Entries from February 2010 ↓

More February Seed Sowing

The weather has been so bad here, that I have not been able to sow any seeds until now. (The weather is still not great – it’s raining but at least it is not too cold. Most of my seed sowing is done in a cold greenhouse, so although it does not matter if it is wet, the temperature does make a difference.

Today I sowed some more Sweet Peas – Swan Lake which is a white flowered variety; Royal Mixed which is, as the name suggests a mixture of colours and Orange Dragon which, of course, is an orange flowered variety. These were all sown 2 seeds in a 3″ pot with the seed being about an inch below the surface.

I also sowed Geum Blazing Sunset seed. This was sown much the same as sweet peas, although the  seed is nearer the surface. Geums are great plants. They are a perennial and have bright red  double flowers which are good as cut flowers. The leaves are a good shape too so they are attractive even when they are not flowering. They are 2 ft tall, so are useful in the middle of the border. This seed is even more attractive as it was a free packet from Thompson and Morgan!

Gaillardia (also known as Blanket Flowers) is another mid-height flower. This is between 12 – 18 inches high. I sowed the variety Gaillardia Aristata Goblin in a seed tray.

Gaillardia aristata Goblin

These need to be sowed on the surface since light helps them to germinate. I sow them on top of compost which has been smoothed down and then I add a small layer of vermiculite. This does not exclude the light but will stop the seed being washed about when the seed tray is watered. ‘Goblin’ is my variety of choice because its flowers are so bright. They look a bit like daisies with red centres surrounded by bright yellow outers. They have a long flowering period so are very useful.

I like Sweet William. Although it is a biennial, it will often flower a further year if you cut the top off and leave the root in. I had some which actually lasted five years. They looked like a bush before they eventually gave up and died. This year I sowed Dianthus Barbatus Noverna Clown.

Dianthus barbatus Noverna Clown F1 Hybrid

These are F1 hybrids, so they will almost certainly only flower one year. They are different in that the flowers start off white and then change colour to pink through to purple, although some remain white. Like Gaillardia, these seeds need to be sown on the surface, so I followed the same technique.I used a 3 inch pot though, because there were so few seeds. Once they are large enough to handle, I will pot them on into individual pots before planting out in their permanent beds in late summer.

The last seed I sowed today was Papaver Bracteatum.

Papaver bracteatum

This is a very large Poppy. It grows up to 5-6 feet tall with flowers up to 8 ins across. Quite a statement for a Poppy. Even better, it has a sturdy stem so will need no support, although if it is planted in an exposed spot, it might be well to give it some support. I sowed the seed in a seed tray and covered it with compost. Unlike many Poppies, this variety does not mind being transplanted so it is O.K. to sow it indoors. Many Poppies resent their roots being disturbed and will even die if you you so. They are very hardy though, so it is easy to sow them in the place you want them to flower. Not yet though – it’s too cold.

Plants at their best in early spring

Early spring, to me, is a time of hope and anticipation, as well as a great deal of work, sowing seeds and weeding the garden. . However, I always try to take time to ‘smell the roses’ so to speak. There are many plants which are at their best in early spring, some because they are in full, spectacular flower and some because they have particularly attractive early growth.

Lets start with the obvious – bulbs.

Some of the Narcissus (daffodil) family are among the earliest of the flowers to show their heads.

daffodil jonquil mix

Daffodils have now been hybridised so that the different varieties flower for a very long period, starting as early as February in some years (not this year – its been too cold!).

Hyacinths also flower in early spring and their intense fragrance make them very welcome.

hyacinth

There is one other  bulb which looks majestic at this time of the year, that is the Crown Imperial. It will grow well in most soils and has Red or Yellow flowers.

Aubrietia is an easy to grow plant for the edge of borders or rockeries.

Aubretia

You can even use it as a ground cover. Hybridization means that there are a number of shades through pink and purple.

Primroses are one of the most well known of the early spring flowers

Primrose Fruelo

Hybrids are now available in a wide range of colours to suit everyone’s taste and colour scheme.

Climbing plants can also add to your display at this time of year, some of the Honeysuckles will flower early.

The variety ‘Aureoreticulata’ is a rampant evergreen climber with leaves which are bright green with conspicuous yellow veining. It can grow up to 30 feet (9m) so its not for the feint hearted, but is very useful to cover a large area.

