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Drying Beech Leaves, Powdery Mildew and NGS

A mysterious drying of beech (Fagus) leaves, powdery mildew; and the U.K. National Gardens Scheme!
by Art Drysdale
by Art Drysdale


Art Drysdale, a life-long resident of Toronto and a horticulturist well known all across Canada, is now a resident of Parksville, British Columbia on Vancouver Island, just north of Nanaimo. He has reno-vated an old home and has a new garden there. His radio gardening vignettes are heard in south-western Ontario over radio station Easy 101 FM out of Tillsonburg at 2 PM weekdays.

Art also has his own website at

August 24, 2003

At top, part of Helen Faull’s garden right in London England. Above, the Canary Island foxglove, a good conservatory plant for Ontario--it’s only hardy in areas of very mild winters; I’m not even certain it’s reliable here on Vancouver Island. Immediately below, the Guernsey and Cape lilies (Nerine sarniensis and N. bowdenii) which might make interesting new houseplants! At bottom, two shots of a three-colour beech (Fagus sylvatica ‘Tricolor’) showing the healthy norm and a mysterious drying of the outer leaf edges.

This week, a question about an unusual tree with a problem that I didn’t recognize, but my advice nevertheless! But first, a note about a great scheme in the United Kingdom.

Do you happen to be heading to the U.K. in September/October, or even in November? If so, and if you’re listening to this programme (or reading this item on you must have some interest in gardens and gardening! That being the case, don’t think that early or even late autumn are not good times to visit great gardens in England, Scotland and Wales. No matter what city or part of the countryside you’re visit-ing, there are bound to be some very special gardens nearby open to the public on specific days. The trick is to get a list of what’s open when, and in some cases, make an appointment to view a garden not having a particular open day that jives with your availability.

You can do this through the U.K.’s National Gardens Scheme (NGS) that organizes thousands of open gardens for visits throughout most of the counties in England, Scotland and Wales. Most are held on weekends, al-though many also list a weekday. There is always a fee, part of which goes to the NGS and in turn to the nursing and gardening charities it supports. Part of the fee usually goes to smaller local charities as well.

The National Gardens Scheme raises over $3 million dollars annually for British charities by holding open houses at over 3,500 individual private gardens on specific designated days, often several times a summer at each garden. If you are planning a trip to the U.K., even if it is in the autumn, and would like to do something a little different I believe you should either get a copy of the ‘Yellow Book’, “Gardens Of England and Wales Open For Charity,” or check out listings of the gardens on The National Gardens Scheme’s website: Costs of these visits are little (usually 2 pounds [$4.25] per garden) and for a small-added fee, you are usually offered English tea service.

An example of a garden that I should like to see the next time I am in London is that of Miss Helen Faulls. It’s apparently located just off Wimbledon Park Road near the Southfields tube station. Coincidentally, as I recall this is not far from where my old friend, horticulturist Bob Corbin lived before he moved to their “cottage in the country” at Stoke Poges near Windsor and Heathrow.

Miss Faulls garden is described as “Sunny, in a conservation area. Created by densely planting a wide variety of shrubs and herbaceous plants, including many from the southern hemisphere; within strong design. Colour, form and flowers year-round.” It is said she is constantly “experimenting with new plantings” and that her fences are “clothed with shrubs and climbers forming a luxuriant setting for outdoor living.” She apparently welcomes private visits by appointment.

As to autumn visits I noted a number of gardens that are open multiple days (and many are also available for appointment on other days) in various areas of the country. Not too far from London, for example, is Dr. and Mrs. D. J. Mitchell’s 2 Warren Farm Cottages, located just west of Stockbridge, about 80 miles southwest of London just off the A30. A visit there is described: “The trip from the A30 seems to go on forever as ‘The Warren’ climbs over great swells of the Hampshire farmland and dips down through bits of wood. Finally you reach the long drive up to 2 Warren Farm Cottages. Please park along the road, and walk up past the cordoned fruit trees and flowers. At the top is the garden, developed over the last 12 years by Louise and Julian Mitchell. The cottage garden around the house and a smaller bit carved out of a farmer's field just over four years ago, show the match of their interests, his to build and hers to plant. Around the house, in what Louise calls "the polite garden" borders are full of shrubs and perennials, inter-planted with annuals and vegetables. The borders are full of colour from April through November; [with] a grand autumn finale featuring michelmas daisies. In the many beds which Julian has raised above the difficult flinty, clay soil, cottage garden plants, especially Louise's beloved hardy geraniums, share space with pots with plants like salvias, species fuschias and passionflowers and unusual treasures such as the Canary Island foxglove (Isoplexis canariensis). Inter-planted are a variety of vegetables including courgettes, French beans, lettuce and pots of tomatoes and chillies. Through the hedge is Julian's pond, teeming with plants and wildlife, more vegetables in raised beds, a bulging fruit cage and a large shed to store the vast array of chutneys that Louise makes commercially. There is also an expanding nursery where Louise aims to sell most of the plants seen in the garden.”

