Entries from September 2010 ↓

Plants for winter colour.

If you are looking for plants which will flower during winter. There are now a number to choose from. The plant everbody thinks of is the Christmas Rose (Helebores). These have been around for a long time but recent improvements mean that there is a great variety of colour and mixes. The plants spread eventually but take a long time to do so. They like deep, well drained soil, so choose their site carefully and leave them in all year. They will retain their leaves which are quite pretty.

Pansies are, perhaps, the most popular of winter flowers. There are now a number of varieties which flower during winter, giving you a great selection of colours. However, be careful that you choose the right variety, as many pansies flower during summer, not winter.

Perhaps the most trendy flower at the moment is Ballis Perennis. This is a small daisy-like flower which bloms very early in the spring, and will keep flowering. I have some which started flowering last February and is still producing flowers. There are two distinct types – one produces daisy like flowers and the other produces what I assume to be double flowers. They look a bit like domes and are pink with whits tips.

Winter aconites (Eranthus lyemalis) are a very old pplant which was always popular in cottage gardens. It looks a bit like a buttercup and, given the right conditions will spread all over the place becoming almost invasive. It thrives in heavy loam soils, but will also grow in other soils.

One of the lesser known flowers is Hepatica. This is a perennial and has a number of varieties in shades of whire, red and purple. Its flowers lok like Cosmos, although of course its foliage does not.

Apart from these plants, there are a number of bulbs which flower in winter or very early spring. Of course snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis) is among them. You should remember when buying these, that they do not grow well from bare bulbs. Always buy the bulbs ‘in the green’. That means with leaves attached to them. This can make them a bit expensive to buy at first (and the bulbs may not do anything for the first year!) but persevere. They should reward you with flowers the second year and, given reasonable conditions – no moving them- they will flourish and give larger and better displays year on year. If you do feel the need to move them, do so whilst they still have leaves, immediately after they have flowered.

Cyclamen will also give you a good display of flowers. They dislike exposed conditions (I have some under my Raspberries which works quite well as the raspberries are cut down in the late summer/early autumn so allow the cyclamen room to do their thing. If you do not do anything with them, cyclamenn will send out long curly shoots which will develop into new corms (a bit like strawberry runners but they are very curly). They come in a variety of pinks and reds and of course white. Many people have cyclamen in pots in their house over Christmas. When you have finished with them indoors leave them in a coler environment, then in spring plant them outside. They should grow well. The leaves on cyclamen often do not appear until after the flowers have blomed.he leaves in themselves are worth keeping the plant for, they have beautiful patterns and are roughly heart shaped.

There are a number of Heathers (Ericas) available which will give you winter colour. However, check your soil for acidity as most Ericas like lime free soil.

Above are a few of the flowers available for winter colour. I am sure I have missed a great number. If you have a particular favourite, I would be interested to hear about it. I’m always on the lookout for new plants.

Shrubs for Winter Interest.

It is important to me that my garden in winter should have something of interest at all times.To this aim, I am always looking for new plants and ideas for colour or shape.

Many of the most interesting plants are shrubs and as they take up a lot of room as well as looking good in winter, they must earn their keep the rest of the year. There are many which do just that. The first is Mahonia. This shrub gets to 6-10ft (1.8-3m) tall so is not a small plant. However, it is evergreen with very fragrant yellow flowers during winter. It looks a bit like a holly but not so prickly.

Next is Daphne (Mezereon) . This is a smaller shrub (height 5ft )(1.5m))with fragrant, pink, white or purple flowers. Skimmia is another shrub about the same size. It has red buds during the winter which develope into flowers and last a very long time. Although it is not scented, it earns its keep by being more compact with nice dark green leaves, so makes a good backdrop for other flowers during the rest opf the year.

If you have ropom. Willow loks god with its catkins during winter. However, I would not recommend it for small gardens, as the rots have a way of spreading a long way and can easily undermine the fottings of your house. You are better off plantimng either Chinese withch hazel ot Wintersweet. Both these shrubs can grow up to 10 ft tall, so they are not for the feint hearted but they both have sweet scented yellow flowers during winter. Wintersweet appreciates some shelter and performs better if it is planted against a shoulth or west facing w

Green Manures

Now that summer is coming to an end and you are harvesting your vegetables, it is time to consider what you are going to do with your vegetable patch during the months in which you are not growing anything productive.

There are in fact a number of things you can do. The first is nothing. You can leave it barren and let the weeds grow as they will. This is not a good idea. You are creating work for yourself in that you will have to remove the weeds in the spring. Whats more the weeds will take nutrients from the earth which will need top be replenished.