Clematis likes full sun or part shade.

clematis macropetala

It will climb over trellis or over other shrubs. It grows up to 11 ft (3.5m) and Clematis Macropetala has dainty lilac coloured flowers.

Among the shrubs looking great is of course, Camellia.

It is a shrub which will give you an exotic look without a great deal of trouble. Camellia Japonica grows up to 6 ft (1.8m) high with a spread of 11 ft (3.5m). It comes in a range of colours from pale pink through to deep rose.

Red Robin (Photonia fraseri) is an evergreen shrub and although it’s flowers are insignificant. It is grown for its new growth, which at this time of year is a brilliant red and quite spectacular. It grows up to 6 – 10 ft high (2-3m) and makes a great addition to a mixed hedge or even as a spot plant.

Trees too, play their part in an early spring diplay. The flowering Almond (Prunus Tribola) is one of the earliest of flowers. It has pink blossoms which will totally cover the tree. It reaches a height and spread of 10-14ft (3 – 4.5m). and is often used to line Streets as its root system stays reasonably controlled and does not disturb pavements and drains.

First Sowings Of The Year

Hurray!! At last, the weather has warmed up enough to start sowing the hardy annuals.

Today I sowed some of my sweet peas.

I sowed Sweet Pea Miss Wilmott

sweet pea miss wilmott

Sweet Pea Chatsworth

sweet pea chatsworth

Sweet Pea Fragrant Ripples

sweet pea fragrant ripples

and Sweet Pea Orange Dragon

sweet pea orange dragon

They were all sown in3″ posts, 2 seeds per pot in  compost about 1.5 ins below the surface. They will stay in those pots until it is time to plant them out when I will not separate them, but will train them away from each other on the support.

I have sown sweet peas in ‘root trainers’ in the past and if I was growing for exhibition, I would do so again, but I find that they grow quite well in 3″ pots so I use those.

As with all sowings, these pots are clearly labelled so that I know what is in them. Many seedlings look the same until they have their true leaves, so it is very necessary to label clearly, particularly if you are growing more than one variety of the same plant. I have tried many ways of labelling plants and have found them all wanting until I found the Brother P-touch labelling system which I find works very well.

Watering Plants with Sprinklers or Watering Cans

All plants require adequate amounts of water and there will be occasions when it is necessary to water artificially. However, watering your plants is not just a case of pouring water onto them.  In fact this can do more harm than good. There are a few rules you should bear in mind when applying water.

First, never add water in small amounts. It is essential to give enough water to get right down to the roots of the plant where they need it. Applying little water often, will make the plant roots come to the surface of the soil to search for water, making them even more vulnerable to the heat and lack of moisture.

Second, although large quantities of water are required, you must apply it carefully. Water applied in the form of large droplets or with great force will make the soil ‘crumbs’  break down and form a hard crust on the surface. This will prevent further water from entering the soil and also it will inhibit the free interchange of air and gases. On a seed bed, this crust will actually stop the young seedlings pushing through to the surface. To prevent this happening always apply water through a sprinkler with a fine head. When watering seed trays use a watering can fitted with a fine rose. Start pouring the water to one side of the tray or pot, then pass the watering can over the seedlings keeping the angle of the rose constant throughout. When you have finished, do not raise the can until you it is clear of the seed tray or pot.

The size of the droplets of water is not so important when you are watering grass, so lawn sprinklers are not generally made with much attention to the optimum droplet size. However, if you are going to be using your sprinkler on other parts of your garden, besides the lawn, then make sure you have a fine head to put on it. If you can only afford one head, chose a fine one.

It is not necessary to keep the soil moist all the time. Only water when the soil is dry but before the plants begin to suffer. Remember the surface of your soil may dry out long before the rest of it does. Provided you use a fine spray, you can water at any time of day. However, timing is important. Watering when fruits and vegetables are swelling will increase the overall weight. Once fruits, in particular, begin to colour you should not over-water. It could invite a fungal attack, particularly botrytis.

It is very easy to over-water especially plants in pots. Try to strike a balance between an aerated soil or compost and one with moisture. A cold, wet, airless soil will not do anything to encourage plant growth. If you are watering in the vegetable or flower garden, leave the sprinkler one for at least an hour each time.

