Wilde side

Date
Published in
The Guardian (UK)
Written by
Kim Wilde

Kim Wilde answers your gardening questions.

I wish someone would give me good, clear advice about growing blue poppies (Meconopsis betonicifolia and M. napaulensis) . They generate endless debate on the web, but I remain baffled.
Dear baffled, like you, I covet these exquisite-looking plants. They grow effortlessly in Cumbria, along with the pretty Welsh poppy M. cambrica , but they can also be very choosy. M. betonicifolia and M. napaulensis do best in acid soil. Sometimes M. betonicifolia behaves like an annual (ie, dies after flowering). This tends to happen in over-rich soil. It's therefore advisable to remove the first year's flowering stem. Partial shade and shelter from cold winds is also important. Divide plants after flowering to maintain vigour.

Is there a magic cure for blackspot on roses? I have tried chemical sprays with little success, also removing affected leaves by hand (too time consuming). I have about 25 trees that are affected.
Christopher Lloyd does not advocate monocultures (a bed with only one type of plant) because they encourage pests and disease. Why not take the chance to rip up and start again, as he did at Great Dixter? Unless you change the soil, replanting with disease-resistant roses is not an option, because of rose sickness (specific replant syndrome). I live with blackspot on all but my species roses. My approach to pest control is to keep my planting diverse, and not resort to chemicals.

We are off for our summer holidays, and have no one to water our houseplants. We're aware of automatic watering systems, but can't justify spending that kind of money. Are there cheaper alternatives?
Capillary mats are a useful temporary solution. Plants are placed at one end, while the other is immersed in a reservoir (eg, a washing-up bowl). Water is drawn into the compost via the mat. Make sure compost and mat are moist initially, and check it out a few days before you go to make sure it is working. Happy holidays.