Celebrate organic gardening

By Kay Montgomery Time of article published Feb 28, 2015

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LIVE a little this May and treat yourself to a once-in-a-lifetime week of glorious gardens. Join the 22ndtour supporting the South African team to the 2015 Chelsea Flower Show. As a highlight of the tour, visit the gardens at Prince Charles’s private garden estate, Highgrove (May 16 - 23).

A visit to the gardens at Highgrove, the Gloucestershire home of Prince Charles and Camilla, the duchess of Cornwall, is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It is also a fascinating peek into the world of passionate organic gardening.

Once the butt of jokes when he said he talked to his plants, the prince of Wales has spent the last three decades transforming the grounds at Highgrove.

The farm and gardens are now acknowledged to include the most inspiring and sustainably innovative examples of organic gardening in the world.

On your tour of Highgrove, you will see the work that goes into making meadows look natural, a working wetland reed bed much loved by dragon flies and fruit trees planted with heritage seeds.

The prince has also set up a remarkable composting system, and butterfly borders are filled with spring flowering bulbs, shrubs and perennials. Interested in joining a week-long tour that includes Highgrove? Contact Gillian on 021 683 2838 or 083 261 3961, or [email protected]

Going organic:

What is an organic garden?

The late Irmela Reichardt, one of the country’s most influential natural gardeners, said: “Chemical science uses this word to classify and describe all matter containing carbon compounds.

“When the word ‘organic’ is applied to agriculture, it means that the farmer or gardener is working with nature, not against it. It is an attitude that embraces respect towards plants, animals and human beings, all being part of the same system of life on this planet.”

How can you make your garden more organic this summer?

Start by investing in any of the superb range of organic fertilisers available on the market, or try a few old “tricks of the trade” which were used by our forefathers to maintain a healthy garden.

Reichardt’s tips for organic products:

l Garlic: natural extract of garlic does not kill insects, but when sprayed on scented flowers such as roses, it will mask their scent. Chafer beetles and CMR beetles can detect the scent of a rose bloom from up to 3km away and will head for your roses to eat them. If they cannot smell the rose blooms, they will not find them. (Try Margaret Roberts Organic Insecticide or Ludwigs Insect Spray).

l Milk: did you know that plants love milk too? Many plants will flourish if “watered” with milk once a month. Roses, ferns and tomatoes, especially, enjoy being fed with milk diluted 1:3 with water, preferably rainwater. The various minerals and fat contained in the milk boost plant growth and improve health.

A spray made with milk, diluted 1:6 with water, is effective against fungal diseases. For example, rust and mildew on roses, tomatoes and potatoes can be treated if this solution is sprayed directly on to the leaves.

l Coffee grounds and tea leaves: it is no secret that earthworms love coffee grounds and tea leaves. For this reason, you should always dispose of coffee grounds and tea leaves (remove the bags) on the compost heap. Also, roses and pot plants love a direct application of coffee grounds and tea leaves worked into the upper soil around their roots. Not only does the left-over caffeine seem to stimulate plant growth, but plants fertilised with coffee grounds tend to be less prone to aphid attack and leaf-eating insects.

l Moth balls: the naphthalene in the mothballs was used by grandma to keep carrot fly and other insects at bay. To deter carrot fly, grind a mothball into fine powder and lightly dust the rows along which carrot seed has been sown. Don’t be concerned, the carrots will not taste like moth balls.

l Rape oil or canola oil: this agricultural oil is harmless to fish, pets and birds, and has no harmful residues. When sprayed on red spidermite infestations on the undersides of roses, the oil literally smothers and suffocates the mites.

l Fatty acids: potassium salts of fatty acids literally dissolve the shells of small soft-bodied insects, such as aphids and whitefly, on contact. There is no residual effect after 12 hours, which makes it ideal for vegetable and indoor plant protection. (Try Natural Insecticide.)

l Neem extract: this liquid extract comes from the neem tree and is a natural botanical insecticide. It has no harmful residues and will control a host of insects in the garden. The neem tree extract interferes with an insect’s hormonal life cycle metamorphosis from larva to pupa to adult, thereby reducing infestations. (Try Bioneem.)

l Comfrey: add herbs such as comfrey (which is rich in nitrogen), horsetail and dandelion to speed up the rotting process in your compost heap.

l Indigenous plants: these create a wildlife-friendly environment as they will attract indigenous birds and other small creatures into the garden. By planting indigenous you can help preserve local wildlife.

l Organic fertilisers: there are organic treatments available in nurseries and garden centres. These are made from natural ingredients and are safe for our health and the environment. Organic fertilisers and sprays do not contribute to air pollution, ground or water pollution, and these are quickly and easily absorbed into the environment.

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