Tv gardener's new quest

AS a plantsman with years of experience behind him, landscape and garden designer Dan Pearson is hard-pushed to name his favourite plant.But he is just one of a number of garden experts taking part in a new series, The Nation's Favourite Blooms, for which UKTV Style Gardens has joined forces with the Royal Horticultural Society and Dorling Kindersley to carry out a nationwide poll to find the country's best-loved plants.

AS a plantsman with years of experience behind him, landscape and garden designer Dan Pearson is hard-pushed to name his favourite plant.

But he is just one of a number of garden experts taking part in a new series, The Nation's Favourite Blooms, for which UKTV Style Gardens has joined forces with the Royal Horticultural Society and Dorling Kindersley to carry out a nationwide poll to find the country's best-loved plants.

If he were voting, bamboo would be in the top contenders, he says. He absolutely loves it.

"It has such a strong presence, it's a very charismatic plant," he said. "It has a very strong feel of the Orient about it. I love it because it's an evergreen and because it's very mobile. It catches every breath of wind, so it's always got the sound of rustling in it, which is really good for sound pollution if you live in the city. It sounds like water rushing - it's a lovely, soothing thing."

There are many different types of bamboo - those with black, green or yellow stems, some which grow to more than 5ft, others which grow just to a foot. Dan has a 30ft hedge of black bamboo (Phyllostachys nigra) and a big clump of Phyllostachys viridiglaucescens, an extremely hardy bamboo with straight green culms and lush foliage, which he uses to hide some unsightly garages next door.

He said: "It looks best in an urban or suburban setting rather than out in the countryside because it's a very foreign plant - Japanese or Chinese - and it likes to be in a sheltered position because it has lots of foliage which can dry out very quickly if it's too exposed."

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Bamboo is best situated in deep, rich soil and needs to be kept well watered in its first year. It thrives in sun although it will live happily in semi-shade and can last for decades in the right spot.

Some bamboos are invasive, so you have to be careful which ones you go for or you'll never be able to get rid of it.

"Some are clump-forming and some are stoloniferous (running) and colonise. You have to be careful which one you choose because they have the potential to travel huge distances underground and then pop up unforeseen in your neighbour's garden.

"If you buy one that runs, you need to put a root barrier in, setting concrete slabs or corrugated iron 2ft down in the soil."

If you don't want invasive bamboo, go for a variety like Phyllostachys nigra or aurea, which are clump-forming. And don't grow it in a pot because bamboos are not only voracious feeders but need a lot of water too.

Good companion planting includes many Asian plants, said Dan, such as fatsia, magnolia and winter box.

"Stick with things that hail from Japan and China. It's a simple rule of thumb, if you head for a similar geographical region you can normally get things working together aesthetically."

You need to keep bamboos extremely well watered in the first year after planting - and that includes watering them in the winter. They should be fed at the beginning of the growing season with a handful of blood, fish and bone, and mulched with compost.

"The more you feed and the more you mulch, the stronger your bamboos will be."

Bamboos can also be fitted into smaller city gardens, he said.

"Most of them are quite vertical growing, so you can have your foliage above you and they are quite economical on the ground they take up. P. aurea is a very good vertical grower."

You can prune bamboos - but never cut off the ends of the canes, which looks like someone's given them a bad haircut. But you can thin them at the base, so there's more space between the stems.

The TV series will unveil the results from categories including flowering bulbs, exotic/jungle plants and flowering climbers, featuring growing hints, historical facts and professional knowledge, with Britain's favourite all-time flower revealed at the end.

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The Nation's Favourite Blooms begins on UKTV Style Gardens on Monday at 8.30pm.

BEST OF THE BUNCH - Viburnum

There are many types of this easy-to-grow shrub to suit almost every situation at virtually any time of year - ground cover, bushes for the border and screening. But one particular variety, V. carlesii, is at its best in spring, producing fantastically fragrant white flowers in tight domes and growing up to 8ft (2.5m). If you want a slightly taller, evergreen variety for the back of the shrub border, go for V. burkwoodii. They may not look much in the winter, but they really come into their own in spring. Viburnum prefer well-cultivated soil in full sun or dappled shade.

GOOD ENOUGH TO EAT... Tips for runner bean success

Make sure pot-grown plants are hardened off before planting out, as runner beans cannot stand frost.

Unlike some vegetables, runner bean plants are able to grow in the same place every year with permanent supports in clean, fertile soil.

If you are growing dwarf varieties, place a straw mulch over the planting place to keep the pods clean.

Try growing your beans with some sweet peas, which not only add colour and scent but increase the chances of bean pollination and therefore a better crop.

WHAT TO DO THIS WEEK

:: When flower stems appear on strawberries, place either clean straw or polythene around the base of the plants so that fruit will be kept clear of the soil as it develops.

:: If you missed out on raising cabbage or cauliflower for transplanting, late crops can be had by sowing direct in the bed.

:: Sow fast-maturing and late-flowering annuals directly into their flowering position.

:: Remove faded flowers from daffodils, hyacinths and tulips.

:: Plant agapanthus bulbs in groups in large pots or directly outside in warm and sheltered borders.

:: A range of salad seeds, including alfalfa, fenugreek and mung beans can be sprouted in jars on the kitchen windowsill to use in salads.

:: Feed pond plants by pushing fertiliser pellets down into the compost of established water lilies and other aquatics growing in baskets.

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