Entries from July 2010 ↓

Daffodils – an early sign of spring.

Like many people, seeing the first daffodils in flower lifts my heart and is the first sign that spring has really arrived.However, this is no longer exactly true as you can now buy daffodils which will flower from December right the way through to June and even July. It would appear Daffodils are no longer just a spring bulb.

The daffodil flowering in December is really a cheat as it is an indoor bulb. It is called Narcissus Paperwhite. As the name suggests it has white flowers but, unlike many daffodils they are multi-headed. The bulbs are available from Gardening Direct.

The earlier outdoor daffodils tend to be dwarf flowers such as Narcissus Tamara, again available from Gardening direct. They have all yellow flowers which appear in January.

February heralds the flowering of Spring Dawn, which as its name suggests is a much softer hue that the usual brash yellow of other daffodils. This has white petals and yellow trumpets and bulbs are available from Gardening direct. Although the catalogues state that Tete-a-tete daffodils flower in March, my bulbs regularly flower in February so I have chosen this as my favourite for that month. Again it is dwarf and all yellow. I love this flower, it is such a perfect miniature of the grown up flower Carlton ot Tenby Daffodil (Narcissus Obvalaris) Both the tete-a-tete and Tenby bulbs are available form Gardening Direct, although I have not seen Carlton bulbs this year. It is obviously out of favour for some reason. It is such a hardy and bright flower, though, it is sure to be back.

March is the height of the Daffodil floiwering season and there are so many varieties available, that it is impossible to list them all and do them justice. However, if you want something a bit different why not try Flower Parade. These are double white flowers with orange centres. You could also do worse than Jack the Lad and Gaytime which are both double yellow flowers. They are all available from Gardening Direct.

Have you ever seen the variety which is commonly known as Yellow Hoop Petticoat. This is only 7 to 8 inches tall, but the flowers are very different both in shape and also that they have up to 15 stems per bulb. An easy way to make a statement inexpensively. They flower from March to May so have a very long season. Bulbs are available from Thompson and Morgan.

May also sees the flowers of Rose of May , a daffodil variety which is double white and has a delicious fragrance.

This brings us to the last variety I am going to mention, Summer Erlicheer. This is really unusual in that it flowers fron June to July. It is also Deer Resistant. – very useful if you live in an area where deer tend to invade your garden and nibble your favopurite flowers.  The bulbs are available from T & M.

Pansy – a happy winter flower

The most popular winter flower is probably the Pansy. There is a good reason for this. In the dull, dreary, grey months of January and February, the winter pansy’s flower looks like a happy, smiling face – ready made to cheer you up.

Pansies are very easy to grow and their flowering season lasts a long time. What’s more they are hardy perennials, so they will disappear in the foliage during summer and make themselves known again in the winter when you most need them.

Plant sellers  are currently selling plug plants for several varieties of winter pansies.

The first I have chosen is  RHS Winning Formula Mixed.

Pansy RHS Winning Formula Mixed

It flowers during winter through to spring and is 6 to 9 inches high. It is being sold in two sizes of plug plants; Mini plug plants (which need growing on before planting them in your garden ) are 120 & 30 free (i.e.150 altogether) for £12.99 or 72 & 12 free larger plug plants for £14.99.

The next variety is Pansy Giant Colorburst.

Pansy Giant Colorburst

This pansy is really large, as you cam se in the picture. The blooms are up to 12cm  (over 4inches) in diameter. They are available in 3 pack sizes, and look to be really good value.

My final choice is Pansy Spring Dawn.

Pansy Spring Dawn

This is a really beautiful, well named,  pansy in pastel shades of blue, pink and white, that will brighten up any winters day.

Buying pansies as plug plants is a good way to get a large number of plants for very little expense or fuss and will make a good start to your winter display.

Many other varieties are available.

