The Ashridge Nurseries Blog

  • Winter 2016 Photo Competition

    Our Winter 2016 photo competition is now open for entries!

    Enter today for a chance to win £100 in Ashridge Nurseries Gift vouchers!

    Fancy bagging yourself £100 in vouchers to spend with us? Well you're in luck as we are giving away £200 in vouchers, £100 to one lucky winner each week up until Christmas!

    The competition is simple. All you have to do is take a picture of your beautifully decorated Christmas tree and send it to us, we will then pick the best decorated Christmas tree of the week and they will win a gift voucher for £100! Your Xmas tree can of course be decorated in any which way or fashion, the more original and unique the better! If you haven't got your Xmas tree up and running yet then fear not, you can still enter, either buy your Christmas Tree here or alternatively send us a snap from a previous Christmas.

    How to submit your photos:

    All you need to do is share your photo on Facebook with the hashtag #AshridgeNurseriesPhotoComp - the Xmas tree in your picture does NOT have to be from us, although it wouldn't hurt if it was either...

    Alternatively, If you don't use Facebook you can email your photo as an attachment to, with the subject line "Winter photo competition". Please also include your name and address and contact number.

    Important! Please don't send any printed photographs to us by post. We cannot accept any responsibility for them, and neither can we return them to you.

    Happy snapping, and good luck!

    Terms & conditions

    • Entrants must be aged 18 years or over at the time of entry, and be a resident of the UK or Republic of Ireland.
    • The competition is free to enter, no purchase is necessary.
    • Employees, families, friends or anyone otherwise associated with Ashridge Nurseries may not enter.
    • Entering the competition in the manner stated below constitutes full acceptance of these terms & conditions.
    • Entries should be submitted by email to before the closing date advertised for each competition. Emails must carry the subject line as advertised with each competition.
    • Entries must also include your full name, address and telephone number.
    • Your photos must be digital only, in high-resolution (at least 1024 pixels along the shortest side), and in a commonly used file format (preferably JPG, PNG, GIF or TIFF).
    • The photo must be your own, must not infringe any copyrights, and you must have the permission of any people and/or subjects in the photograph before submitting it to us.
    • We are unable to accept postal entries.
    • You grant Ashridge Nurseries a worldwide, royalty-free, perpetual and irrevocable licence to use your photo in promotional media (such as in an email, on a social media website, in a catalogue).
    • Only one entry per person, per competition. No responsibility can be accepted for lost or corrupted entries as a result of transmission via email. Entries must be sent directly to us, not via an agent or other third party.
    • The prizes are vouchers of £100 to spend with Ashridge Nurseries awarded to the best submissions. The decision of the judges is final, and no correspondence regarding the decision will be entertained.
    • The prizes are non-transferrable and no cash alternative is offered. No refund can be given on part-used vouchers. Vouchers are valid for 3 months from the closing date.
    • Winners will be notified by email within 7 days of the closing date.
    • Entrants agree that their name, town and county may be used in publicity following notification of any prizes.
    • If events transpire that are outside of the control of Ashridge Nurseries that require us to amend or suspend the competition, no liability shall fall on the promoter.
    • The winners must email the original image to us at before the prize can be claimed.
    • The laws of England apply to this competition and an English court will have jurisdiction over any dispute. Greenwich Mean Time applies to all dates and times.
    • The promoter of this competition is: Ashridge Trees Ltd, Grove Cross Barn, Castle Cary, BA7 7NJ.
  • December deadlines

    We put wrapping up presents pretty far down the list of essential things to do in December, or at least in daylight hours. It is far more important to keep staggering into the garden and the December focus might well be on fruit trees, and by this we mean fruits without stones and so that mainly means pears and apples. By now their branches should be well and truly bare leaving you able to assess the structure of the tree far more easily. Step back and make a plan: you are looking to encourage an open framework in a goblet shape with branches growing outwards, an open centre with branches that do not cross one another or touch.

