontii (Himalayan Birch) which is a larger tree with stark white bark on its select cultivars such as ‘Dorenbos’, ‘Grayswood Ghost’ and ‘Jermyns’. Our native Betula pendula (Silver Birch) can also be very attractive with its rough, craggy silver-and-charcoal bark. Prunus (Cherry) varieties, especially P. Sargentii and P. Serrula are justifiably renowned for their shiny chestnut / mahogany bark.
Salix alba and S. daphnoides (Willow) varieties also have strongly coloured winter stems that give a similar effect to the Cornus (Dogwood) shrubs, but on a larger scale. They need to be hard pruned by stooling or pollarding to ensure a good supply of the colourful young stems.

For trees that don’t have especially good bark colour, but which retain colourful berries, remember the Euonymus europaeus (Spindle) and Sorbus aucuparia (Rowan, Mountain Ash) varieties, especially those with yellow or white-pink fruits, rather than orange-red fruits, as they are less appealing to birds, and so last longer – some examples being S. cashmiriana, S. hupehensis, S. vilmorinii, S. xanthocarpa and S. ‘Joseph Rock’. There are also winter-flowering trees, notably Prunus, and in particular P. subhirtella ‘Autumnalis’ which will blossom from November through to early spring.

Shrubs...

Amongst the many winter-flowering evergreen shrubs that make great companions to the trees are: Camellia varieties (but protect from exposure to icy winds and don’t plant facing east as the quick-thaw after frost will damage the flowers), Daphne odora, Garrya elliptica, Mahonia japonica & M. media varieties, Sarcococca and Viburnum tinus. Also don’t forget the luscious-looking, winter-lasting berries of Gaultheria (Pernettya) mucronata varieties. Deciduous winter-flowering shrubs include Chimonanthus, Corylus, Daphne, Hamamelis, Jasminum nudiflorum,
Lonicera purpusii, Stachyurus and Viburnum.

More information on plants which look good in winter can be found in this Telegraph article.

Where to find out more...
Obviously, designing a garden with great winter-appeal needs more than just selecting individual plant species that last well or provide foliage, fruit or flower colour. It’s the arrangement and combination of these, and other artefacts such as benches, planters and so on, which make the garden work. So, do some homework ... buy or borrow books which cover designing with plants – I can recommend the Hillier Gardener’s Guide series published by David & Charles – or, if you don’t have the time or enthusiasm, ask for help from a professional garden designer!

So, can a well-designed garden look good in a British winter? You bet it can!

Monday, 16 November 2009

Green Roofs

Aiming to remain eco-aware in my design work I attended a course on green roofs recently, organised by the Brighton Permaculture Trust and Brighton and Hove Building Green. The tutors were Dusty Gedge and John Little, and we learned about the ethos and theory of living roofs, as well as the practicalities of construction. It was gratifying to meet people from many different countries, and many different disciplines, all of whom were interested in this topic.
Here are some photos of a community building and housing project we visited in Brighton.






What are green roofs?


For anyone who hasn’t heard of green roofs and the benefits they can bring, here’s just a very short introduction. The term refers to a flat or gently-pitched roof (usually less than 30 degrees) with a growing medium laid over a root-resistant waterproofing layer, which supports living plants. Whilst this may seem somewhat unusual to us in the UK, their use is increasing, with cities like Sheffield at the forefront and many others, including London & Brighton, adopting them for many of the situations listed below. They are a centuries-old tradition in Scandinavian countries, and they have been used for a long time in other European countries. Many countries, most notably Germany and many states in the USA, promote their use as part of their town & city planning laws – often requiring a percentage of green roof space as part of the conditions for granting development permission.


Why is this? What are the advantages?


Firstly, and most obviously, is the beneficial effect of adding extra “green space” for aesthetic and ecological purposes – especially in large cities where roof space can be over 75% of the geographical area. However - and here’s why they’re important for planners and commercial interests - they have solid economic benefits. Green roofs can increase the thermal insulation of roofs, resulting in lower energy requirements (and hence lower carbon footprints) for winter heating and summer cooling. The presence of the green roof can help to protect the waterproofing of the roof by removing exposure to UV radiation and reducing the temperature extremes encountered - which prolongs the life of the roof. The evapo-transpiration of the vegetation produces a cooling effect that mitigates the higher temperatures encountered in cities (the “urban heat-island” effect), improving the climate, reducing humidity, and lowering energy demand. The vegetation can also help improve air quality by filtering out contaminants and adding oxygen. Green roofs help to reduce both the volume and rate of rainwater run-off which needs to be managed during storms, giving economic benefits in reduced storm-water engineering requirements and costs.