When you have just planted a plant, water it immediately after planting, then leave it to its own devices for a while, almost allowing the soil to dry out before watering the plant again. This will encourage the plant to search for water, thus increasing its root system.

Watering is a bit of an art. Remember, in the garden water copiously, less often. Err on the side of dryness rather than giving to much water. Pot plants want to be damp but do not want to drown.

Preventing overwintering pests and diseases in the greenhouse.

Saturday turned out to be a nice day weatherwise here. The sun shone brightly and the greenhouse suddenly warmed up, so, looking forward to spring, I decided to get rid of any pests and diseases which  may have overwintered in the greenhouse, by burning a sulpher candle.

This is not very organic, but I don’t profess to garden totally chemical free. I just try to use as few chemicals as possible and look for alternatives if possible. I always look carefully before smoking the greenhouse to see if there are any beneficial insects which I do not want to kill. Plants which have been stored in the greenhouse do not seem to suffer from the treatment.

There are a number of pests and diseases which can populate your greenhouse without you being aware of them until they become a problem in spring and summer. Some overwinter in the greenhouse, so it is worth treating the greenhouse to rid yourself of the worst of them before you start a new year. Remember though, this treatment is indiscriminate and will kill beneficial insects as well as harmful ones.

Pests and diseases in the greenhouse can build up rapidly because of the warmth and humidity. It is always best to keep a careful watch for them and try to prevent them building up. Always maintain scrupulous cleanliness and remove any damaged parts of the plant as soon as you spot a problem. Do not compost that plant material – burn it.

There are a number of fungal diseases which affect your greenhouse plants and one of the worse, in my opinion , is damping off. This shows as a blackened area at the base of the stem and in very short order the affected plant will topple over and die. There’s nothing worse than sowing and nurturing a plant only for it to suddenly die. There are a number of things you can do to prevent it (there is no cure). First, sow your seeds more thinly, water less and increase the temperature in the greenhouse. Sometimes, the disease is carried in the soil and if this is the case you will need to sterilize it by heating it to kill it. Watering other plants with copper fungicide will help prevent itspreading.

Red Spider mite are almost invisible to the naked eye and you don’t see them until there are loads of them. They are green as well as red and they cover the plants with webs and cause fine mottling on the leaves. They are only a problem in a dry atmosphere so increase the humidity to safeguard. There is a parasitic mite which will control it, but if you have a small infestation you can spray with derris

Whiteflies are another serious and persistent greenhouse pest. They are small white flies (as the name suggests) which weaken the plants by sucking sap. They are often found on the undersides of leaves. They can be controlled by a parasitic wasp. Alternately hang a grease coated yellow card in the greenhouse. For some reason, many insects are attracted to yellow and they stick to it. If all else fails, spray with derris three times at five day intervals. Do not spray if you have already introduced biological control.

Rock Gardens and Rockeries

Purists will tell you that there is a difference between rockeries and rock gardens. They will even look down their noses at rockeries. Ignore them!

The difference between rockeries and rock gardens is mainly scale and the emphasis of rock or plants. In rock gardens, the rocks are very large and that is the main thrust of the installation. Plants are usually quite small and widely spread, put there to stress the size and shape of the rocks.

Rockeries, however, are often small parts of normal size gatrdens, often built next to, or around small ponds and their space is shared with specially chosen plants.

When building a rockery, chose your rocks with care. Place them so that they look as if they were meant to be in the ground there. They need the bottoms covered with soil, so that they, as well as your plants, have grown there. Leave room between your rocks for your plants to expand but not too much room. You don’t really want bare soil between the rocks.

Plants for rockeries are great. You can get so many shapes and colours in a small space. There is a huge selection to choose from, some are only suitable for a position in the rockery whilst others can be used in other parts of the garden.There are even rock versions of much larger plants. Often rock plants are ones which will spread rapidly and rampantly, so the positioning of them is important so that they are contained.

Salix Apoda is a small plant, only 6 inches (15cm) high with a spread of 12-24 inches (30 -6-cm). It is, in effect, a miniture willow. It is a slow growing a deciduous shrub. In early spring male forms bear fat, silky silver catkins with orange to pale yellow stamens and bracts. The leaves are oval and leathery. When they are young they are hairy and become dark green later.