    Branches that rub together will eventually cause a wound, a potential entry point for disease. Remove any dead, diseased or crossing branches and then look again to see how best to improve the shape of the tree. Use the sharpest pruning knife or secateurs you own, and then sharpen it again! For bigger branches use a pruning saw. A clean cut will heal more quickly. Disinfect your implements with Dettol between cuts to be really belts and braces so that you know you are not transferring infection from one branch or tree to another.

    Rake up any cuttings and any rotting leaves and burn them, or take them to the dump. Sadly they are not compost worthy - too many fungal spores and funny diseases lurking there. But the ash from the bonfire can come in handy to mulch around your raspberries or just added to your compost heap as a good source of potash. Next make sure that you have a circle of bare earth of up to 90 cm in diameter around each fruit tree that you can then mulch. Removing weeds and grass prevents pests from reaching your tree and removes the competition for nutrients and water in the growing season.  We have some great videos on exactly how to prune fruit trees at the various different stages. Make sure that tree ties are not too tight and check that your winter greasebands are in place to deter insects crawling up the trunk and laying eggs. And why not have a go with our organic Vitax winter tree wash. Only use this on completely bare trees and bear in mind that it can damage the green parts of any surrounding plants so protect them with polythene if necessary.

    While you have your sharp pruning kit out, take a look at your bush roses and make sure that you have pruned them back sufficiently to protect them from windrock over the winter. And, just when you thought you had earned your gold star, have you pruned your soft fruit? That should have been done by now, but if not, consult the advice pages on the website so that you maximise your fruit output for the future.

    Finally, winter winds can wreak havoc with climbers that have not been pruned back and tied in sufficiently. They can also take their toll on newly planted evergreen hedges or trees which need a windbreak of hessian or some such to protect them. Of course there is masses more but we don't want to put you off.  Although if you need more then there is a bigger list on our site of December Gardening Jobs. So in you go for an early mince pie and a glass of mulled wine.......and a very, very Merry Christmas to you from all at Ashridge Nurseries.



  • Cotton on to Cotoneasters

    Another plant that sings for its supper and is also looking good at this time of year are the Cotoneasters. They are a varied bunch, some growing as ground cover, some growing into standard trees but all of them are members of the rose family, all are tough (they are allied to hawthorns and pyracanthas), hardy (many call Siberia or the Himalayas home) and ascetic (unfazed by any soil type, drought or shade once established). The only pruning they need is if they overrun their remit. They spend all summer producing foaming white or pink flowers that are manna from heaven for bees and then all autumn and winter producing berries that both humans and birds adore. Albeit for different reasons. We have chosen to offer four of the many hundreds out there: Cotoneaster 'Cornubia' is semi-evergreen, developing striking autumn colour but losing its leaves in the harshest winters. Its profusion of red berries makes up for this and it is said to be the top berry producer of them all. An upright plant when young, its branches then arch elegantly as it matures as if weighed down by all its many berries which have earned it an RHS AGM. We think it is handsome enough to be a specimen tree surrounded by grass with a clear sky behind it to show off its fantastic flowers and berries.

    The red berried Cotoneaster simonsii and orange berried C. franchetti are both sold bare rooted for hedging of between 80-200 cms (2ft 6” to 6ft). Both have bushy, lozenge-shaped green foliage which clips well but C. franchetti has a white underside to its leaves which gives it a slightly silvery look. They are excellent for screening and for bird life in your garden.

    Last but not least the redoubtable C. horizontalis, a ground cover variety and a marvel at covering verges and steep banks or appearing to live off thin air as it grows from the base of a dry and dusty wall. Its leaves are tiny but its stature belies its strength as it spreads in a fan shape up a wall or over some unprepossessing area in need of disguise. Its nickname is rock or wall spray, being the Banksy of the plant world. So if you are surveying a garden deprived of berries you now know what to do about it....

