Early February – spring is definitely on the horizon

Although some days remain cold and grey the garden is on the move. The green shoots of many bulbs are beginning to emerge from under the ground and there is an array of small, exquisite blooms to enjoy throughout the garden.

Without doubt the Snowdrops are in their prime in February. Over the years we have spread them around the garden here at Waverley and every year we have the pleasure of seeing them emerge (even though we have long forgotten where exactly we planted them all).

Over a number of years we have sought to create a snowdrop walk in the copse at the north end of the garden. The bulbs of the common snowdrop Galanthus nivalis that we lifted and divided in the green have established well and bulked up into substantial clumps. Each of these could probably be lifted again this year and spread out further under the trees.

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It is always wise to stop and turn over some of these beautiful flowers. I was surprised to come across this double variety in the leaf litter of the woodland. We must have planted it deliberately in this position at some time in the past.

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Some of my favourites are the larger, glaucus leaved Galanthus elwesii which tend to stand tall and bloom on much longer individual stems. They also start flowering soon after Christmas. This group contrast well with these dark hellebores that flower at the same time.

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Similarly the naturalised snowdrops sit so comfortably with the first of the emerging primroses.

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But it is not all about snowdrops at this time of year. The yellow crocus have now pushed their way through the winter lawn and as soon as the sun shines will open into their full glory.

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Also complementing the snowdrops are these tiny pink blooms of Cyclamen coum surrounded by a carpet of their mottled green leaves.

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The striking blue flowers of the Iris reticulata are also starting to emerge. We have tried to grow these in the flower beds but they do not seem to thrive in our cold damp winter soil. However, growing them in bowls of gritty compost seems to work well and they are a delight to see each year on the patio.

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It certainly will not be long until more spring flowers begin to appear but for now it is the snowdrops that take centre stage all over the garden.

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January sown Sweet Pea varieties for 2019

With the Christmas and New year festivities behind us our thoughts are turning to the new gardening year.  Sowing sweet peas just after Christmas has become a bit of a tradition and makes you feel that the new year has begun even though the January weather is cold and uninviting.

This year we have decided to create two themes using the following varieties (all available from Roger Parsons Sweet Peas (www.rpsweetpeas.com)).  For us a sweet pea must have a good scent to be worth growing.  We also look for varieties that have a longer flower stem so that they sit well amongst other cottage garden flowers when brought into the house.

Details on how we sow our sweet peas and bring on our plants are also included below.


Pink, red and white selection

Emily (tall grandiflora type – rose pink on a white ground)

Photo credit:  Roger Parsons Sweet Peas (real-time link to http://www.rpsweetpeas.com)

Millennium (tall spencer type – crimson)

Photo credit:  Roger Parsons Sweet Peas (real-time link to http://www.rpsweetpeas.com)

Zorija Rose (tall grandiflora type – deep rose shades)

Photo credit:  Roger Parsons Sweet Peas (real-time link to http://www.rpsweetpeas.com)

Hannah Dale (tall early grandiflora type – purple maroon)

Photo credit:  Roger Parsons Sweet Peas (real-time link to http://www.rpsweetpeas.com)

Mollie Rilstone (tall spencer type – cream with a pink edge)

Photo credit:  Roger Parsons Sweet Peas (real-time link to http://www.rpsweetpeas.com)

CCC (tall grandiflora type – white)

Photo credit:  Roger Parsons Sweet Peas (real-time link to http://www.rpsweetpeas.com)

Blue and white collection

Blue Danube (tall spencer type – mid-blue)

Photo credit:  Roger Parsons Sweet Peas (real-time link to http://www.rpsweetpeas.com)

Just Jenny (tall spencer type – navy blue)

Photo credit:  Roger Parsons Sweet Peas (real-time link to http://www.rpsweetpeas.com)

King Size Navy Blue (tall semi-grandiflora type – navy blue)

Photo credit:  Roger Parsons Sweet Peas (real-time link to http://www.rpsweetpeas.com)

Greenfingers (tall grandiflora type – cream with a violet edge)

Photo credit:  Roger Parsons Sweet Peas (real-time link to http://www.rpsweetpeas.com)

Adorabel (tall grandiflora type – lavender turning mauve blue)

Photo credit:  Roger Parsons Sweet Peas (real-time link to http://www.rpsweetpeas.com)

Dragonfly (tall semi-grandiflora type – cream marked with lavender)

Photo credit:  Roger Parsons Sweet Peas (real-time link to http://www.rpsweetpeas.com)

CCC (tall grandiflora type – white)

Photo credit:  Roger Parsons Sweet Peas (real-time link to http://www.rpsweetpeas.com)

Sowing and growing sweet peas

There seems to be a lot of mystique around sowing sweet peas but we have always found them very easy to grow and need no specialist equipment or seed treatment.  Although in the past we have soaked the seed overnight before sowing we have not found this necessary to get good germination.  Roger Parsons ( www.rpsweetpeas.com ) indicates that soaking or chipping the seed may in fact reduce germination.

