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Article: Camellias - An introduction: Soil!

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United Kingdom

December 2, 2009
6:30 PM

Post #7328740

Dear Sue, you say a soil pH of 6-6.5, London silt with clay on chalk underneath it, has a pH of 6.5-7 so I do not consider that a strictly acid soil as 7 is neutral.
I was doing a big job on an old wharf near tower Bridge in London, which had been converted into expensive modern apartments. The garden was being built on top of the underground car park, the roof of which had just been built. It was to have a moat around the outside and an island in the middle! Due to the building (mortar , concrete etc), when they dumped the so called top soil on the top the mortar etc it got mixed with the soil, they then filled the moat up with London tap water, bad mistake! For once the topsoil was in the rest of the project was mine, to sort out. Finally I was given the design, by the so called designer, at which point I fell about laughing!
She could not understand, what was funny, I could for her pretty design was as normal done by a designer who knew nothing about plants whatsoever! I had worked for a famous Garden Designer in west Sussex, so I knew how to design and a lot about plants. I had done an entire soil test of the whole site, using a very expensive electrical pH meter. The soil was in most places had a pH of 8 or above to nearly 9 in one spot.
I found out later this is where they had dumped all the cement and mortar, that had gone hard, and then just covered it with a bit of topsoil. Of course I had no idea the moat was leaking into the soil as well, which did not help matters either. The reason I was laughing was simple; the design had Azaleas, Camellias, Rhododendrons, and Pieris in large groups! These also had Japanese maples dotted through certain areas.
Plus some Magnolia grandiflora as well. An impossible thing to plant big expensive ericaceous plants, in that soil. There were a lot of other plants as well but even they were doubtful.
I told her but she would not listen to me, she kept saying it was her colour scheme and that is what she wanted. If I had put them in that soil the only colour scheme she would have got was a very yellow to brown dead one. So I had to go to the big Boss and tell him. Luckily someone noticed the moat was leaking badly into the car park, so they had to remove all the soil and then redo it. This time I put peat blocks down, so we could plant into them. I got the job done and it was alright for sometime, although I do not agree with drastically trying to change your soil as Nature will win in the end.
Here is a picture of a bit of it sometime later when the end of the moat collapsed into the car park and the Aston Martin owners were not very happy about that! This is when they were trying to rebuild it for the second time!

Thumbnail by NEILMUIR1
Click the image for an enlarged view.


December 7, 2009
12:20 PM

Post #7344135

Hi Neil,
I have read a number of you contributions in the last while (rouge tree butchers. etc) and I find your experiences hilarious but not necessarily in a good way.
The lack of expertise displayed by many 'professional gardeners' is incredible.
I am also struck, as you must be, by the inability of people to admit they are wrong. It is easier, it seems, to blindly follow a 'blueprint' rather than alter what is obviously wrong. I see it all the time here, and in areas other than horticulture.
We used to sneer at the Chinese about their obsession with 'losing face'; are we so different?
United Kingdom

December 7, 2009
4:31 PM

Post #7344809

Dear lortay, I totally agree with you, and some of the so called "professional gardeners\arboriculturists ," have a terrible reputation! That is down to $-, for if they can do it cheaply they will.
I was an Apprentice for seven years, so was the lowest of the low at the start. You had to learn and prove to a very Harsh Foreman that you knew what you were doing, and have the correct qualifications of a high standard to do the job you were given. I as so many others did make mistakes, you were either corrected for them, or punished if it was unforgivable!
Unfortunately most Park departments went to contractors, these people through no fault of their own, were not trained or qualified in anyway. They were a source of cheap labour; whilst somebody made money from the profits, which is a crying shame to horticulture and the real professionals, who tried desperately to keep a standard going that Britain and indeed Ireland are famous for. So many of the contractors simply thought that they were now qualified with a two week N.V.Q. course or reading a book on tree surgery, of course they were not!
As they were lowly paid, the big money loomed and so they worked for themselves, and I cannot blame them for trying to get more pay than the minimum wage they were on.
Unfortunately the damage done to horticulture and the unsuspecting public is horrendous, and still carries on!
If you are a trained arboriculturist from some of the good colleges like Merrist Wood, Sparsholt etc. then it is a 3-4 year full time course and ends up with a recognised qualification.
As you have to have Public liability insurance for working in this profession (1.5 to 2 million or more pounds), as if you do make a mistake and drop a tree on a house\car it does quite a lot of damage, I have seen it done. If you were God forbid to severely injure or kill someone, I cannot imagine both the remorse or cost.
So anyone who is qualified and legal has to charge more. It is too easy to get an old van\truck a couple of chainsaws and copy a qualification on the internet. Then go in at a cheap price, get the job and do the damage, whilst not insured of course.
I have seen a 17 year old who was not trained loose his arm in a chipper to these cowboys, not a nice sight, and they were not insured and on Benefit.
We are all wrong sometimes, as experience is a catalog of mistakes or so someone said. It is admitting it that is the hardest bit, and no we are no different.

Denham Springs, LA

December 8, 2009
3:26 AM

Post #7347326

Your article has so much great information. I am a camellia preservationist of older camellias in Louisiana, USA so I do appreciate articles as this to educate and encourage others.

December 14, 2009
10:24 AM

Post #7366956

Hi, Neil,
We are in full agreement on so much.
Just one other point while we are on the subject. Re: Rogue Gardeners on 'Watchdog' (BBC TV). Have you noticed how many of the cowboys have Irish accents, God, I cringe when I see what some in Britain must now think of a proud tradition of horticulture in this country. ( (I suppose is is the eternal 'Football hooligan' v. 'football fan')

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