If I were going to be in England this fall, I would be making a point of seeing this garden, open September 5, 12, 19, 21, 27, October 3, 5, 10, 17, 24 and 31, as well as by private appointment. Not too far away is the Isle of Wight where Spring Bank Nursery (located close to the island’s airport) will have 20,000 flowering bulbs on display for a special opening on October 14. Mr. & Mrs. K. Hall’s nursery is the home of the U.K.’s national collection of Guernsey lilies (Nerine sarniensis) in a glasshouse. Outdoors, the Cape lily (Nerine bowdenii) and other species will be in bloom. They are all fall bloomers, with foliage appearing in early spring and summer.

Finally on September 21, and November 2 (plus privately arranged visits on other dates) Copton Ash in Kent (near Faversham--about 240 miles southwest from London) Drs. Tim and Gillian Ingram’s garden will be open. It is described as a “Garden grown out of a love and fascination with plants from an early age. Contains very wide collection including many rarities and newly introduced species raised from wild seed. Interesting colours and fruits of autumn. Raised scree and peat beds. Specialist nursery.”

Time to return to the question box! Gail Mayo wrote early this month with the following: “Just over a year ago we purchased a tri-colour beech tree and planted it in our front yard, which faces NW. We followed all the instruction about planting, watering, etc. Up until very recently it has bloomed beautifully and looked healthy. It's been watered (we've had lots of rain) but we haven't given it any fertilizer. Over a week ago, we noticed that a lot of its leaves were browning and curling. And there's a white fuzz on some of the twigs/branches that I don't ever recall seeing before. We've attached a couple of photos in case it helps--one showing the current state, one showing what it normally looks like. 1) Could you please tell us what's wrong and what we can do to revive our poor tree? 2) What should we feed it? We'll get right on it.”

The browning of the edges of the leaves could either be too much or too little water; or something completely different. The white fuzz you mention does not seem to show in the photo but from your description sounds like powdery mildew disease; and with the amount of rain there has been there this year, that is likely what it is. That is not a major concern, but I would be sure to rake up all the leaves from the tree (and any others exhibit-ing same problem) and put them in the garbage (not compost) this fall, or even now if some are falling early.

Powdery mildew can be controlled with Benlate, still available, or Funginex, and even sulfur, but I'd wait to see what happens next year.

There apparently is a leaf mottle that attacks beech that I have never seen. It starts as small translucent spots surrounded by yellowish-green to white areas on young unfurling leaves in spring. The spots turn brown and dry, and by the first of June the mottling is prominent, especially between the veins near the midrib and along the outer leaf edges. Within a few weeks the brown areas increase in number until the entire leaf has a scorched appearance. A considerable part or, in some instances, all of the leaves then drop prematurely. Where complete defoliation occurs, new leaves begin to develop in July. The second set of leaves in such cases appears quite normal and drops from the trees at the normal time in the fall. None of that description seems to fit your problem, however, you didn't mention if there was anything abnormal earlier this season, so I mention it just in case.

As regards fertilization, many tree experts like late fall fertilization with the highest quality long-lasting nitro-gen fertilizers, such as the professional Nitroform mentioned last week. That wouldn’t be done in Ontario at least until mid November. If you have difficulty in finding Nitroform, you could use any other high-end long-lasting nitrogen fertilizer, or even better, try one of the organic Gaia Green formulas; i.e. the Turf & Lawn Blend 6-2-3 or All Purpose 4-4-4. These two products have extremely long-lasting organic nitrogen sources and are available at many garden centres, including Sheridan Nurseries.



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