1 May 2008 - 6:47pm

Magnolias and Wisterias

May is Magnolia and Wisteria month in our garden. We love Wisteria and have four plants altogether. The oldest and best covers the back of the house, facing roughly south west. Its grown up name is W. Macrobotrys and its large, blue flowers on long, loose racemes give a lovely, almost filigree effect. Two more are Chinese wisterias trained over a pergola. One has white, gloriously fragrant flowers and the other blue. The fourth is a newer acquisition and is in a very large pot which we are attempting to train as a standard.

To get the best out of your wisterias, you need to prune them hard early in the year around February. Once you have the basic framework established which will probably take around three years depending in the area you want it to cover, you need to prune the side shoots down really hard, to 2 or 3 buds. Be bold - you will end up with a big pile of prunings and a fairly sparse plant if you do it properly. Tie the main branches in to strong supports; it's a rampant heavy plant and can topple a tree or bend your guttering once it gets going. It needs a feed after pruning and again later in the summer. After flowering around July (it's not critical), you can prune it back again, but more gently. If you are buying one now, pay a fair bit for a good, grafted plant. Some are not grafted and take literally decades to flower properly.

Magnolias don't need or appreciate pruning. They prefer a sheltered site and soil that is fairly neutral or acid and not too dry. I give ours a watering can full of sequestrated iron when I remember in the growing season: camellias and rhododendrons like that treatment too. One of my favourite magnolias which I have yet to plant here is M. x loebneri ' leonard messel'. It is a fairly upright shrub that can eventually reach 10m tall so you need space for it, but it has dainty, pinky lilac flowers like a bird's tail. It's a bit more subtle and pretty than the more common M. x soulangeana which is a bit of a mucky pink and now past its best. You often see it planted next to lurid yellow forsythia and it clashes horribly (you may disagree, let me know....)

I know I keep going on about it, but have you got your compost bins ready? It's just such a satisfying gardening task to throw all your garden and uncooked kitchen vegetable waste into a big heap and get lovely, crumbly stuff out of it a few months later. When I say ALL your gardening waste, don't put in perennial weeds or they will end up spread round your whole garden. Think of it like a cake or a good curry, not too wet, not too dry and with a good mixture of elements including grass clippings, shredded prunings and card or paper, vegetable peelings, and various materials from your borders such as spent bedding plants. A ratio of two parts green stuff to one part paper or woody material is about right, but don't worry too much, its not an exact science. Every now and again turn the whole lot out, give it a stir and put it back to incorporate some air. If it's dry, give it water or some fresh grass clippings. If it's a bit soggy and smelly throw in some shredded paper. It's so much more productive and cheaper than going to the gym. This time of year grass clippings will make the compost really hot and steamy, kill off all the weed seeds and get it off to a good start. For good bins, the wiggly wigglers website is a good source: www.wigglywigglers.co.uk or 'phone 01981 500391. They do a range of useful kit for gardeners as well as worms for your compost heap, wild flowers and bird food.

Get out there, you know you want to really!