    Cotoneaster simonsii Cotoneaster simonsii
    Cotoneaster horizontalis Cotoneaster horizontalis
  • Looking good now and for all four seasons. Really?

    If you want a wisp of spring to hang onto at this time of year then invest in a winter flowering cherry tree (Prunus x subhirtella 'Autumnalis').  A slip of a thing, this tree is slender and slightly twiggy. Although it can grow up to 7 metres it rarely does and so is suitable for all but the tiniest garden. Crucially its slim build and restrained foliage means that it does not cast heavy shade and so other plants can grow happily around and beneath it. It's unique selling point is that while being a flowering cherry, unlike its brethren it does its thing from from bare wood between November and February. The flowers are blush-white and semi-double appearing on the bare, black branches, not in great fat brash clusters but in a restrained and “less is more” kind of way. Each flower is about half an inch across, emerges from a pink bud and regresses from blush to pink as it fades. The effect is very pretty - especially on a cold, clear day with blue sky behind it. Super-cold weather will halt the flowering, but it returns, and the tree is hardy all over the UK, really unfussy about the soil in which you plant it and pays no regard to its aspect. What a joy! Sprinkle snowdrops, narcissi, aconites and crocuses under and around it in rough(ish) grass for a wonderful winter and early spring sight. The Japanese love it in flower arrangements and so should we. Spring sees handsome bronzey leaves unfold and then in summer it is a bit of a shrinking violet blending in with the background so you can use it as a support for a not too vigorous climbing rose like the apricot Lady Hillingdon, or the pale yellow Leverkusen, or or if you are feeling brash, try the bright red Love Knot. And if climbing roses are not for you then research our range of clematis to similar effect.

    Many cherry trees have wonderful autumn colour, and Prunus x subhirtrella 'Autumnalis' is no exception, and actually proves more reliable than most with a tremendous flare of orange and red leaves until they fall in late autumn. And if the winter white flower sounds a little subtle for you, there is a pink version Prunus autumnalis Rosea that is a bit flashier but just as beautiful and again encompasses all four seasons. The only downside is that being a cherry its roots are quite shallow and so it pays to set your mower blades a bit higher when cutting the grass around the trunk in summer but frankly that is a small sacrifice for such a superlative all rounder of a tree.

    Climbing Lady Hillingdon rose Climbing Lady Hillingdon rose
    Prunus sub. Autumnalis Rosea Prunus sub. Autumnalis Rosea
  • Baying at the moon...

    Leaving the flowery lot to wax poetical about their roses and those super-full moon watchers to their nighttime vigils, the more Vorsprung Durch Technik of you may be pining after structure, clean lines, verticals and such like. The punctuation marks of this particular gardening grammar are shapely or evenly shaped evergreens that do not disappear in winter. Imagine bay pyramids standing sentinel in herb gardens now bereft of their basil, parsley , chives and chervil, or a lollipop of bay either side of French windows on to the terrace. Underplant these with heather at this time of year or primroses in spring....and if that sounds too taxing, try mulching the soil with coloured gravel or scrubbed shells.

    baytreespots Bay Trees

    But for those who like a long term project (and by definition which gardener does not?) why not turn your hand to a little topiary? There are masses of youtube videos and websites devoted to advice on how to turn your regular Box plant into a ball, your Yew into a cube and so forth. And although box or yew are the most frequently used evergreens for topiary there is nothing to stop you making teardrops from a Lonicera nitida or a spiral from a Lawson's cypress.

    The other vogueish plant shaping is cloud pruning which hales from Japan, but does not
    require a Japanese garden to look effective. It is a fabulous way of fitting a large tree into a small garden.  The usual suspects work but other evergreen candidates that lend themselves to cloud pruning include any of the pine trees like the Scots Pine, the slow growing Ilex crenata/Japanese holly or normal holly plants. No one is expecting a Dr Doolittle lawn of clipped animals but it is always good to have a New Year's Resolution or two so planting something so there is a hobby that you can take up rather than give up feels like a good idea. In the meantime, the bay pyramid is a step in the right direction.....