Sedums and  Saxifraga are large families  of plants which are recognisably related and they have varieties which provide interest throughout the year. You could build a rockery using only those plants and it would still be attractive. Check out saxifraga burseriana which have large white open cup flowers in the early spring. It is evergreen, so will look good throughout the winter. Saxifrage ‘hindhead seedling’  is another evergreen but has a hard dome of small spiny blue-green leaves. It has open upward facing pale yellow flowers in spring, whilst saxifrage sancia has tufts of bright green leaves all year with short racemes of upward facing bright yellow flowers in spring.

In summer, the sedums take over, with sedum acre being the most common. ‘Aureum’ is a variety which is evergreen, dense and mat-forming with spreading shots, yellow tipped in the spring and early summer and clothed in tiny fleshy, yellow leaves. It bears flat heads of tiny bright yellow flowers in summer, hence its name. Less well known,but equally showy is seduym lydium. This has reddish stems and narrow, flesht often red-flushed leaves and bears flat topped terminal clusters of tiny white flowers in summer.

There are so many different plants you can choose from for rock garden, it bogales the mind. Check out the Gentians, the campanulas, geraniums and the dianthus families. The thyme family also provides great miniature plants.

The great thing about having a rockery in your garden is that in a quite small space you can have a rich variety of plants which you wouldn’t have room for if you grew varieties in any other positi0n. So ignore the rock garden snobs, go for it and enjoy!

Making your own Garden Tools

Homemade garden tools are easy to make, cost very little – if  anything – and are hugely satisfying to use. In fact ‘re-cycling’ is a word which seems to be made specifically for this activity. All the tools decribed can, of course be purchased either on the internet or through garden centres or even D.I.Y. shops.

The first suggested tool is a sieve. A 1.5mm mesh is really useful for sprinkling a fine layer of compost on top of seeds. It is very easy and inexpensive to make. You just nail a piece of mesh on a square or circular frame. You can make the frame by nailing 4 pieces  of wood together.

Next is a garden line. This is so useful, I’m sure most gardeners use it whenever they sow seeds in the vegetable patch. It consists of two sticks (or pegs) with a thick piece of string between them. It is useful to make it to fit your patch and to keep it rolled up for use when you have finished using it. Always have two garden lines – it will save you a lot of walking round the bed.

A dibber is a useful tool when transplanting seedlings or planting cuttings. You can, of course, use your finger but a dibber saves finger nails! Make a large one by using the top of a broken wooden spade or fork handle. Cut it to 12 ins (30cm) and shave the end to a point. Simple.

Make a tool cleaner by cutting a piece of wood into the shape of a spade. Use it to clean your spade or fork when digging. Clean tools make digging much easier. Also use it to clean all your tools when you have finished with them, before oiling them and putting them away. Tools will last much longer that way.

A planting board is invaluable for accurate spacing of plants. It is make from 1in x 1in wood (3cm x 3 cm). Make it as long as you want but no longer than 10 ft (3 m). It become difficult to place if it is longer than that. Make a sawcut every 3 ins (8cm) and mark every 12 ins (30cm) with the appropriate number of nails.  This stops the guessing from the spacing of plants and the frustration of using a tape measure.

Easton Walled Garden

On Friday, I went to see the Snowdrop Walk at Easton walled Garden.

Snowdrops at Easton Walled Garden

I find it very interesting to look at other people’s gardens and often get ideas and inspiration for my own patch. I buy a copy of The Yellow Book
every year and often use it to visit the listed gardens that are local to me.

At this time of year, there are very few gardens open. However, you will find Snowdrop walks. These are often based on old Monks gardens, as snowdrops were brought over by the Monks in medieval times and spread around the country by them. They were used to put on the altars. So, if you want to go on a walk and can’t find one in the yellow book, look at the local large houses and National Trust properties.

When we left home, there was a very small amount of snow left in our garden, in places which get no sun at this time of year. By the time we got to Easton Walled Garden,which is near Grantham, there was a covering of about 2cm. We were not concerned about this as snowdrops have their own inbuilt anti-freeze, so will melt the snow around their bulbs.

Although the snowdrops and celandines were virtually all the flowers showing at the moment. It was still very pleasant to stroll all around the garden. There is a Yew tunnel which is, of course, still evergreen.  a short talk about snowdrops was also on the agenda with much information about history and species.The only down side, in my opinion, was the continuous noise of the traffic on the A1, which whilst not being terribly loud was audible where ever you were in the garden.