Check out these links for more ideas…

2 pages here

and 1 more page here

Unusual Winter plants

It may seem a bit strange, thinking and planning for your winter garden whilst still thinking about your summer holidays, but now is the time to plan how your garden will look during those grey dreary days when few plants are in flower. I suppose, considering that you plan your summer holiday just after Christmas it’s not so strange!

Winter is the time when your ‘architectural’ plants come into their own (that is those plants which are grown for their size and shape as well , or instead of, their flowers. One of the more unusual ones is Bamboo – Phyllostachys Nigra or Oriental Black Bamboo

Bamboo - Phyllostachys Nigra - Oriental Black Bamboo

Black Bamboo, unlike many other Bamboos, does not run. That is it stays in clumps and does not try to take over the whole of your garden. Many Bamboos will suddenly appear some way away from where you planted it having sent out running roots. It is a real pain to keep under control. Black Bamboo is very well behaved. It can grow quite large (10ft tall and 10ft spread) but it will stay where it’s planted. Whats more, if you so desire, you can grow it in a very large pot or a half barrel. That may ‘bonsai’ it, i.e. make it grow slightly smaller. It is evergreen but it is really the black stems that you are growing it for and these look stunning in the weak winter sunshine or even with the frost clinging to them.

The other plants I want to mention are becoming more popular but are none the less  useful plans, that is the Hellebores.

Hellebores

Thompson and Morgan are selling double hellebores from the Washfield Collection and make a good addition to your garden as they flower during winter (they are not called ‘Christmas Rose’ for no reason.) and they keep their leaves – which in themselves are quite pretty, all year.

It is useful to keep a small patch of  ground somewhere hidden away which you can use as a nursery bed – that is a bed where you grow plants on until they are the right size to plant out or until the place you want them is free. You often need to do this with ‘bi-annuals’ (plants which you sow one year but do not flower until the year after). You don’t want these taking up space in you flower borders for 18 months whilst they are growing. so you sow them in spring, grow them on in a nursery bed and plant them in their final place in autumn, ready to flower the next year.

Bellis Perennis – a great little flower

Last year, I grew Bellis Perennis. It started flowering in March (it usually starts in February but it was late due to the really bad weather we had then) and is just now starting to look as though it is past its best.

Bellis Perennis is a really cheerful flower. Very easy to grow and really long lasting. Worth the price and the room it takes up. It is only 6 inches tall, so you need to plant it in the front of your border. Some varieties look like a daisy although the popular variety this year (Tasso) looks, I thing, like a very, very small Chrysanthemum.It is white with red edges to its flowers.

I grow my Bellis Perennis from seed. Just chuck the seed in  and it will grow. Actually, I grow it in seed trays now and plant out in autumn. However, there is no reason why you can’t sow them in a nursery bed and plant them out when you have room or even  sow  them in situ. If  you do sow them outside, they will need watering regularly, particularly this year when it is so dry.

If you are not confident enough, or have enough time, or simply can’t be bothered to mess around sowing seed. Then Gardening Direct are selling plug plants of two different types of Bellis Perrenis for just under £9 a set. This means 42 medium plug plants or 24 large plug plants. That means you have loads to spread around your garden (or, if you prefer share  with family and friends).

A plug plant is a small plant which has been grown so that it has a good root system. They are sent through the post in trays which hold individual plants. You just push the plants out from the bottom and plant them. Small plug plants are better if you put them in 3 inch pots and protect them for a few weeks so that you have larger plants when you put them in the garden.  However, the larger plug plants can by planted straight into your garden.

Large plug plants are 4 inches high when you get them whilst medium plugs are 3 inches tall. Gardening Direct also  sell  small plug plants which are only 2 inches high but not in Bellis Perennis plants.

As I said, I think Bellis Perennis is well worth the room in your garden, not least because it is such a bright splash ot colour so early in the year when there are very few flowers around.

Automatic Irrigation System

If you are a keen gardener, then going away on holiday can be something of a problem. Your plants will still need watering. Indeed, if you are lucky enough to have good weather whilst away, then they will need watering even more then usual.