We certainly have good success with the following approach:

  • Sow 3 or 4 seeds in January in standard 9cm pots in a mix of multi-purpose compost and perlite.
  • Water well and place on the kitchen window sill (this is usually around a constant 18°C-20°C).  Do not water again until the seedlings start to emerge.
  • You will typically see the first seedlings show themselves in about 7-14 days.
  • Once the seedlings have emerged we move them out into a cold, unheated greenhouse.  They are best grown on hard in plenty of light so that they do not get leggy.  If the temperature drops to below -5°C they may need some protection.
  • We keep the seedlings up high on the greenhouse staging so that there is less risk of mice and other rodents getting to them.
  • Once the plants have reached four leaves, pinch out the tops of all the plants so that they bush out.
  • In around mid-March, we harden off for a couple of weeks before planting out into the garden.  We have grown them up canes in the past but this requires a lot of attention to ensure the plants are tied in effectively.  More recently we have found that standard pea and bean netting works particularly well as long as you buy a decent quality that can be used again and again over a number of years.
  • You should create a deep well dug planting trench incorporating lots of well-rotted organic matter into the soil both to hold the moisture and feed the hungry plants through the season.
  • Plant out the whole pot of 3 or 4 plants together without disturbing the roots and water in well.  Each pot should be planted around 12 inches apart and the tendrils gently encouraged to take a grip of the netting.
  • The final stage for us (if we don’t want to have wasted all our hard work) is to run chicken wire around the base of the row to keep the rabbits at bay.

All you need to do now is stand back and watch them grow making sure that you keep them regularly watered and fed with a liquid feed every couple of weeks once they are flowering.   As soon as they start to flower pick them regularly (probably every day).  The more you pick the more flowers you will get!

Powerplanter – reflections on using a new gadget to try and ease the hard work of planting bulbs

Each year we plant literally thousands of bulbs around the garden and if you suffer from any kind of wrist or hand problems it can be very difficult and somewhat painful. To date we have got on best using a standard sturdy trowel but it is hard work especially when planting into turf or uncultivated ground. Over the years we have also tried the stand-up bulb planters but found these very tedious. The plug of soil in the planter never comes out again as easily as it should to refill the hole.

When we saw the adverts for Powerplanter we were intrigued. It seemed like a simple and obvious solution. It is basically a large soil drill that fits into a cordless hand drill and digs you a hole for your bulbs, plug plants or larger plants grown in 9cm pots.

At the time of writing there are four types in the range (www.powerplanter.co.uk) in various sizes ranging from one for planting seeds through to a longer one for ‘stand-up’ digging. The one we chose was the mid-range planter, the 307 model (7 inches long x 3 inches wide). It describes itself as being suitable for ‘potted colour and bulbs’ and cost just under £40.

We have used it for planting autumn bulbs over a number of weeks now and in a nutshell it works! Here are some of our observations:

  • If you are going to use if for any length of time you do need a good quality cordless drill. I found my old drill battery was just not up to the job so treated myself to a new DeWalt DCD776S2T-GB 18V 1.5Ah Li-Ion Cordless Combi Drill. This comes with 2 rechargeable battery packs and is certainly able to keep going longer than I can!
  • The planter works well in moist soil in the cultivated flower beds. It also made light work of creating planting holes in previously uncultivated turf that we had killed off over the summer and had never been dug over. It did begin to struggle cutting into hard dry soil under a large oak tree but I was having difficulty getting a garden fork into that anyway.
  • You do need to be quite organised to avoid your drill getting covered in mud or wet. At this time of year the grass can be damp with dew in the morning and you need somewhere to put your drill down as you move around. I just use an old dog towel which keeps everything dry and clean.
  • When planting the bulbs I have got into the habit of working with one gloved ‘dirty hand’ and one ‘dry clean hand’. The dry clean hand operates the drill whilst the gloved ‘dirty’ hand plants the bulbs and covers over the hole with the loose soil. You can work very fast this way.
  • I have found that the planter is quite accurate and you can easily plant bulbs between other plants without damaging them. For example we have been planting bulbs amongst wall flowers that were set out about 9 inches apart in September.
  • If you are using someone else’s drill you might like to get their permission first. You do have to be quite careful not to get mud into the chuck which certainly could be a pain if the drill is normally used for indoor jobs. The 7 inch planter is only just long enough for digging holes for tulip bulbs and in hind site the longer 12 inch planter might have been better.
  • Finally do read the safety instructions and wear appropriate eye protection. Running on a slow speed it does not throw much soil up towards your face but it could.

