Monday 11 December 2023

Composting to help improve the soil.

 As part of the work our volunteers carry out in the Rose Garden, we are very keen to recycle whenever possible.  Composting plays a vital role in providing us with part of our potting mixes, as well as for use around the park and when planting roses and perennials.


We compost all the organic waste material that we can from the park and include brown materials such as cardboard and paper into the mix.  It is important to get the right mix of both green and brown in order to create a good compost. Anything that was alive, plant wise, can be added to the compost bays.  Egg shells, grass cuttings, plant stems etc.  Each year in November, we empty all the hanging baskets from Oxton village into our compost bays, then return the wire baskets ready to be used the following Summer.

The compost is then used wherever needed in the park, such as under roses, in the borders, when planting and potting up.  It provides the plants with nutrition and also improves the overall texture of the soil.


An essential Autumn job carried out by the volunteers is collecting fallen leaves, especially from lawned areas.  These are stored in separate pens to convert into leaf mould.  This is low in nutrients but is wonderful for mulching, adding to potting mixes and borders to improve the water retention of the soil. While compost is formed by bacteria, with help from worms and bugs, leaf mould is formed by the action of fungi over a longer period of time.

Another project we have begun is the creation of a dead hedge. Dead hedges are an easy way of constructing a fence, which can act as a windbreak,  at the same time as providing a natural habitat for wildlife.  They are made using materials to hand such as fallen branches after strong winds, fallen or recently coppiced branches, thicker prunings from deciduous shrubs and many types of garden waste which would take longer to rot down in a usual compost heap.  As the materials in the dead hedge rot down, new prunings and branches are continuously added. All the nutrients go down into the ground below.  Insects, birds and small mammals can use the dead hedge as a habitat, in just the same way as a living hedge, both for shelter and a source of food where woodlice, slugs and the like would naturally be readily available, as they are there rotting down the decaying material.

Wednesday 11 October 2023

Improving the Storeton Road entrance.

 In order to make the Storeton Road entrance to the Arno much more welcoming, our volunteers Sian and Dave Turner have put in many hours of hard work during this Summer and early Autumn. To begin, they raised the canopy of the mature holly tree so that more light could get in and so that people passing by along Storeton Road would catch a glimpse of the beautiful park within and  be tempted to enter.  Previously, the area to the right as you enter was very congested with large Cherry laurel bushes, large fuchsia shrubs and mostly entangled with ground smothering ivy.  It took many grueling hours to clear away the ivy and remove most of the laurels before replanting could even begin.

Once the space was opened out, it revealed the statuesque trunk of the oak tree and provided a beautiful view up into its branches from below.  This dappled light is typical woodland conditions, as well as years of fallen leaves to improve the soil beneath.  Some new, more well behaved and prettier shrubs were added along the boundary walls to add seasonal interest and fragrance.  

1) Weigela  2) Philadelphus Belle Etoile 3) Pieris 4) Nandina Domestica 5) Abelia 6) Camellia 

7) Sarcococca

Once the shrubs had been planted and well watered in, attention turned to perennials and biennial foxgloves.  These had to be able to withstand a certain amount of shade from the oak tree, holly tree and shrubs.  The selection included native ferns, Red Campion, Brunnera, Pulmonaria and Libertia.  There were already some ferns and Archangel growing towards the back where it was hidden previously.

1) Pulmonaria 2) Fern 3) Red Campion 4) Brunnera Silver Heart 5) Foxglove 6) Libertia

Finally, bulbs were planted in groups between the shrubs and perennials. Sixty Tete a tete dwarf daffodils bulbs, as well as Lily of the Valley were dotted around.  As there are no Bluebells already in the Rose Garden, it was decided to try and grow our native English Bluebells, which are much daintier and only flower along one side of the stem.  100 of these were purchased from Naturescape and added to the woodland area.

1) Lily of the Valley 2) English Bluebell 3) Tete a Tete dwarf daffodil

This new area should gradually naturalize to create a beautiful Spring and early summer display followed by lush ferns interspersed with splashes of colour from the foxgloves and red Campion.  A huge thank you to Sian and Dave for all their efforts in improving this space. 

Saturday 22 July 2023

Under-planting of the Rose Beds


Under- planting the Rose beds in our garden will have two benefits:

 First, it will provide ground cover and reduce the laborious task of perpetual weeding.