Irrigation System Kit

You could ask a neighbour or a friend to water your plants for you but this means that they cannot go away for a day or two and what happens if they are unable to do the watering, or forget it.

Thompson and Morgan, the seed merchants have come up with the perfect solution. An automatic irrigation system. This includes everything you need to make life so much easier, including an automatic timer. All you do is fit it, turn on the tap and forget it. What’s more they are offering £20 off the original price.

Even if you are not going away, this system is incredibly useful. Particularly if you work all day, then you do not have to rush home to water plants which are wilting in the hot sun.

An automatic irrigation system means that you no longer have to remember to water your garden once or twice a day – it will do it for you. Just tell it when you want the water applied. The system works equally well in a greenhouse, where you need to water regularly to prevent  problems  particularly with plants such as tomatoes.

At £39.98, this automatic itrrigation system (usual price £59.98) will pay for itself by giving you perfectly watered plants and peace of mind that that will happen.

Bedding Plants for your Garden

Half Hardy Annuals are flowers which are not frost hardy and which grow, flower and die in one year. They are at their best at the moment and are sold as ‘bedding plants’ in all garden centres.

Many of the gardeners who own the garden centres will tell you that although they make a healthy contribution to their profits, they do not really love them. Their true love is the perennials (plants which flower year after year); herbacious plamnts (plants which flower , then die back to the ground for the winter, then grow the next spring) and shrubs. I beg to differ. I love them.

Whilst I admit, they are a lot of work to raise them when they are only going to last a couple of months, they are so bright and cheerful – gaudy even. Not only do they give bright colour and shape for the summer months, because you ddo not have to work around them, they make weeding and digging your flower bed much easier. The down side is that it leaves the beds empty for the winter months.

If you are going to raise half hardy plants yourself, you do need to give them shelter in the early months. You can do this in a cold greenhouse or even on your kitchen windowsill, if you are not growing to many.  Most packets of sed have far more seeds thabn you need, so why not get together with your friends and neighbours and each raise one sortr of plant, then share them out when they are ready to plant. That way you get a variety of pplants whilst not taking up to much rom, costing a fortune in seeds and throwing away loads of unwanted plants.

If you do not have the room, or time to grow half hardy annuals, then the alternative is to grow hardy annuals. These are flowers which you can sow outside because they will survive the frosts. The flower and then die in the same year. Both half hardy annuals (HHA) and hardy annuals (HA) are inexpensive to grow and will give you a good display all through summer.

Even if you do not want the formality of having your plants in lines, when sowing hardy annuals outside, you should sow them in lines. They do not have to be straight lins, but you need to be able to readily recognize where you have sown them when they are young so that you can pull out any weeds which grow amongst them.

The seed packet will tell you how deep you need to sow your seeds but the usual technique is to dig over your plot, rake the top to a fine ’tilth’ that is so that the top is smooth and crumbly. Then draw your lines to depth you want them, scatter the seed thinly in them and cover them up. Keep them watered. In three weeks you should have tiny plants emerging. When they are large enough to handle, thin them out by pulling up those you do not want. You should not grow flowers too close to each other. They will not develop to their full potential. However well you have dug and weeded your flower bed, you will still get the odd weed coming up. Pull them out early. That way they will not put on good root systems and compete with your flowers for space and nutrients.

If you only have a small garden, or you only want a few annuals because most of your garden is filled with permanent planting, then the answer may well be to go out and buy bedding plants. Remember, though that most bedding plants are half hardy annuals and they are not frost hardy, so although they are sold early in garden centres, you should not put them out in your garden until all the frosts and finished.

Pricking out and Potting up

Pricking out and potting up are allied in that they are both methods of giving small plants more room – and nutrients – for growth.