Finally for the action movie 😉

For some reason my niece dissolved into fits of laughter seeing me drilling holes in the garden! The youngsters of today have no imagination!

Mid-October in the flower garden

Autumn is very much with us.  We have been busy harvesting the excess apples in the orchard and having fun making cider to last us most of the year, cutting and chopping the quinces and making quince crumble tarts for the freezer and the neighbours have been busy sawing and chopping wood for the winter fires.

Despite the trees turning we have not yet had a real frost here in Warwickshire and there is still plenty of colour in the garden.  In fact some things that have struggled with the heat and lack of water during the summer have burst into flower.  The roses have a new flush of fresh flowers and many of the perennials are showing a second flush of bloom.

Here are six things for this week that have particularly caught my eye:


One:  Begonia ‘Angelique’

As soon as we get any sign of frost I am sure that these tuberous begonias will curl up and die back but as we come to the end of the season I think they are worth celebrating.  Planted out in large patio tubs in the spring they often seem slow to get going but by early August they are in full bloom.  These have been blooming consistently ever since and are very low maintenance – they even dead head themselves.  I always try and lift the tubers and keep them alive if possible.  Sometimes I succeed and sometimes I fail but I will certainly look to keep this variety going and plant them again next year.

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Two:  Cobaea scandens (cup-and-saucer vine)

Cobaea is not something we have grown before but we wanted something to quickly cover the new rose trellis in this first year whilst the new climbing roses get established.   It is certainly one of the fastest growing annuals that I have seen.  It has interesting but not spectacular bell shaped flowers and certainly did the job of covering the new bare trellis.

One added benefit at this time of year is that it produces these charming fairy lights hanging from a curvy, kinked stem once the flowers have dropped.  You almost feel that you should collect them, dry them and spray them silver for winter decorations.

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Three:  Hardy Fushia

One of the shrubs that come into their own at this time of year are the hardy fushias.  They are so easy to grow and also to propagate.  Many of ours have been grown from cuttings that we have been given by friends or relatives.

The first of these is a very delicate white/pink fushia with tiny ballerina flowers.  We have moved it around the garden because it did not thrive initially.  It is now in the part of the garden we describe as the woodland walk and is in part shade and on a woodland edge.  It seems to love it here and produces masses of these tiny white flowers that shine out in the darker semi-shade.

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Another hardy fushia taken from a cutting a couple of years ago and grown on in a terracotta pot, was planted out last autumn.  It is now establishing well with a couple of Eupatorium plants (also taken from cuttings from a garden in Cornwall – thank you Auntie Wendy!).

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Four:  Autumn Crocus

I think of spring as the time for crocus around the garden but I am always pleasantly surprised to see the autumn crocus emerge (although we must have planted them at some point).  Planted at the foot of some of our mature trees they avoid the mower and emerge as the leaves fall.

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Five:  Roses

The warmer, moister weather in September and early October has really brought on the repeat flowering roses.  Many of these are now flowering profusely.   Two that are looking particularly good are the apricot variety ‘Simply the Best’ and pink/orange ‘Fragrant Delight’.  As the name describes ‘Fragrant Delight’ has a wonderful and powerful perfume that hangs in the evening air at this time of year.

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Rose ‘Simply the Best’
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Rose ‘Fragrant Delight’

Six: Astrantia (Granny’s pincushion)

Perhaps rather surprisingly the rose/lilac tinted Astrantia is flowering again.  This is something we often use in our flower arrangements earlier in the season.  It has strong stems and holds very well if conditioned correctly.