 Next, it will add colour to our garden at those times of the year when our roses are not in bloom, and it will also invite  more pollinating insects into our garden over a longer period.

Some beds have already been under-planted with Lavenders, but some other beds are not suitable for Lavenders either because they are more shaded and therefore do not receive sufficient direct sunlight, or the soil conditions in them are not welcoming to them. A number of different plants will be put into these beds therefore including:


Geraniums (Crane’s Bill).

 A group of purple flowers

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     … and Nepeta (Catmint)

The next phase of under-planting will start in September

But to complete the whole process will most likely take a year or two given that planting can only be carried out at certain times of the year! As The Friends work their way round all of the beds, any Rose bushes that seem to be ailing will be replaced with new. That is a forever process but so necessary to keep our Rose Garden always looking at its very best.

Friday 17 February 2023

Rose Planting Trial at the Arno.


Rosa Penelope

Since we began replanting the forty two rose beds, we have been disappointed to find that many of the new roses were failing.  It has been an ongoing concern for the Friends group, as we have tried to establish a cause.  After discussion with the RHS North West in Bloom judge last Summer 2022, we have come up with a plan of action to revitalise the rose beds for everyone to enjoy.

All the rose beds were tested for their ph . This is how acidic or alkaline the soil is.  Roses need a ph of around 6.5. It didn't appear to be that which was a problem.  We contacted David Austin Roses, Peter Beales Roses and Harkness Roses, as well as searching on the Internet.  The general consensus  was that the roses needed to be planted in fresh soil, as the soil may have contained a virus which affected roses.  

With forty two rose beds, the task of completely changing the soil to a depth of around three feet was overwhelming.  But there was a simpler solution!

Since January 2023, we have been collecting cardboard boxes.  Yesterday February 16th, we began work on our Trial Bed.  We selected one of the worst rose beds, which had in fact been planted up twice before.  Alas, they virtually all died.  With only donated funds, and money raised from plant sales, we could not continue to lose roses.  This rose bed only had two very sickly specimens left, which we removed.

The bed had been dug over and weeded in preparation for the new roses to go in.  Six Rosa Penelope shrub roses, bare root, were ordered.  Part of the new action plan moving forward, is that fewer roses will be planted in each bed.  With fewer roses, we can give better attention to each rose in terms of feeding, pruning, dead heading, and watering when necessary. Another advantage of fewer roses per rose bed will be greater air circulation around them, reducing fungal problems.   The roses we will select will be larger, with more open flowers for pollinators and so hips will be produced to leave on over Winter.  More vigorous shrub roses will hopefully have greater resistance to disease and also lend themselves to more creative ways of tying in and pruning to enhance the flowering potential of each shrub rose. This technique has been used to great effect at Sissinghurst.

Many of our visitors have commented on how lovely it has been to see the roses under planted with lavender.  As roses don't start blooming until June, we have chosen to follow the example of many other rose gardens, such as the type at Dunham Massey.  These gardens clearly showcase roses, with their delicious scents, but also use perennials to under plant  and extend the season of interest.  The varied planting also attracts beneficial insects which will help to keep the roses healthier.  

Six Rosa Penelope roses arrived.  A group of us met , spades at the ready.  We decided on the positioning, allowing adequate space between each rose.  Deep holes were dug out, wider and deeper than our cardboard boxes.  Beneath,a layer of fresh topsoil mixed with home made compost.  The box was placed inside, then all around the box we added this same mix of topsoil and compost.  Then to start filling the box. The mixture once again, but now we added a couple of handfuls of rose slow release feed, which contained some farmyard manure, in pellet form.  The rose roots were sprinkled over with Rootgrow, a mycorrhizal fungi which helps the roots to establish faster.  Then gradually  the box was filled up with more fresh topsoil and compost.  Finally, after watering in, we made sure the rose was firmed in and the new soil was covering the tops of the boxes.   Then we repeated this for the other five roses.  To complete our afternoon we forked over the bed to tidy it up after all our work.

 We are very optimistic that this trial method of planting the new roses will be successful.  This year we will be carefully monitoring their growth and health.  In the coming months, you will no doubt see our volunteers planting around the roses, to reduce the need for so much weeding, as well as enhancing the look of the garden.  If it proves to be the way forward then we will plan to replant another bed in the Autumn.