The second is to cover the plot with black plastic. This will stop weeds growing and in fact will keep the soil that little bit warmer. It also makes an ideal place for slugs and snails to overwinter. It will mean that you will not have to weed in the spring but you will need to feed your soil. This is not difficult to do, just add garden compost to it in the spring.

The third, and at the moment the most favoured thing to do by trendy gardeners is to grow plants which are known as ‘green manure’. This is not a new tecnique, it has been around for a number of years but recently it has developed somewhat of a cult status and there are a number of new varieties available.

What it means is that you grow certain plants during the time you are not using the soil and just before you want to sow your seeds (or Plant), then you cut down the crop and dig it in.

The green manure plants are sown like grass. The roots fix nitrogen in the soil and by digging it in, you are adding bulk vegetable matter to the soil. This will make your soil a great deal more fertile.

If you want to use your vegetable patch early in the year, you can dig in your green manure plants early and cover your soil with plastic (black is best, it absorbs heat and prevents weeds germinating. Then, when the soil is warm you can take it off and sow your seeds earlier than usual. Remember, though, that your soil will then rapidly lose its extra warmth and you should then either cover your seed beds with fleece or erect cold frames over them.

One other thing, when purchasing your green manure seeds, make sure that they are for the correct season in which you are going to be using them. Like all plants, diferent varieties grow at different times.

Less Common Bulbs for Spring

Now is the time to start planting bulbs for spring flowering. Most of us think of Daffodils (Narcissus) and Tulips first when we think of spring flowering bulbs and with all the new varieties now available you can get a very long lasting and colourful display using just these bulbs. However, if you look more deeply, there are a great many other types of bulbs available which will not cost a fortune and which will make your spring flower display much more interesting.

First there are winter aconites. These actually flower during the winter (so they are not in fact spiring bulbs at all). They are really great flowers. They look very like buttercups when in flower but they do flower all winter, even under snow. I find them really inspiring. If delicate flowers like these can survive in the really bad weather, so can I!. Thompson and Morgan are now offering these bulbs at 24 bulbs for £6.99. If you want larger quantities, they come at discounts. Like most bulbs, these will increase in number year on year – and you can leave these bulbs in the ground from one year to the next.

Now for some real spring flowering bulbs. Alliums have become very fashionable in the last few years – with good reason. They are really showy flowers and the different varieties really are different both in shape and colour. Although Allium are the same family as onions (that shows in some of them in the shape and colour of the flower), most do not in fact smell of onion.  T & M are offering a collection which they call ‘Allium Cotttage Garden Mixed which are 50 bulbs for £9.99. They flower from late sping to early summer and make great dried flowers. If you want named varietries, Thompson and Morgan are also offering 4 other types of Allium including the most popular, Purple Sensation.

For something different, why not try Brodiaea Laxa Royal Blue. This is also known as the Harvest Lily. This is the first time this variety has been offered in the U.K. so you will be sure to be asked what they are. They have sturdy stems which hold up to 25 brilliant lilac-blue flowers which look like miniature roses. Theie foliage is grass-like and it dies back when they flower so that they stand out more. They are relatively expensive (10 bulbs and £9.99) but because they have so many flower heads per plant this is more acceptable. The price also reflects the newness of the variety.

If you are looking for a larger number of bulbs for less expense, why not try one of Thompson and Morgan’s  collections. The first they call ‘Bumper Pack Bulbs’ . These are 125 bulbs for £9.99. They include 30 Allium Ostrowskanum; 30 Anemone De Caen; 30 Oxalis Iron Cross; 25 Crocus and 25 Daffodil Tet a Tete. This will give you flowers over a long period of time in a great many colours, shapes and heights.

The second Pack I am going to talk about is T & M’s ‘Nature Bulb Pack’ Basically this means that all the bulbs are native English flowers which will naturalise easily should you wish but will look equally good in flower beds., although to get the best effect they should be planted under trees (or Deciduous shrubs). This pack include 5 wood Anemones; 25 Snakeshead Fritillaria; 10 Lily of the Valley and 10 English Bluebells. Tis pack costs £9.99 for 50 bulbs.

I like to plant my bulbs ‘en masse’ in random patterns and to do this, I just throw the bulbs at the ground and plant them where they land. Be aware though that Lile of the Valleyt will flower much better (and will increase in number if they are planted and left to do their own thing. They even resent being weeded to much, so plant them in a corner and leave them alone. You will trewarded with a charming, scented display year after year.