Don’t they damage buildings and become a maintenance chore?


The answer is most definitely NO! Provided that the green roof is designed to be within the load-bearing capacity of the building and the root-protected waterproofing and drainage is properly addressed, an extensive green roof is very low maintenance.


There are several “flavours” of green roof, mainly associated with the depth and fertility of the soil (more properly, “substrate”) and hence the type of planting which will succeed. These are broadly grouped into:

1) Intensive: these have deep, fertile soil and the planting (perhaps even including trees) is very similar to that in a ground-level garden – in fact, they are more usually described as a roof garden. They require a very high level of maintenance, just as would a ground-level garden, and don’t offer much in the way of additional ecological benefit since the planting & habitat is so similar;

2) Extensive: these have relatively thin substrates – typically from 50mm (2”) to 200mm (8”) thickness and are deliberately of low fertility. In this way they provide very different conditions to ground-level gardens and are colonised by very different plants – mainly low-growing, drought-tolerant, nectar-rich flowering species, often & ideally native, which gives food & habitat to a wide range of insects & invertebrates, and the birds which feed on them. They are very low maintenance, and this form is what is normally meant by “green roof”;

3) Semi-intensive: refers to a compromise between these two extremes, where varying conditions are provided across the extent of a (reasonably large) roof space, such that a mix of habitat and planting can be used – even including food crops.



Where would an extensive green roof be used?


Around the home - on free-standing structures such as sheds, garages, summerhouses, garden offices, fuel tanks & bunkers, etc. or on parts of the main building such as flat-roofed houses or extensions to them;


At schools - they could be used on similar building structures, or for cycle shelters and outdoor shelters or classrooms, perhaps associated with school crop or wildlife gardens;

In Streets - they could be used for street furniture like bus stations and shelters, train platform covers, electricity sub-station roofs and so on;

For commercial properties - they could be used over factory units and warehousing, supermarkets and their trolley parks ... the list is endless!


You can find out more by visiting Livingroofs.org.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Residential Garden Design with Vectorworks Landmark

“Residential Garden Design with Vectorworks Landmark”
by Tamsin Slatter





This is a great book! Or, perhaps, I should say “a great manual” since I don’t suppose there are too many sad people like me who would take it to bed to read!


For anyone completely unfamiliar with “Vectorworks” here’s a brief bit of background. When I first started out from my college Garden Design course, I tried out several of the very cheap “design your own garden” programs before giving up and returning (literally) to my drawing board. I’m not saying that these programs don’t have their place – but that isn’t in the toolkit of a professional designer. A couple of years ago, I looked again at professional-level CAD packages and decided that, for me, Vectorworks looked the best and that it would be a worthwhile investment for my business. I opted for the “Landmark” and “Renderworks” components, in addition to Vectorworks itself (there are other components specifically for Interior Design, Architecture, Engineering and so on), which together provide huge capability – but, unsurprisingly, with a huge learning curve to become truly proficient and efficient in their usage.

I took a 20-hour training course and, after an initial delay due to other work commitments, started to use the package for my design work. With practice, I got fairly good at drawing up my surveys, working up concept plans, hard landscape construction drawings and soft landscape planting plans. What I hadn’t got to grips with, because it seemed too difficult, was using the 3D modelling capabilities – hence I was not making use of Renderworks, nor offering my clients the benefit of 3D views, with lighting and shadow shown at different times of day, or seasons of the year. Instead, I resorted to separate hand-drawn sketches or simple Google Sketchup models. This also meant that I was putting in extra effort developing isolated section views of construction drawings in addition to the plan views and the hand-drawn sketches.
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That’s where this book comes in!
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Tamsin prepared this book for Nemetschek, the developers of Vectorworks. She has excellent credentials for this – 20 years working for IT software companies before retraining as a garden/landscape designer, learning to make best use of the Vectorworks CAD system and becoming a renowned trainer and the UK’s leading expert in the software. In addition to this expertise, she has a personality, which really comes across in the friendly “sitting next to Nellie” style of this book.

So why’s it so good?