Wednesday 18 January 2023

Building a new Bug Hotel

 Sadly, back in September 2022, our lovely bug hotel was set on fire by three senseless vandals.  We had so many kind comments from the local community, expressing how upset and angry they felt as well as offering materials and assistance to rebuild it. Lots of local children liked to come and sit in that area and hunt for mini beasts.  Our awareness of nature, be it big or small, is important to nurture, especially in the young.


It was decided that we should wait a while in case the arsonists decided to come back , and so that bonfire night was over before we started to rebuild.

Helix Roofing Company in Wallasey messaged us, offering to donate whatever materials we wanted.  We also had an offer of roof tiles from a lady in Palm Hill.  John, who is pictured on the right with his thumb up, kindly drove about collecting all these bits and pieces. So a huge thank you to all those people who donated materials.  It was very much appreciated.

Saturday 3rd December was marked down to build our bug hotel mark 2.  John B, John F and Dave set to work creating an A frame, while other volunteers collected sticks, hollow stems and fir cones to fill it.  In an effort to try and make it less flammable, roof tiles were used to cover the sloping sides.  We have not yet added a chimney, but it will go on, at some point.

Below is a photograph of the new bug hotel.  If children want to collect and add cones, bits of hollow stems, dry leaves and old rotting sticks, then please do.  It is there for you to enjoy.  I think we have even left a box of fir cones next to it so that passing children can place them inside. 

Let us hope that this bug hotel lasts a lot longer than the previous one.  All the kind messages lifted our spirits to know that the majority of the local population are decent.  Sadly it's the few bad'uns who make the most noise and upset.

Sunday 31 July 2022

Under Planting of the Rose Beds

It has become apparent to our gardening volunteers that to reduce the amount of weeds, as well as increasing colour and interest, the rose beds needed something extra. Roses are the quintessential English flower with their wonderful scent. However, they only begin to flower in June and then need regular dead heading to continue to bloom for longer.  With such a large amount of bare earth around the roses, it is a constant battle to keep weeds at bay.

After visits to other public gardens, we decided that under planting was the way forward.  We had received a generous donation to buy, specifically, lavender plants.  Since the success of those, we have been given further donations in order to add more lavender.  We have also used Erigeron Karvinskianus or mexican fleabane under some roses, after seeing it used beautifully at David Austin Roses.  Another circular rose bed has been planted with Ophiopogon and Calendula. 

During the extremely hot temperatures, reaching 34.5 degrees here during the July heatwave 2022, the lavender and mexican fleabane responded extremely well. With future summer weather forecast to get hotter and drier, under planting also has the benefit of reducing water evaporation from the soil.





Here are a few pictures to show how we feel the Rose Garden has been enhanced by the under planting.  Our plans are to add more lavender as well as other low growing perennials, which are low maintenance plants and should reduce the need for so much weeding. 


RHS Community gardening

As we have made links on social media with the Royal Horticultural Society, we joined part of their online "communities".

Earlier in the Spring we were offered the chance to receive some Calendula Nova seeds, which we could use in our green space.  The Friends group has started  to under plant many of the rose beds in order to  increase interest, colour and plants for pollinators. Calendula or commonly known as Pot Marigolds are an excellent hardy annual which will self seed and last for many years. It is often seen in companion planting in vegetable gardens to attract beneficial insects, which then feed on greenfly. Also, the petals are edible.  Calendula petals can be infused into oil, then used to create hand cream or lip balm as it is good for the skin. What is there not to like, so many benefits, not to mention being such a vibrant, cheerful flower!

Two of our gardening volunteers had chosen one of the circular rose beds. A plant donation of a large pot of Ophiopogon or Black turf lily was split up and planted around the bed.  Then the Calendula seeds were sown in between and watered in.  Finally the labels #Growwell  were placed in the bed.

Despite some very dry weather, the seeds germinated and were thinned and some transplanted to give the seedlings space to grow.

Finally, in July, the flowers appeared.  These are long flowering annuals, which we will continue to deadhead, sprinkling future seeds around as we go.  Our aim is for the Ophiopogon to slowly spread into larger clumps, with the contrasting vibrant orange flowers of the Calendula to set them off beautifully.  This circular bed should sustain itself , gradually covering the ground and suppressing weeds.