I have never been to this garden before, but will try to make a point of visiting again. It is open three days a week from the 28th. February and look as if it is has different plants and areas looking their best at different times of the year.

At Easter, the daffodils, Iris and auriculas come into their own. (they advertise that they have planted 10,000 bulbs, so these should look spectacular. In May, they have a two day plant fair. In summer, the sweet peas and roses are at their best together with Alliums and salads. There is a large vegetable plot which comes into its own in late summer whilst October is billed as Children’s month and they have Christmas shopping in November. Altogether, a garden for all seasons.

Whilst Easton Walled Garden is one of the gardens  in my area, there will be a garden of this ilk in an area near you. I can recommend a walk like this. Even if you aren’t particularly interested in snowdrops, it’s a lovely way to go for a short walk in the fresh air.

Sweet Pea seeds to sow in February

I have just received my flower seed order from Thompson and Morgan. After I have checked that I have ordered every packet of seed sent and that I have received every packet of seed I ordered, I next sort the packets of seed into the months in which I shall sow them. There are a surprising number of packets of seeds to sow in February.

Sweet Peas are among these seeds and I have got four varireties to sow.

Chatsworth is one of the varieties that people grow for exhibition (I don’t exhibit). It is also a good garden variety. It has beautiful wavy petals which are a cool lavender blue and has a great scent. In short, it’s the type of sweet pea everybody imagines.

sweet pea chatsworth

Miss Willmott is a much older variety, dating back to 1902. It is a much smaller flowered variety but the colour of the flowers make up for the size – it is a stumnning orange/pink.
sweet pea miss willmott

Orange Dragon has stems which are really long, so they are great for cutting. I have a vase of sweet peas on the window sill by my sink throughout summer. They are really great to look at and smell whilst I am washing up. The flowers of ‘Orange Dragon’ Sweet Pea are bright orange and red and, provided you grow them out of full sun, they keep their colour.
sweet pea orange dragon

Fragrant Ripples is my final packet.  This is a mixture of varieties which have rippled flowers and are fragrant. They are one of the special offer packets of seeds which Thompson and Morgan are offering this year and it will be interesting to see if they live up to their reputation.
sweet pea fragrant ripples

I always mean to sow sweet pea seeds in the autumn, but never seem to get round to it. I am always concerned that if I leave them in the cold greenhouseobver winter they will get neglected and will die. So I will sow them now and put them on a warm-ish window sill to germinate.

Sweet Peas resent having their roots disturbed. They also have very long roots, so there are many specialised pots made to sow them in. I have tried root trainers which worked very well. They are extra long pots which open up down the middle so that it is easy to remove the root ball intact.

root trainers

You can also get pots made or coir or peat to sow sweet peas in. These also work well as you plant the whole pot which then softens when in contact with wet soil, allowing the roots to grow through it. I have also sown them in normal 3″ pot. They do O.K. in these, but you do have to make sure you don’t leave them in the pots too long. Also be careful not to damage the roots when you take them out.

Choosing Grass Mowers

Some people find mowing their grass tedious whilst others find it therapeutic and satisfying. Whichever group you subscribe to, having the right mower for the job will make it much easier.

There are basically two types of lawnmower. A cylinder mower which is exactly what it says, it has blades on a cylinder. It also usually has a roller either in front of the blades or behind. This is what gives you the stripes when you regularly mow your lawn in the same way. A cylinder mower will generally give you a much better finish than a rotary mower. You should try to get as many blades on the cylinder as possible. A collector box for the cut grass is also useful since this helps to prevent thatch accumulating.

A rotary lawnmower is once again exactly what it says. The blades are mounted in a circle and turn round fast to cut the grass. Sometimes the blades are replaceable and made of plastic (as in the hovermower) and sometimes they are metal and are capable of being sharpened. The useful thing about a rotary grass mower is that it will cut tall grass. You can use them on close cut lawns but they do not give the same fine finish.

You can buy petrol or electric powered lawnmowers. Some petrol-powered mowers even have electric starters, rather then the string pull which can be hard to master. Electric lawnmowers are generally cheaper to buy than their petrol-powered cousins but have the down side that you are limited to the length of their cable and you must be careful not to cut it. They are, however, generally much lighter than petrol-powered mowers as you are not carrying petrol around with you.