When you sow seeds in a seed tray (or pot) you will have a great many plants growing very close together. They obviously need thinning out. This is done by transferring the small plants into seperate, larger pots. They will still be too small to plant in the garden and will need to be ‘grown on’. The way to seperate the plants is to first fill your new pots with compost.  Then using a small stick, carefully lift your young plant out of the seed tray. Hold the plant by its leaves, do not touch the root, you might damage it. Make to small hole in the new pot (a ‘dibber’ is useful for this, though a finger will do the trick, if you don’t mind soil under your nails). Place the plant in the hole and firm around it. Water it in – gently – it is very delicate at this point in its life . Then label it. You don’t want to forget what it is. This is called ‘Pricking out’.

Potting up is the next stage on from this. When your plants have filled up their pots with roots, then they need to be put into larger pots with more soil or compost.Doing this is called ‘potting up’. The way you do this is to get your larger pot, put compost in the bottom until your plant pot reaches to an inch or two below the top. (You leave this to make watering easier. ). Then take your plant from its pot, place it in the centre of the compost and fill the  side of the pot (to the level of the plant)with soil or compost being sure to press down on the sides so that there is no air pockets trapped in it.  Be sure to water the new pot well. If you are planting your plants into the garden, there is probably no reason to ‘pot on’. One other thing, some plants (like begonia) flower better if they are ‘root bound’. That means that the roots are filling the pot. The usual way to get round this is to have a plant pot which will keep the rots copntained but which will allow water and nutrients through.

When growing tomatoes or cucumbers in a greenhouse, then you will frin that you need to pot on your plants at least twice before they end up in the large pots or grow bags in which they will fruit. You pot on your plants into pots one size larger than the ones they are currently in. If you are growing your tomatoes or cucumbers in large pots, then they need to be grown either in garden compost or in grow bag compost. Multi purpose compost does not hav e enought nutrients in it to feed the planmts enough. Even if you do use the correct compost, they will still need feeding after six weeks or so.

How to grow melons

Melons take a bit of looking after to maximise crops but the results are worth the effort. With the climate getting warmer and new varieties appearing, it is now possible to grow melons outside although you still need warmth to germinate the seeds.

Sow 2 seeds in a 3inch pot and keep in the warmth. If you are going to grow them outside, then you need to keep them protected until all the frosts are past. Be careful, young melon plants look exactly like cucumber plants, so make sure you label them. Both the leaves are the flowers look like cucumbers, so it takes a long time to recognize the difference and you need to treat them differently !

Once the seeds have germinated, prick them out into individual pots. Once they have grown two true leaves, pinch out the growing tip of the plant. This will force the plant to produce side shoots. These side shoots can be allowed to trail along the ground or, if you so wish, you can train then up wires. Once these shoots have between seven and ten leaves, then pinch out the tip again. They will then send out more side shots. When the embrio fruits appear, stop the plant two leaves above the fruit. Only allow about five fruits per plant.

Melons need lots of water and will require pollinating. If you are growing them outside, this will not be a problem. If you are allowing them to trail on the ground, ants will pollinate, otherwise flying insects will do the job for you. If you are growing your melons in a greenhouse, then you need to leave it open so that the insects can get to your plants to do the job. Alternately try pollinating by hand. Pick a male flower (one without a bulge behind it and rub it onto a female flower – or use a paint brush to spread the pollen.

If you are training you melon plants up wires, then the melons will need support. They will be to heavy for the plants to support themselves and will break the stems. You support them  by tying nets round them a tying to the wires.

How do you know when a melon in ready to harvest? If you are growing them inside, you will first notice that they are starting to smell like melons. Test them by gently pressing the ends. They should be slightly soft.

Melons need watering frequently. If you are growing them in a greenhouse, also wet the ground round them to keep the moisture up. When the melopns are starting to ripen you can stop damping down the surrounding area but keep watering them.

Melons suffer from much the same problems as cucuumbers but if you treat the, properly you should have no problms.

If you do not pinch out the tips and stop the plants, they will still grow melons but there will be less of them and many more leaves. If you are growing them trailing on the ground, then you may have difficulty finding the melons. Mice love melons and they may find them before you do!

As I said, they are a bit fiddly to grow, but the results as well worth while.