Your chance to get design advice

Today is the last day of the garden design event in the Forum Norwich from 10am to 4pm. Get your garden designed by students from Easton College and buy some unusual plants from a range of specialist growers from across Norfolk.

Today is the last day of the garden design event in the Forum Norwich from 10am to 4pm. Get your garden designed by students from Easton College and buy some unusual plants from a range of specialist growers from across Norfolk. You can bring your garden problem to me and I can give you some instant advice. This is a free event run by Easton College and BBC Voices project.

Today at Wymondham High School is the Alpine Garden society East Anglia Flower show and plant sale. Doors are open from 12noon to 4pm for plant sales from 6 specialist nurseries and some of the most amazing alpine plants from around the country. Entry is £1.50 refreshments available.


I was interested to read your article in Saturdays EDP regarding growing tomatoes in pots rather than in grow bags, and would be grateful for your advice. I have grown the variety Sungold and have previously always used grow bags. However, a number of people have recommended using pots and I thought I would try it this year. Could you give me an indication of the size of pot to use?

Also I have been trying to move away from peat-based compost, with mixed success. Seeds and fuchsia plug plants in particular have proved problematical, although I suspect this was due to under watering. Could you let me know whether I need deal with the two types of compost differently? I can't remember which brand I used, but I do recall it received favourable reviews in a gardener's world trial. Would the tomatoes crop as plentifully in peat-free compost, or perhaps a 50:50 mix?

A Steward Email

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The bigger the pot the better for growing tomatoes 10 litre is about the smallest you will get away with using and if you can go for 15 litre pots. They do not have to be pretty pots just suitable for containing the compost, and the bottom of the pot can be removed as long as you are not planning on moving the plants. Remember also that the pots can be reused next year as long as you clean them over winter. The point of using the pots is mainly to even out the watering of the tomatoes and help prevent them from getting waterlogged. Empty the contents of the grow bag into the pots and break it up ensure that it is loose and there are no hard lumps in the compost. The problem with grow bags is the compost gets compacted in the bag ion the stack and then it is hard for the tomato roots to grow through it. You can allow the tomato roots to grow out of the bottom of the pots and into the soil. Many grow bags are now completely peat free and made up of either green waste or composted bark, these tend to be due to the range of sources of material variable at best and not uniform in quality. I prefer to go for the peat reduced composts that incorporate soil and other materials with peat rather than the full on peat free composts.

For growing seeds and young plants I would always favour peat based multi purpose compost or a coir based compost. These tend to be of a uniform quality and with low nutrients, so the roots are not scorched by high levels of nutrient. It is common for established gardeners to have difficulty switching to peat free compost as they must be treated differently to peat based compost, this goes from potting up to watering and feeding. Coir compost tends to be dry on top but wet underneath, bark based compost tends to dry out quickly and locks up nutrients and so needs more feeding. In test I did a few years ago in my own garden, growing tomatoes, I got much better results with peat based compost than bark based one, however, the peat alternatives are getting better all the time.

Q I was lucky enough to win a lovely Cyclamen at Christmas in a raffle, I have kept it well and it is throwing out seed pods, which, I have put in little paper bags and secured to collect the seed, could you please tell me when and how to plant them?

Also the leaves of the plant have all gone silvery, although as I say, it looks healthy, just wondered if this will affect the plant?

V Allen email

Amongst enthusiasts there is much discussion about the most efficient ways of germinating Cyclamen seed in order to obtain the most consistent and highest percentage of germination. For consistent germination, fresh seed is required. In some species, it is essential. It should be sown as soon as it is ripe - ideally being gathered just before the capsule splits open - when the seed has coloured to a light brown.

Soaking seed in warm water (with a wetting agent, such as a drip of washing-up liquid) for about 24 hours prior to sowing is beneficial.

Light acts as a germination inhibitor to Cyclamen so ensure that the seeds are correctly covered. If seed is allowed to dry out after germination has started, this is likely to be fatal As Mediterranean plants which grow in autumn-winter-spring, germination takes place generally in cool conditions between 13-15ºC is ideal.

Since it is recommended that seedling tubers should remain in the same container until they go dormant in their second growing season, it is better to sow in pots rather than in seed trays or flats, so that there is adequate depth. For larger quantities, the blue/black plastic, 15cm deep boxes used for packing mushrooms, are ideal

The compost used should be similar to that used for potting Cyclamen tubers, but with a reduced level of fertiliser. Certainly, it should be free draining but moisture retentive - which indicated a significant proportion of grit, plus some organic matter.

The seed should be sown on the surface of the compost, spaced about 2cm apart, and covered with a layer of grit about 5-7mm deep.

In general, autumn flowering species will germinate in the autumn. Spring flowering species will germinate in the spring. However, if no seedlings are seen within the first 12 months (for any species), the pot should not be discarded as seedlings can appear 2-3 years later. This is particularly true when the seed has been subjected to dry storage or is old.

Q Would a 40' tall ash tree suffer much from a couple of steel screws driven into the trunk? I am hanging a galvanized farm gate at the end of the drive and need about a 4” square post for the non-hinge side to rest on when closed. I can't dig this post in due to other things being in the way- but can hang it rather neatly by 2 galvanized strips from the afore said tree trunk.

I know that non-ferrous particularly copper, screws are undesirable, but have never heard of steel screws causing problems.

D Hickman Middleton

Any thing you put into a tree will cause some damage, and you are right to say that trees can be killed by the use of copper nails or screws. However, as long as the tree is never likely to be used for commercial timber then there is no problem with putting some steel screws into the tree. But you will need to remember that the tree will keep growing and so it is advisable to check the fixing at least once a year.

You may want to consider some straps around the tree rather than screwing into the tree. These straps are sometimes used for holding bird and bat boxes onto trees in commercial woodlands.