Firstly, the concept: It’s a project-based workbook which takes you on a journey from when you first, excitedly, fire up Vectorworks after installing it on your machine, into how it looks & feels, how to set up an efficient & effective “virtual drawing board”, and into the design workflow based on a sample project. This goes right from bringing in a survey file or drawing up your own survey data, through developing a draft plan, creating the 3D hardscape features, adding lighting (both daytime sunlight and nightscape artificial lights), creating planting schemes with varying levels of detail, to end up with hardcopy of plans, perspective views, materials and plant schedules – the lot!

Secondly, the practicalities: The book itself is convenient A5 size, and spiral-bound, so it lays flat within a very small footprint on your desk, or even held in one hand, while guiding your mouse with the other. It includes colour screen images or sections of them throughout, which are well-positioned to match the text. There’s a CD which holds both a PDF copy of the book and a set of Vectorworks files which constitute the sample project at various stages within the workflow and exercise files so that you can try things out without screwing up the project files.

After completing this book and project, the 3D features of Vectorworks/Landmark are completely de-mystified and just make sense as the natural way of working with the package – I found that I could easily work through my current design project alongside the book’s sample project and gain all the benefits and efficiencies which I’d been missing out on. I’m not saying that the supplied Vectorworks manuals aren't useful, but they are descriptive of what the various tools do, not how they are applied, and they seem to be written by “techies” not practitioners – which left me using only a fraction of the package in the 12-months-plus which I’d employed it. Not any more!


I do have some criticisms – there are a lot of “typos” which a better proof-reading should have found, though usually these don’t impact on comprehension. The screen-image clips are very small – presumably to keep the physical size of the book down – which is fine if you’re just using them as a visual cue to what you’re seeing on your screen as you work through the project, but sometimes they make using the book for reference difficult - unless you have much more acute vision than me.


My major criticism is that the book has no index, so to use it for reference you either have to thumb through the contents pages, which list topics within the workflow of the sample project, and then skip-read through that section; or you have to resort to the PDF copy and use Adobe reader’s “find” facilities to locate the item you need. The sample project is “split-level”, so the book does cover retaining walls, steps, raised beds and so on, but it doesn’t cover site modelling of a “real” situation where there are undulating contours and how to construct a design over this. Nor does it discuss “real” hardscape which has a rainwater run-off gradient. Perhaps these might be the subject of a future “advanced” landscape design book.

Conclusions:

Would I recommend this book? Wholeheartedly and without reservation!


Who would benefit from this book? Students of Garden Design or experienced designers who are new to Vectorworks, and those people, like me, who are experienced users of Vectorworks but who’ve shied away from some of the most productive parts of the package because they seemed “too difficult”.


One final word of caution – make sure you have the appropriate version of the Vectorworks software - the book is for Vectorworks 2009, so you can’t read the exercise and sample project files if you’re running Vectorworks 2008 or below, though you could possibly manage with a 2009 demo version on another machine. If you’re lucky enough to have Vectorworks 2010, it should work OK, but I presume there’s a revision or new edition coming along to pick up on the enhanced 2010 features.


Steve Rice, Blooming Good Gardens, Southampton, UK

Friday, 6 November 2009

Garden Therapy

A survey by the National Trust showed that 70% of the population think that spending time in their gardens is important for their quality of life. Certainly, it seems, horticultural therapy is widely being accepted as an aid for people with many differing needs. A book edited by Simpson and Strauss discusses the healing potential of horticultural therapy as used by health professionals for a wide range of problems - physical disabilities, brain injuries, mental health issues.

Last year I visited a project in Southampton, The Mayfield Nursery, which offers a working environment for people suffering mental health problems. They raise and supply a good range of plants for sale, and also have special events throughout the year.

The Minstead Training Project is part of a charitable organisation which provides horticultural training and residential care for young people with learning difficulties at Furzey Gardens. The project offers training in work and social skills through horticulture.

The Normandy Community Therapy Garden aims to “share the joy of practical horticulture with people of all ages especially those who have any form of disability or learning difficulty.” They are a small charity, serving the areas of Guildford, Mytchett, Farnborough, Camberley, Woking, Farnham and Godalming.

Thrive is a charity which champions the use of gardening to change the lives of people with disabilities, whether rebuilding a person’s strength after an accident or illness, or providing a purpose for people coping with difficulty in their lives. They have one project in Reading, Berkshire, and one in Battersea Park, London, as well as supporting around 900 other gardening projects around the country. Thrive has launched its Green Circle project in Hampshire, which raises awareness of the importance of older people being able to continue gardening, and provides information and advice on how they can do this.

