The Grumpy Gardener – Going Blue (Bordeaux)

The Grumpy Gardener – May

Hints & Tips With Mike Alexander
In his regular column for French News Online, professional gardener Mike Alexander is on the backfoot this month as he discusses the use of Bordeaux Blue — a topic he concedes may rile some.

Now blooming — Skimmia japonica ‘Rubella’ (Credit Mike Alexander)

Bordeaux mixture also called Bordo Mix is one of those touchy subjects that can really get the purists going so I need to tread carefully here.

There is a school of thought, which includes learned gurus at the Royal Horticultural Society, which accepts the use of Bordeaux mixture as a legitimate means of helping prevent fungal disease. The other school however rebuffs the use of any sort of chemical in the garden. There is little doubt that Bordeaux mixture can help control potato and tomato blight, peach leaf curl, apple scab and several other disease whose origins lie in fungal infection.

Bordeaux mixture is a concoction of copper sulphate and slaked lime. It was discovered in the late 19th century by Bordeaux University Botany Professor Pierre-Marie-Alexis Millardet (13 December 1838 – 15 December 1902)  At a time when vines were being decimated by downey mildew he noticed that those closest to the road seemed to be unaffected. He discovered that growers were  spraying these plants with copper sulphate which changed both the colour and taste of their grapes so  making them less palatable to quick-fingered passers by. His mixture has been used commonly since then and I must confess to spraying it myself on both apple and pear trees each winter. It is still widely deployed as well by many organic growers.

Until recently Bordeaux mix was always blue and this had the undesirable effect of staining plants, and in particular walls backing onto plants, to this very apparent colour. A sudden gust of wind could also rapidly transform a careless gardener into someone resembling a primitive hunter gather from one of the outer regions of Papua New Guinea. Colour being what it is in our lives, it is absolutely acceptable to be a Green Gardener but certainly not a Blue one. Recently a clear Bordeaux mix came on the market which although slightly more expensive, to me seems worth the price. But remember, which ever option you choose, it is designed as a preventative not a cure. By the time you can see the fungal infection it is too late to treat with Bordeaux mix.


Skimmia japonica ‘Rubella’ in blossom (Credit: Mike Alexander)


On the subject of colour, one shrub I regard as indispensable in the garden is now in flower. Skimmia japonica ‘Rubella’ is a compact evergreen shrub which in early spring is covered in pale cream flowers which are also a boon for bees. It is one of the first plants to come into flower here but the main reason I grow it is for its buds.

They first appear in autumn and give the plant the appearance of carrying tight bunches of bright pink berries lasting right through the winter when there is little other colour about. It does not get too big and prefers light shade which makes it a great candidate for growing in pots. Provided there is a male plant in the vicinity, females will soon hold bright red berries but they are just an added bonus. For me, it is the coloured buds that give this plant its value.


Previously – click an image below
To read February's gardening tips article - click this image
Is a world without bees possible? Read about this crisis that will affect us all - click here
Prune for Results
A World Without Bees?
What you should have done in January!
Prune your roses - click here
Fruit Tree Pruning
Wars of the Roses
Grumpy Gardener April - It's War Out There. Click to view
Click to read this article
Prune When Finished
Herald of Spring…
click to read Grumpy's july  tips
You’ve got to be quick!
Un-thirsty Lavender
To read this August 2011 article - click here
To read this August 2011 article - click here
Grasp the Nettle
Star Jasmine – Madrid
To read this August 2011 article - click here
To read this August 2011 article - click here
Jihad – on Bunnies Ears
Autumn Arrives
Designer chic or neccessity? - click here for full story
To read this article - click here
Designer Chic?
Gravity – not to be ignored!
If winter comes, can Spring be far behind? Grumpy contemplates the winter garden
If winter comes, can Spring be far behind? Grumpy contemplates the winter garden
If Winter Comes….
Hottest chilli in the world
Dogs and Daffodils... full story - click this image
The iris and Madame la Guillotine... full story - click this image
Dog Days…
Fleur de Lys
Hedge You Bets - how do YOU like your hedges... full story - click this image
To read a previous article
– click an image –
Hedge Your Bets

Grumpy Gardener

Our Grumpy Gardener has been gardening professionally in France for more years than he cares to remember and before that in Africa and the UK. Today he happily shares his expertise with French News Online readers. Your gardening questions are welcome and while they may not be individually answered, they may form the basis of future monthly columns.

Writer: Mike Alexander

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