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The Six on Saturday meme is hosted by The Propagator. Click on the link to see what other plant lovers are chatting about.

 

 

Planning colour combinations for next year – Six on Saturday

It is the time of year when you begin to sit down with the catalogues and start to plan how you want the garden to look next year.  Very soon we will be clearing this year’s fading annuals ready for planting out new bulbs and biennials.

It is often difficult to remember what exactly worked and what didn’t and so I have started to look back at the year’s photographs to see what struck me as note worthy at the time.

It is really very satisfying to do this and here are six combinations that seem to have worked particularly well in 2018.


One:  Philadelphus and Clematis ‘Niobe’

Taken on 9 June 2018 this picture shows the striking combination of the purple Clematis variety ‘Niobe’ clambering through the fragrant white Philadelphus.

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Two:  Meadow style

This charming open meadow style planting was at its prime on 2 June 2018.  It combines the delicate pink oriental poppies with mixed coloured Valerian (Centranthus), cottage garden blue/purple aquilegia and ox-eye daisies (Leucanthemum vulgare).

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Three:  Foxgloves in the rose garden

I would like to think this was planned but the combination of these tall (over 7 feet) Elsey Kelsey foxgloves with the rambling rose ‘Constance Spry’ was striking .  The picture was taken on 16 June 2018.    Next year’s Elsey Kelsey foxgloves were sown in June and will be ready to plant out in mid-September.  I will certainly be placing these charming white and purple foxgloves here again next year.

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Four:  Nigella, alliums and foxgloves

Again taken in early June this relaxed planting of Nigella damascena, interspersed with Allium cristophii backed by foxgloves worked well.  We tend to let the Nigella self seed each year and then thin them out in the spring to create this dramatic effect.  It has real movement as the breeze travels through the garden.

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Five:  Hemerocallis and Clematis ‘H.F. Young’

This butter yellow Hemerocallis is one of our favourites.  It is a slightly smaller plant than some of the other Hemerocallis varieties we have.  The combination with this almost pure blue Clematis ‘H.F. Young’ works very well at the back of the small garden behind the house.

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Six:  Pond edge

The final selection here is a picture from the pond edge border.  Yet more foxgloves (we like foxgloves!) sit wonderfully well with a large planting of sweet william (Dianthus barbatus), feverfew and the contrasting dark foliage of Persicaria ‘red dragon’.  Just visible is the fresh green foliage of the cosmos which grows through to take over as the summer continues.  The photograph was taken on 16 June 2018.

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The Six on Saturday meme is hosted by The Propagator. Click on the link to see what other plant lovers are chatting about.

Another six star plants for August

Last week’s ‘Six on Saturday’ was a bit challenging as I just couldn’t decide which six to feature!  So, this week I have come back with another six stars of the August garden.


One:  Dahlia ‘Apricot Desire’

There are so many dahlias to choose from in late summer but this variety, ‘Apricot Desire’, seems to have performed very well this year.  It is such a beautiful and well shaped bloom.  Generally the dahlias seem to have been later this year but the plants are still looking very good and the buds are forming well.

As the picture shows, it will not be long until the Asters begin to flower as well and we are certainly looking forward with anticipation to the potentially striking combination.

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Two:  Ageratum ‘Blue Horizon’

We have grown a number of varieties of Ageratum over the years and the F1 ‘Blue Horizon’ stands out as both an excellent cut flower and border plant.  It is relatively tall, has strong stems and seems to just flower and flower and flower with little attention.  The powder blue is also quite unusual and sits well with yellows, whites and pinks.  Ageratum ‘Blue Horizon’ is a plant that we grow without hesitation every year now.

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Three: Chincherinchee

We grew this for the first time last year in large patio tubs and it performed wonderfully (see:  Chincherinchee (Ornithogalum thyrsoides) ).  We tried to overwinter the bulb with little success as they split into multiple tiny bulbules and presumably will take many years to grow big enough to flower effectively again.  As they are so cheap we bought another batch this year, started them in large pots and then planted out into the flower garden.

Once again they have grown into excellent plants and are producing good, strong stems (c. 18 inches) topped with these charming white flowers.  What I particularly like is that the don’t need any staking.  The second flush of flowers is beginning to develop now and they will probably carry on flowering until the first frosts.