If you’re interest in colour therapy in the garden try here where Jill Crooks gives some design advice for creating moods through colour – exciting the senses, inspiring your day, creating tranquillity, brightening shady corners, symbolism of colour. She cites Gay Search’s book “The Healing Garden” (BBC Books, 2001).

The Institute of Horticulture Newsletter November 2009 gives details of some research by Plants for People showing that planting in any setting can increase happiness and decrease stress, as well as creating a fresher environment in which to live, suggesting that businesses as well as homes can benefit from interior landscaping, with employees becoming more productive and less likely to be absent through minor illness when plants are present in the office. Some of the earliest work on the use of plants for improving indoor environments was done by NASA back in the 80s, by the way.

Thank goodness the importance of gardens (and the activity of gardening) to our own health and well-being, as well as that of the wildlife that we share them with, is becoming more widely understood.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Those DM twitter Spammers

I’m pretty much a newcomer to the social media platforms, but I’ve noticed a recent spate of twitter users (“tweeple”) whose accounts seem to have been hijacked and used by persons unknown to send out tweets in the hacked person’s name. These are sent as direct messages (DMs) to the followers of the hacked account and include a hyperlink to direct you to a particular website.

Once they’ve become aware of it, the owners of the hacked accounts have sent out warnings that the DMs are not from them, and not to open the link. I don’t know if the link genuinely takes you to something interesting, or to a malicious website complete with viral attack software – I’ve been trying not to “fall for it” so haven’t followed the link.

How can your account get hacked? I’m not an IT specialist, nor a “hacker”, so I don’t really know, but I wondered if it was another example of phishing like those which are commonly used to try to get you to reveal online banking passwords - you know, the ones that say they’re the security department of the bank or building society, complete with a copy of their logo / branding, and try to get you to “confirm” your details.

It seems to me that the “new follower” notification from twitter would be a good candidate for a phishing scam. It could work like this:

1. You receive what looks like a new follower email notification, but which is really a cloned copy.
2. You click on any of the hyperlinks (new followers name or avatar, etc.) and this takes you not to twitter, but to the malicious site.
3. The malicious site then presents a clone of the twitter sign-in panel; if you’re unsuspecting you enter your account name & password – bingo they’ve got you!
4. The hackers can then use your twitter account to send the scam messages from your account to your followers. They use DMs since these are private and don’t appear on your timeline – so you’re less likely to spot that your account has been used.

This may not be how it works (maybe someone could comment to tell me?), but the precaution which I take, as with any other email that has direct hyperlinks, is to be suspicious! If you hover your mouse over the links, your browser will usually show where the link will take you – and if it doesn’t seem right, don’t follow it. For the twitter “new-follower” message I always go to the person’s profile from my twitter home screen, not from the email link, so I can’t be misdirected to a bogus website.

Apologies for straying off my usual garden / design topics, normal service will resume on next post!

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

More about bees

I just have to mention this important topic again (previous blog here). A programme on Radio 4 last week – “The Plight of the Bumblebee” – emphasised the importance of bumblebees to pollination. Apparently bumblebee tongues are generally longer than those of honeybees, and able to pollinate differently-shaped flowers. The Bumble Bee Conservation Trust says that, of our 27 native bumblebees, 3 are extinct, and several others threatened. The decline in bumblebees not only adversely affects our food supplies, but the general colour of our countryside, where wildflower species will disappear, impacting on other wildlife which is dependent on these plants.

The Radio 4 programme had some interesting snippets: the use of specially-trained dogs to seek out bumblebee nests in the wild; bumblebees giving a high-pitched buzz while inside a flower, to dislodge the pollen; large areas of land at Dungeness being planted with bumblebee-friendly meadows, where short-haired bumblebees are to be re-introduced from New Zealand, where they were sent from Britain over a century ago (see also here).