    Common Box Common Box
  • David Austin Roses

    On that note, what started as a warm November has meant that my Simply Beautiful rose - a cheeky little Ashridge number for Valentine's day, tragically bought by me… for me - budded up again and despite recent frosts the flowers opened to greet the month. All of this incredible rose fecundity and floriferousness may be partly to do with the weather but is also down to the skill of our rose breeders and perhaps the one with the most derring-do is David Austin.

    Here at Ashridge we have recognised that people are still beguiled by the English Rose and want them for their gardens. You can suggest prairies of grasses, armouries of Red Hot Pokers, maelstroms of Monardas, Marguerites or Magnolias but nearly everyone plants at least one rose and we are finding that David Austin's unique way of harnessing all of the fragility, fragrance and romance of the traditional English rose together with the longevity, superhero-immune system and Duracell Bunny flowering capacity of modern hybrid roses makes his creations irresistible. Somehow his colours just 'work'; they are like the Farrow and Ball of the rose world but you don't need three coats. His more strident colours, found in roses like Gertrude Jekyll  or Princess Anne, do not jar but, to use a technical term, just look hot. His pastels like Desdemona or Wildeve are never insipid or washed out, they sing. And none of this fragrance-free nonsense for him; his roses reverberate with smell so they make wonderful cut flowers or pausing places in the garden.  Most are named after peculiarly English icons, be they Darcey Bussell, The Lady of the Lake, or Munstead Wood, adding to the evocation of nostalgia, Englishness and age of gallantry that permeate the brand.  Be that as it may, the roses are spectacular and we are very proud to now stock quite so many to team up with our other flowering perennials.

    wildeve Wildeve
    Gertrude Jekyll Gertrude Jekyll
  • Christmas trees - last chance!

    It is the last chance saloon for those in denial about the imminent onset of Christmas. To save on traipsing around, children in tow and ice on the road, the answer to "Where do we get a lovely, non-droppy-needle, symmetrical Christmas tree?", is "Right here!".

    We have allocated most of our stock already but we always save a few for the more laid back members of the Ashridge community, so order now before it really is too late......and while you are about it, everyone loves a rose and so why not for Christmas? We sell most bare rooted but have potted some up for teacher's presents, Granny, thank-you to the neighbour for looking after the dog while we are away for Christmas etc etc...nordman fir

    xmas tree

  • All about Eve

    Apart from the lovely Clematis Cirrhosa ‘Freckles’, and Winter Jasmine there are few winter flowers to remind us that there will be an end to chilly temperatures and pitch black by five pm. One shrub does stand out however and that is the lovely Eve Price, a named variety of Viburnum tinus. Viburnums are a backbone plant in any garden being easy to grow, often evergreen or semi-evergreen and all having pale pink or white flowers that are often scented. Eve Price is no exception to this general description. Unfussy as to soil pH and unaffected by heavy clay soils, her leaves are a good, dark green colour and are medium sized and oval in shape; crucially they last all winter. But her speciality is winter flowering. Blooms appear in a flattened cluster of tiny individual white-light stars that emerge from a pink bud continuously from November through to April. She will withstand wind, rain and even some shade and grows to two metres easily, although you can clip the plant back after flowering to restrain her exuberance. Use Eve Price to under-plant taller, deciduous trees or as a low hedge or backdrop to a border. Wherever you decide, it is good to bear in mind that while a sunny position encourages more flowers, exposure to sharp frost will cause the flowers to go brown so if you can find a sheltered spot all the better. In spring the bonus is a flourish of metallic blue berries that the birds love and that look unusual and attractive.
    Draw attention to Eve Price by surrounding her with spring flowering bulbs that coincide with her flowers like snowdrops, or tulips that may emerge later but whose stunning colours look good against the dark evergreen foliage. Hellebores are another excellent winter companion flower and their maroony, dusky pink and white colours go beautifully contemporaneously. Unlike most of our winter offering Eve Price is a potted plant and so can be purchased all year round.