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Four:  Phlox (probably ‘Bright Eyes’)

The Phlox in our garden never seem to be as big and lush as they are in other peoples’ gardens but they are such a lovely, fragrant flower that we continue to try year after year to develop and improve them.  They seem to thrive best in parts of the garden where there is continual moisture in the soil throughout the year.  Although we have some wonderful white Phlox in full sun they do need continual water to stop them flopping at the first sign of any drought.

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Five:  Aster × frikartii ‘Mönch’

Aster ‘Mönch’ comes into flower a few weeks earlier than many of the other ‘September flowers’ (see: Michaelmas daisies in the autumn sunshine ).  It is a charming plant with a loose airy habit and makes a wonderful cut flower. It is a perfect flower for many of our country style wedding bouquets.

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Six:  Rose ‘Prince Jardinier’

This is one of the new roses that we have planted in the redesigned cut flower garden (see: New additions to our garden of Roses ).  Many have been repeat flowering but this variety just continues to produce these delicate light blooms with a darker pink centre.  Exquisite.

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The Six on Saturday meme is hosted by The Propagator. Click on the link to see what other plant lovers are chatting about.

Zinnia elegans – a hot climate plant from Mexico loving the 2018 UK heatwave

One flowering annual that has thoroughly enjoyed the hot weather this year has been the Zinna.  Whereas the Dahlias appear to have been delayed this year the Zinnias have produced tall, strong, clean plants with masses of excellent quality flowers.

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Zinnia elegans ‘Lilliput Purple’

I must admit that in previous years my Zinnas have struggled and if you get a cool period they just seem to sulk.  In order to try and improve their chances in the future, even in cooler years, here are a few things to consider.

  • Grown from seed Zinnia will germinate in 3-5 days at 27-29°C and 5-7 days at 21-24°C.¹
  • The seedlings should be grown on with night time temperatures of 15-18°C and day time temperatures of 21°C.¹
  • Zinnas dislike root disturbance so ideally the seeds should be sown in individual modules to reduce disturbance at the planting out stage.
  • Plant out at a spacing of around 6 inches apart.  The denser the spacing the taller the plants.¹
  • Zinnas are quantitative short day plants (see How plants use day length to decide when to flower (Photoperiodism) ).  This means that they flower more rapidly under short days but eventually flower regardless of photoperiod.   Long days (greater than 12 hours) produce longer stems but delay flowering.  Similarly if you plant a succession of Zinnas after the longest day they will flower on shorter stems.¹
  • Benzakein⁴ emphasises the importance of pinching out the central flower bud when the plants are 18 inches tall to encourage the development of lower branches on the plant.
  • Zinnas do seem to be prone to powdery mildew particularly if growing in conditions where hot days are followed by cool damp nights.  Over watering can cause similar problems.
  • If you are growing for cutting, pick the flowers before the pollen matures.  If you can see fluffy, mature pollen the chances are the bees have done their job and the flower is now redundant and will wither to allow the seed to develop.
  • There seems to be a difference in view as to whether Zinnas like ‘flower food’ or not.  Beutler² states very clearly that they do not like floral preservative whilst Benzakein⁴ is an advocate of its use with Zinnas.
  •  Zinnas are long lasting in water but will wilt rapidly out of water and it is reported that they do not work well in corsages and buttonholes.²

In reality there is little that many of us can do about the great British weather and in some years different species will grow better than others.  Certainly Zinnas like it hot and starting to grow the seeds too early if you don’t have the facilities to keep them warm can reduce your chances of success.

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Zinna elegans ‘Benary’s Giant Wine’

Keep in mind that Zinnia elegans is a warm-hot climate plant native to Mexico growing in scrub and dry grassland.  Not every year will be suitable for them here in the UK but their bright vivid colours in late summer are certainly striking when conditions are right.

Half Hardy Annual

Origin:  Mexico

Height:  60-90cm

Flowering period:  July to October

Latin name:  Zinnia elegans (after botanist Johann Gottfried Zinn (1727-1759)) ¹

Family:  Asteraceae   (Tribe:  Heliantheae – Sunflowers)

Further reading

¹  “Specialty Cut Flowers” by Armitage and Laushman (ISBN:  0-88192-579-9)

²  “Garden to Vase” by Linda Beutler (ISBN: 978-0-88192-825-9)

³  “The Cutting Garden” by Sarah Raven (ISBN: 978-0-7112-3465-9)

⁴  “Cut Flower Garden” by Erin Benzakein and Julie Chai (ISBN: 978-1-4521-4576-1)