As pointed out in “The Plight of the Bumblebee”, if you take all the gardens (and even window boxes) in Britain, the area of land equals more than all of our conservation areas put together, so we can all do our part by growing just a few bee-friendly plants, and avoid modern bedding plants, which are mainly sterile hybrids, with no pollen.
More links on bumblebees:

http://www.nhm.ac.uk/research-curation/research/projects/bombus/

http://hercules.users.netlink.co.uk/Bee.html

http://www.open2.net/springwatch/bumblebees.html

http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/genus/Bumblebee

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Hillier Nurseries Cash & Carry

A big thank you to Hillier Nurseries “Cash & Carry” for their trade open day last week. This proved a very popular event with garden designers, landscape architects and landscapers coming along from a wide geographic area. We were treated in several ways – firstly, and most importantly, with a tour of the revised cash & carry facility (formerly known as the “LCS” – Landscape Collection Service) which showed the huge range of stock – in both variety and sizes – now available, and the very much improved layout which will make browsing the stock for substitutions, extras or even new ideas / inspirations a more time-effective proposition for professionals. The tours were guided by Andrew McIndoe, Deputy MD of Hillier Garden Centres & Nurseries, and Jim Hillier, with his excellent knowledge of all-things-trees.

After the tour, the Hillier team extended their hospitality with tea/coffee and great cakes before a presentation by Andrew on some simple planting combinations to make fabulous use of foliage textures and colours for both border schemes and patio containers. We were then free to wander around the site before leaving with our “goodie bag” containing some notes based on Andrew’s talk, the Cash & Carry stock list, a Heuchera ‘ Peach Flambe’ and a copy of Andrew & Rosamond McIndoe’s book “Planting with Trees” (pub. David & Charles, 2007, ISBN-13: 978-0-7153-2717-3) which is part of the Hillier Gardener’s Guides series.

Hillier Nurseries Cash & Carry is in Jermyns Lane, Ampfield, near Romsey and can be contacted by phone on 01794 368832 or by email at: landscapecolllection@hillier.co.uk

Monday, 19 October 2009

Seed Banks

I was interested to hear about the milestone for the Kew Millennium Seed Bank on Radio 4’s Today programme recently. They have just banked the 24,200th plant species - a Chinese pink wild banana that is much loved by Asian elephants – bringing them to their initial target of collecting 10% of the world’s known wild plant species.

Apparently four plant species risk extinction every day, and the seed bank partnership is working to collect and save seeds worldwide. Kew’s seed bank is based at Wakehurst Place, but their partners around the world also have seed conservation centres. The collection is being used for scientific research, helping poor communities adapt to climate change, for medical research, and for restoring extinct species to the wild. Kew has an “adopt-a-seed” initiative for as little as £25.

On a more down-to-earth level (sorry for the pun) the charity Garden Organic (formerly the Henry Doubleday Research Organisation) maintains a heritage seed library which aims to conserve varieties of vegetables not otherwise widely available. Rather than being a gene bank, they say, they will make all of their seeds available to their members. They are protecting over 800 varieties of seed, mainly European varieties, from the threat of extinction. Garden Organic have an “adopt-a-veg” scheme for just £20.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Climate Change and Gardens - Blog Action Day

This is Blog Action Day, which this year concentrates on Climate Change. I am pleased to be participating in this important event, which aims to raise awareness of an urgent topic which affects us all - not only from damage to the environment but also with the threats of flooding, famine, increased risk of wars and creation of millions more refugees.

As I’ve touched on before in this blog, the gardener can address in small but important ways the environmental challenges which face the world. Whether by providing better conditions for wildlife (see here and here), growing vegetables in small spaces to save food miles (see here and here), encouraging an interest in the environment in young people, through school gardens, or better handling of rain water through rain gardens, we can all make a contribution. The mass effect of each garden in the world becoming just a little more sustainable would surely make a huge contribution to improving climate change.

Some further things to think about if you’re planning to redesign part of your domestic garden or the outside space of your business:

DO: use reclaimed materials where possible for structures, containers and so on - find a local salvage or reclamation yard and re-use items such as old flagstones, bricks, tiles, chimney pots, scaffold boards, sleepers and other architectural salvage – it will bring character into your garden instead of stark/bland brand-new materials;
DO: use recycled crushed concrete as sub-base material for hard landscaping instead of freshly quarried crushed limestone;
DO: use crushed recycled glass as mulch instead of freshly quarried gravel or stone/slate chips – but only if it’s available locally;
DO: cut down or cut out cement usage in hard landscape elements – cement accounts for more than 5% of the world’s CO2 production – which is more than the oft-criticised aviation industry:
Concrete is the second most used product on the planet, after water ... No company will make carbon-neutral cement any time soon. The manufacturing process depends on burning vast amounts of cheap coal to heat kilns to more than 1,500C. It also relies on the decomposition of limestone, a chemical change which frees carbon dioxide as a byproduct... Cement plants and factories across the world are projected to churn out almost 5bn tonnes of carbon dioxide annually by 2050 - 20 times as much as the government has pledged the entire UK will produce by that time.”
(http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2007/oct/12/climatechange)
DO: use natural stone for garden walls rather than manufactured products if they are available locally; use dry-built stone walls with soil/compost and stone chips to even out the courses rather than cement mortar; planting into the crevices with suitable species (e.g. mat-forming rock garden / alpine plants) as the wall is built will improve the look of the wall and the plant roots will help to bind the walling stone together;
DO: use natural stone paving rather than manufactured concrete slabs if it’s available locally. Wherever possible, for pedestrian purposes, lay it on compacted sand, not cement mortar, and use wider, gravel-filled joints instead of mortar joints – it will look attractive and drain better. Make it even more special by including pockets of planting such as creeping thymes and stonecrop;
DO: ensure your timber, if not reclaimed, is from an FSC source which guarantees that the foresting is sustainable;
DO NOT: use tropical hardwoods without being absolutely sure of their provenance and credentials – the last thing we need is more rainforest cutting down!
DO NOT: use pressure-treated timber if it can be avoided – the chemicals used are mainly petro-chemical derivatives, are harmful to the environment, and the timber cannot be recycled (nor easily used as fuel, due to chemical release) at the end of the product’s life;
DO: consider “composite” decking materials, if you’re planning a deck. This is manufactured from waste hardwood and recycled waste plastic – OK it has a high energy input to manufacture, but it has an extremely long life, and doesn’t need chemical treatment to maintain it during its life;
DO: consider introducing a “green roof” on any flat or shallow-pitched structure, whether a part of your house or an outbuilding. Not only do green roofs look good and add environmental habitat, they slow down and help clean rainwater runoff – especially if used in conjunction with rainwater harvesting or rain gardens. They also add insulation, so reducing energy consumption - which saves you money! The transpiration effect of green roof planting can help to cool city climates in summer, they absorb CO2 and replenish Oxygen in the air as well as helping to filter out gaseous and particulate pollutants. Remember though, to first check the additional weight which will be introduced, and the load-bearing capacity of the existing roof/wall structure!
DO: try to find space for a compost heap/bin to transform your kitchen & garden waste into wonderful soil improver – saves energy of transporting it to the local recycling tip, adds nutrients back into your soil, keeping it “in good heart” - use it as a mulch and let the earthworms do the work for you!

What are your thoughts on how garden design can help fight climate change?
Please add a comment!


Here are 12 suggestions for actions which YOU can take from the Blog Action Day website:
Sign the Tck Tck Tck campaign's "I am ready" pledge supporting an ambitious, fair and binding climate agreement in Copenhagen this fall: tcktcktck.org/people/i-am-ready

Register for the 350.org International Day of Climate Action October 24: http://www.350.org/

Join the UK Government's "Act on Copenhagen" effort to promote a global deal on climate change: www.actoncopenhagen.decc.gov.uk/en

Learn and act with The Nature Conservancy's Planet Change site: change.nature.org

Watch and help promote Current TV's green-themed video journalism at: current.com/green

Support strong climate legislation in the US by making calls to your Senators with 1Sky: tools.advomatic.com/13/calls

Put yourself on the Vote Earth map and upload your photos, pictures and weblinks to show the world future you want to see: www.earthhour.org/home

Put yourself on the Vote Earth map and upload your photos, pictures and weblinks to show the world future you want to see: www.earthhour.org/home

Join the Greenpeace cool IT challenge campaign to turn IT industry leaders into climate advocates and solution providers: www.greenpeace.org/international/campaigns/climate-change/cool-it-challenge

Add your personal story and tell the world what you will miss the most when you lose it to climate change with the United Nations Foundation Climate Board: www.unfoundation.org/global-issues/climate-and-energy/its-getting-personal

Find the latest and most popular climate change actions online at globalwarming.change.org

Join the Causecast community and find new ways to get involved with organizations working to end climate change. Watch videos, read news and support one of the many environmental nonprofits on Causcast. www.causecast.org/environment