    Eve Price Eve Price
    Eve Price Eve Price
  • A bit of a November nudge

    Governments are fond of using the word 'nudging' in the context of 'nudging' you to do the 'right thing'. In November, clearly the right thing is to persevere outside while the soil is still workable to prepare the ground for your new cutting garden and for your gooseberry plants, whether those are in the main or kitchen garden. Barrow loads of muck are required which will keep you fit and trim and then there is the serious thought to what could be improved by a few judicious stretches of bareroot hedging or a special new tree. Most urgently, this really is the final call for all those who wish to try to get their bulbs in the ground for spring. It has been so warm that you will probably get away with planting alliums, crocuses and daffodils still while now is the PERFECT time for tulip planting: do not delay and get your orders in and yourself out. And hurry – stocks are running low.

    Allium Aflatunense Allium Aflatunense
    Pickwick (Crocus vernus Pickwick) Pickwick (Crocus vernus Pickwick)










    And our final 'nudge' is to refer you forthwith to all the other November gardening jobs just in case you thought you had done them all.

  • Roses for the Cutting Garden

    I know that the subject of roses in their hedging and hip form came up in the last newsletter but arguably (and I may be on sticky ground here) every garden should have a rose or two in one of its incarnations. Even for those with a more modernist or Italianate approach to gardening, a little light relief is always necessary and a rose provides just that. As we have mentioned, it is bareroot season and so you have the opportunity to acquire all sorts of roses that are not available potted year round. Every year more and more varieties are added to the canon. In this section we want to encourage you to think beyond the climber or rambler to disguise the oil tank or the bare wall, and even beyond the patio roses for pots on the terrace, lovely and important as they are, but to focus on roses as cut flowers. A bought bunch of roses is quite an investment, while for the same price you could buy one shrub or hybrid tea rose with the capacity to flower again and again from early June to the end of October. It is really worth setting aside a sunny corner of your garden to act as a cutting flower area. Prettify it with lavender and you will know that beauty and function are coexisting, just as William Morris would have it.

    Taste in roses, as with everything, is entirely subjective but for cut flowers there is one key performance indicator and that is vase life. Delightful as rose petals strewn down the table are, for preference they should remain on the flower to be a successful cutting rose.  Preparing the rose is important. Cut off any foliage so that none is immersed in the soaking water. Split the stems and aim to change the water every day. Although there is nothing to stop you deploying any of the roses in your garden for vase duty, the following roses are all valuable for their prowess in a vase and for their beautiful flowers and scent.

    Ispahan - a highly scented, vibrant pink damask rose.

    Paul's Himalayan musk - baby pink, small flowered rambler.

    Just Joey -  an amber gold, lightly scented hybrid tea.

    Winchester Cathedral - a white shrub rose from David Austin with old fashioned rose scent.

    William Shakespeare - crimson, fragrant David Austin shrub rose.

    Gertrude Jekyll - deep pink, David Austin shrub rose with old fashioned rose scent. RHS AGM.

    Graham Thomas - the most famous yellow shrub rose.

    Golden Celebrations  - another David Austin marvel.

    L D Braithwaite - deep red, David Austin shrub rose.

    Evelyn - a pale pink, David Austin shrub rose.

    Constance Spry - a climber that does not repeat but produces curving stems of stunning, pink double flowers with a myrrh like scent.

    Compassion -  another pink climber with more of a hybrid tea style of flower that repeats.

    Ispahan Ispahan
    L D Braithwaite L D Braithwaite










    Most of our bare root roses will be available from early November, just before the ground has become really solid with frost so that it is easier to work and perfect for planting. Dig in lots of muck when you plant your roses because they are hungry feeders and by next summer you will never need to stop off in the garage for that slightly dodgy bunch of carnations ever again.....

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