Educational events to highlight key issues for gardeners

The 2020's beckon and promise an interesting decade of gardening as the trade, retail outlets and home gardeners face up to some key issues. It's time for a little serious thought as there are problems to overcome, but an awareness of these will help us prepare, because gardeners are the most adaptable people I know.

Friday, 3rd January 2020, 6:00 pm
Grape vines remain alert for disease.
Grape vines remain alert for disease.

The United Nations has designated 2020 International Year of Plant Health. The aim being to increase global awareness of pests and diseases arriving unannounced aboard plants from other countries. This has always been relevant for UK gardeners as woody perennials have been continuously sourced from Europe, but given our stated intention to pursue global markets, incoming plant materials will demand an even higher degree of vigilance.

A series of educational events and activities are planned throughout the year as the RHS, Defra, Woodland Trust, Tree Council and Plant Heritage make their own contribution to this important cause.

The RHS will contribute to British Science Week (March 6-15), National Plant Week (April 20-27) and National Insect Week (June 22-28). Look out for their show gardens promoting plant health throughout the year.

Anyone doubting the reality of this continuing threat should be reminded of Dutch elm disease which has killed an estimated 60 million British elms to date, and the fight against recent arrivals; the processionary moth invading oak trees and chalara disease which is devastating the ash.

Commonly called ash dieback, National Resources Wales (NRW) has confirmed that 80% of the country has been infected by this fungal disease. Furthermore, the UK's National Arboretum at Westonbirt, Gloucestershire, has recently announced plans to fell hundreds of their ash trees in order to eradicate the menace which is spreading through their 600-acre site – a desperate measure that might just save the day.

Most dreaded at present is the bacterial infection Xylella fastidiosa which has swept across Europe and was recently confirmed on olive trees in France, so close to our shores.

The problem is, it also attacks well over 500 different species of plants including some of our favourites; lavender, hebe, plum, cherry, almond, grape vine and rosemary. Xylella is spread between plants by leaf-sucking insects e.g. froghopper and aphid. The symptoms are leaf scorch, wilting, dieback and the ultimate.

As a nation we have a history of not only repelling but also co-existing with foreign invaders. This experience with humankind might prove useful in the coming decade as hordes of plant pests and diseases, some previously unheard of, attempt to enter unannounced causing an adverse environmental and economic impact.

As we gardeners embrace the reality of global warming and the opportunity to grow plants from exotic climes in our home gardens, vigilance will be the watchword, at least for a year or two after importation.

Accepting gardening life without peat, that natural, non-renewable resource, that supports so much wildlife, and has also been used extensively by gardeners in their growing media for many decades, is something we must get used to.

Peat bogs are vanishing at an alarming rate, and the government set a target date of 2020 for a significant reduction in its sales. The National Trust adopted a peat-free policy in 2001, and the RHS sales of peat-based compost will end this year. Garden centres are also reducing peat use. Many trials have been conducted to find the perfect replacement, but none has stood out yet.

We can do our bit with plastics too. In 2018 the Horticultural Trade Association (HTA) introduced a plastic recycling scheme through garden centre chains. The idea being that customers hand in unwanted trays and pots. Black pots are being phased out because of the difficulty in recycling them and a new, taupe coloured, bio-degradable version is being flagged-up for the future.

Watch the situation with herbicides, pesticides and fungicides if you use them. Some are scheduled to be banned, others will follow as concern for the environment grows.

Thank goodness for those bright catalogues that arrived in the autumn. Put aside then because there wasn't time to do them justice, now they're out in the open and making the fingers tingle with excitement. Almost everything

appeals, from the new onion (Suttons-which I must try) that doesn't make the eyes water when peeled, to the sprouts, leeks and parsnips I'm harvesting in late December. They've rekindled the seed of enthusiasm in the depths of winter.

You are certainly missing a trick in not having such catalogues to hand if you've a spark of interest in plants. Many are sent free or for a moderate charge if you pick up the phone, write or e-mail the firm in question, and they hold so much useful information.