Monday, 5 October 2009

Throwing Light on Garden Design

Many enthusiastic people put a lot of effort into planning their gardens, making sure that it suits their daytime needs, but often, in my experience, completely overlook extending the use of the garden into night time. Having invested money in making a garden such a splendid leisure space, why not make it usable for longer? Not only can a good lighting design offer greater flexibility in garden use during summer months, but it can also provide a magical nightscape as seen from the house or conservatory, adding drama and atmosphere to the whole scene all year round.
There are 4 main uses of outside lighting – functional lighting is used to illuminate areas such as dining and entertaining spaces on patios or terraces, or for leisure areas such as pools, hot tubs, spaces for sitting and relaxing with a book, etc; safety lighting is used to mark paths, steps, archways, walls or other obstacles, edges of pools, trip hazards and so on; security lighting would normally be used in conjunction with motion sensors to floodlight areas such as drives and sides/back of properties and outbuildings, and might also be linked in with CCTV recording, or with automatic gate or garage door systems; decorative lighting is used for creating the nightscape scenes by “painting” light onto trees, plants and hard landscape features - using light and shade, shadows, halos, silhouettes, textures, and, perhaps, colours, to transform the garden views into something which could not be achieved in daylight.
Various types of lights - more correctly called luminaires (technically lamp is the bit which gives out light, i.e. what’s loosely called a “bulb”) - can be used for these different purposes. Some are fixed onto walls or other structures, or even attached to trees; some can be set into a lawn, patio or deck; others are free-standing such as bollards alongside a drive, or as pole or spike spotlights used within planting. There are a wealth of styles for the luminaires, from traditional “coach lamp” and lantern styles through to uber-modern chic; they come in finishes of stainless, copper, brass, or colours like black and green. The lamps used can either be mains voltage or low voltage - using weather-proof transformers located near to the string of luminaires to step down the mains to a level (typically 12v or 24v) which is safe even if you accidentally chop through a cable whilst gardening. They will usually be one of 3 types depending on their purpose – most commonly tungsten-halogen (similar to those used in kitchen ceiling downlights) which offer a very wide range of light output (wattage) and beam spread, and can also be faded up & down with suitable equipment. The second type, LED lamps, are highly efficient and stay cool, so they are especially useful in situations such as deck lights or other places where accidental contact with people or animals is a possibility; they also have a very long lifetime and can give out blue, amber, red & green light as well as white light - devices are available to mix the light colours to provide an infinitely variable range of hues which can even be changed to match the mood or occasion, or can be programmed to create varying colour light shows for parties. The third main type is metal-halide lamps which give out high-powered, intense light used for the uplighting of large trees or faces of buildings.

As an aside, the cheap, solar-powered devices now widely available from garden centres, DIY stores and the like are not really viable for effective garden lighting. While the glow they emit (usually low-powered LEDs) means they themselves can be seen over a relatively short range, they do not have the power to illuminate other objects (e.g. plants, steps, etc. as described above), nor to be seen from any distance. They may just about provide “way-marking” along the sides of paths or “twinkle” lights around a small, otherwise dark, feature which is close to the viewing position. Remember too, if you use these, that they must be in a reasonably sunny area in daytime to charge them up – so no use trying to illuminate a path shaded by trees!

Unless you’re using the units to make a “design statement” (e.g. modern stainless steel on a chic terrace), the aim of a well-designed system is to see the lightscape – the results of lighting featured objects - not to see the lights themselves. Carefully considered lighting achieves this without causing “light pollution” to annoy neighbours or glare to make the scene uncomfortable.
As well as basic on/off switching, modern professional lighting systems can be designed to control all of the system, or specific parts of the system, from a portable, wireless remote control unit, with different zones allowing for multiple options of switching and dimming.
By defining which areas of the garden need lighting - deciding on the type of lighting to enhance each feature, and where lights will be placed for maximum effect - a professional lighting plan will provide a scheme to serve all needs, whether safety, security, functionality or decoration. Ideally, this will be undertaken as part of the overall garden design such that the best synergy is achieved and the practicalities of installing the lighting can be done at the same time as other disruptive hard landscaping work, saving costs against grafting on a lighting design once the “daytime” project has already been completed.
If you would like a free consultation to discuss professional outside lighting, whether as part of a new design scheme or for an existing garden, please contact me via my website.
If you fancy doing a bit of research yourself, there's an online catalogue of lighting components here, along with design advice and hints & tips.

Finally, remember that (in the UK) it is a legal requirement for outside electrical work to be carried out by a competent, “Part-P” qualified electrician. Always ask for the Part-P certificate on completion of the works – without this you may encounter difficulties if you subsequently come to sell your property.

