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Hanging baskets can be the high point of your garden, says Monty Don

A long while has passed since I last made a hanging basket. Perhaps it is time to rectify that. 

Hanging baskets have become associated with bright, even garish planting, with petunias, pelargoniums, fuchsias, begonias and lobelias in a paintball splash of riotous colour. This is fine and fun but it does not have to be that way. 

The other day I saw a hanging basket comprised of succulent echeverias that looked marvellous and would need practically no watering or feeding at all. 

Monty Don says hanging baskets have become associated with bright, even garish planting, with petunias, pelargoniums, fuchsias, begonias and lobelias in a paintball splash of riotous colour

I also like hanging baskets planted solely with a single trailing pelargonium like ‘Surcouf’, ‘April Hamilton’ or ‘Mavis Simpson’ or, in a shadier position, with just one type of fuchsia or fern. 

In short, in a hanging basket you can exercise all the desires and skills that you use to create a border or a large container, to give yourself a wide variety of colours and effects. 

UK-based garden expert says that he saw a hanging basket comprised of succulent echeverias that looked marvellous and would need practically no watering or feeding at all

UK-based garden expert says that he saw a hanging basket comprised of succulent echeverias that looked marvellous and would need practically no watering or feeding at all

But whatever you plant, bear in mind that baskets dry out much faster than pots, let alone borders, and doubly so if exposed to wind. There are two things you can do to mitigate this. 

ASK MONTY 

Q I’m spending hours digging out lesser celandine (below) that are intertwined with nice plants. Am I wasting my time? 

Melanie Pickering, Shropshire 

A I have them in my garden, and they’re ineradicable. However, you can clear accessible areas in a border. Dig over and remove every trace of root and the root nodules. Some will reappear but not to the point you can’t control them. I do not recommend using herbicides at all.

Q I have several hydrangeas in pots, but for the last two years I’ve had hardly any blooms. Am I over-pruning? 

Lisa Geldard, West Midlands

A Most hydrangeas (save for the paniculata types) flower on the previous year’s growth. So if you prune too hard you’ll remove the flower buds. The answer is to take off last year’s flowers, remove any damaged branches and trim off about a quarter of last year’s growth but no more. 

Q I have two olive trees that bear fruit (left). How do I prune them, and can I use the fruit? 

Maureen Henderson, Surrey

Olives produce fruit on new growth so for productivity they should be pruned hard, back to a basic framework of old branches. However in the UK the chances of the fruit ripening are minimal – even in Surrey! So prune to create a shape you like.

Write to Monty Don at Weekend, Daily Mail, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5TT or email monty.don@dailymail.co.uk. Please include your full name and address. We regret Monty can’t reply to letters personally.

The first is to buy a watering lance – a long-stemmed spraying device perfect for watering in high, awkward places – ideally connected to an outdoor tap. 

The second is to prepare and plant the basket to retain as much moisture as possible without it getting water-logged. Start off by balancing it on an empty bucket as your work surface. 

Line the bottom of the basket and part of the way up the sides with moss – preferably collected from your garden. This will retain the compost and hold moisture. 

You may find that evergreen clippings, such as the soft growth of conifers, helps bind it together. Place a recycled piece of plastic over the moss to help retain moisture, but be sure to pierce it in a few places to allow some drainage.

 Alternatively, you can buy ready-made coir basket liners, which not only retain water well but also release it slowly. 

Next, half-fill the basket with peat-free compost. Adding about 20 per cent volume of perlite or vermiculite will both keep the basket light and simultaneously improve water retention and drainage. 

If you have some home-made leaf mould, then that, being loose yet water-retentive, also makes an excellent addition. 

Start planting through the bars of the basket, if it has them, pushing the plants in from the outside or directly onto the compost from the top if it is a wicker or woven basket. 

Although it may be hanging in front of a wall, a basket is seen in the round, so work all round the circumference so the plants are evenly distributed. 

Add more moss around the remainder of the sides, and cover the roots of the plants you’ve just inser­ted with more compost, stopping 2.5cm from the top. 

Plant into this, bearing in mind that some of your planting will grow vertical and lean, like snapdragons or tobacco plants, some may bush out, like pansies, many pelargoniums or the silver-leafed senecio, and others, such as nasturtiums, ivy or helichrysum, will spill downwards. 

Do not water your basket until it is hung in position, otherwise it will be heavy and awkward, and then give it a generous soak. Finally, water and deadhead spent blooms daily to ensure a long-lasting display

MONTY’S PLANT OF THE WEEK: CAMASSIAS

Monty said Camassias (pictured) comes from wet meadows of the US, and unlike most bulbs they need wet or heavy ground to thrive

Monty said Camassias (pictured) comes from wet meadows of the US, and unlike most bulbs they need wet or heavy ground to thrive

These tall spires of small blue flowers are now putting on a brilliant display. They come from wet meadows of the US, and unlike most bulbs they need wet or heavy ground to thrive. 

Given these conditions they are just as happy in a border or in grass although, as with all spring bulbs, the grass must not be cut until the camassia leaves have died right back so they are not suitable for a lawn. 

Long grass is their best home. Plant the bulbs in autumn, a full 10cm deep and about 30cm apart.

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