This photograph above was taken in December 2014, we haven’t had many frosty mornings like this so far this winter. As I type this now it is raining again, I think we’ve all had enough of rain and gloomy days! The mild weather is also bringing on some flowers we are used to seeing later in the Spring, such as these Narcissus, flowering under the Walnut Tree near the Orangery.
The team have been working hard inside the Orangery this week, not just to dodge the rainfall, but to make the most of the winter closure and get to grips with some of the plants that have got a bit out of hand. This includes the Monstera deliciosa, (popularly known as Swiss Cheese Plant) growing near the children’s play area which has been taken out altogether. There are several other specimens in the Orangery which won’t get such drastic treatment this time!
We have also been tackling the bugs that inevitably thrive in the warm, moist conditions of the Orangery such as Glasshouse Mealy Bug. These are common pests, you might have found them in your greenhouse or even on houseplants. They are tiny bugs that cluster together, tucking themselves under leaves or in the leaf axils where they are protected. You will find layers of sticky white fluff around them; the stickiness is caused by the honeydew they secrete as they suck the sap from the plant. This can then cause further disease problems as sooty mould clings to the sticky leaf surfaces, leaving a fine black layer on them. In extreme cases sooty mould can stunt plant growth as the leaves are unable to photosynthesise effectively. Mealy Bugs breed all year round so once you’ve got them it’s hard to keep on top of them. Prevention is the best cure, it’s especially important to check any new plants that you bring home and make sure they haven’t got any lurking on them. It’s advisable to put them in quarantine away from other plants for about a month if you are at all worried about them.
We are using an old control method – washing affected plants with soapy water; simple (if time consuming!) but effective. The idea is to clean off as much residue and as many bugs as possible, the soap in the water will help kill those that remain. You can also spray with specialised insecticidal soaps. We also use a strong water jet to dislodge those too high up and to bring down any dead leaves or buds which may be harbouring the bugs.
There are other ways of dealing with them, one thing that we are going to look into again this year is the use of biological control – this basically means using good bugs to kill the bad bugs! In the case of Mealy Bugs there is a specific ladybird called Cryptolaemus montruozieri which will gobble them up, this can be bought from a variety of suppliers and released into the greenhouse to do its work. It likes warm conditions so you can start to use it from May onwards. There is also a parasitic wasp, Leptomastix spp. that can also be used – these aren’t like the wasps that bother us in the garden in the late summer but are parasitic insects, feeding on the mealy bugs. There are chemicals that can be used against them too, but we try not to use chemical controls onsite generally and specifically in the Orangery as it is used for food service.
After a week of the whole team working in the Orangery the results are fairly dramatic, we have weeded, fed and mulched the plants as well so the beds not only look smarter but the plants will benefit from added nutrients. We hope you enjoy it when you next visit for a cuppa.
I am now off to brave the weather, which has brightened up a bit, to continue with the task of pruning all the climbing and rambling roses onsite, it’s a time consuming job but one that I enjoy.
I’ll leave you with a picture of a beautiful Rhododendron flowering in the West Garden, just behind the Prayer Centre.