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Japanese Knotweed - set a thief to catch a thief?







We can give great thanks to the Victorian era “plant hunters” who brought back many of the exotic species which we now take for granted as part of the colour and structure of our gardens - but we can also curse them for some of their introductions – notably Rhododendron ponticum and especially Fallopia japonica (“Japanese Knotweed”).
What’s the problem?
Japanese knotweed is native to Japan, China and Korea, where it is part of the natural ecology with its own controlling pests, and was brought here around 1825 for decorative effect. Lacking any ecological balances here, it has been so successful that it is now widespread throughout the UK (with the exception of the Orkneys) and threatens the indiginous plants in large parts of Wales and South-West England. In addition to its effects on flora, and the implications this has for bio-diversity and food chains, it has adverse impact on riverbanks, leading to erosion and increasing flood risks, and on fish stocks within rivers; it can damage asphalt surfaces, building foundations, retaining walls and drains; it can create safety issues by obscuring railway signals and road signs and create trip hazards in paving.
For these reasons it was made illegal to plant, propagate or otherwise spread it in the UK by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. It is also classed as "controlled waste" in Britain under the Environmental Protection Act 1990, so it may not be disposed of along with other “green” or household waste. This also applies to any soil contaminated with parts of the plant – adding extra costs to development and regeneration schemes. To give a sense of scale to the problem a DEFRA review in 2004 gave an estimate of £1.5bn for the cost of eradicating it – mainly with chemical herbicides, which are themselves considered “unsustainable”. In addition to our problems it is classified as a highly invasive weed throughout Europe and the USA and is listed as one of the 100 worst invasive species by the World Conservation Union.
How can it be recognised?
Recognition is fairly easy – it has hollow purple-speckled stems with raised nodes which look similar to bamboo canes and which carry broadly-oval grass-green leaves about 8-12cm (3-5”) long by 5-10cm (2-4”) wide alternately along the zig-zag stems. The leaves have a smooth (“entire”) edge and a “cut-off” base. Spikes (“racemes”) of creamy-white flowers, about 5-15cm (2-6”) are produced in late summer – these are initially erect, but tend to droop as they fade; they are not (yet!) fertile in the UK so the plant does not spread by seeding. The hollow stems become brown and brittle but remain after the rest of the plant dies back in late autumn.
It spreads by rhizomes, which can reach 7m in length and 3m deep, to form dense colonies that crowd out other herbaceous species. It is often found on roadsides and wasteland where it can be extremely difficult for site developers as the depth and spread of rhizomes make it virtually impossible to excavate and it re-grows strongly from any remaining pieces or after being cut down. Any plant material, or contaminated soil, must be disposed to properly licensed landfills.
How can it be controlled?
Currently the most effective control is through (repeated) treatments of translocated (“systemic”) Glyphosate-based herbicide. This is a non-specific product and will therefore kill any actively growing plants which absorb the spray through their leaves - so if the stand of Japanese knotweed is within other desirable plantings (as in the photos) it will be very difficult to remove. In a domestic situation, some success may be had through the use of a glyphosate gel, painted directly onto the knotweed leaves, covering as much of the plant as possible whilst avoiding contact with other plants – though this will be an extremely time consuming “labour of love”.
Biological Control
There is some hope now that biological controls might prove effective, of which there are 2 promising candidates – a leaf spot fungus, Mycosphaerella polygoni-cuspidati, and a sap-sucking insect, Aphalara itadori. The latter is a naturally occurring control in eastern Asia, but is not currently found in Europe, and is therefore prohibited under the same act which bans spread of the knotweed plant, i.e. The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, and is also restricted under the Plant Health Order 2005. DEFRA and the Welsh Assembly Government are currently asking for views from people/organisations with an interest in the impact of Japanese knotweed on the natural and built environment - including the horticulture industry, landscape managers/contractors and people interested in the control of invasive species - on the release of this insect as a control agent. If approved, this would be the first use of a non-native insect to control a plant species in the UK and Europe. The consultation input is required by end of October – further information on this can be found at http://www.defra.gov.uk/corporate/consult/japanese-knotweed/index.htm and at http://www.cabi.org/japaneseknotweedalliance
General information about Japanese Knotweed can also be found at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fallopia_japonica and at Devon’s excellent site http://www.devon.gov.uk/japanese_knotweed.htm