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

Chelsea Flower Show

It’s that time of year, when everybody connected with the gardening world is using the CHelsea Flower Show for advertising. However, occasionally among all the hype and dross is a gem and this year’s Thomson and Morgan’s ‘Chelsea Flower Show Celebration‘ is, in my opinion, one such gem.

chelsea promotion

Costing only £9.99, it is, purportedly, worth £57 (and who am I to dispute this.). For this price, you get 15 plants, which I will talk about in a moment, and Gift token from T & M for £10 and an RHS Chealsea Flower Show DVD.

The plants in themselves are quite interesting. First you get 5 Geraniium ‘Skyrocket’ plants. These are a new climbing variety of Geranium which will grow to 6 ft  in a season.  If you buy these seperately they cost £1 each. so they are a good buy. One of the annoying things about buying plug plants is that there is not enough information about them. However, I would assume that, like most geraniums these will be herbacious perennials but will be frost tender.  If you have somewhere sensible to store them, they arre worth transplanting and keeping over winter.

Next are 5 Petunia Surfina, which are described as everybody’s favourite trailing Petunia. Not difficult since these days you can only find Petunia Surfina plants. Gone are the days when you could get Petunia plants for pennies! Having said that, I have grown Petunia Surfina in hanging baskets in the past and they have given a really great display, so if you are interested in hanging baskets, then these are a good investment. They are only annuals, though.

Last, but not least are 5 Fushia  Plants. These are double flowered and include such well known varieties as Southgate, Swingtime and Dark Eyes. Again, these would cost you at least £1 a plant if bought seperately. If you do not know the varieties mentioned, then I should add that they are all very different in colour combinations, ranging from the palest of pinks to almost black.

So you now have approximately £15 worth of plants and then they give you your money back (plus 1p) in the form of a voucher. and on top of that there is the DVD. Can’t be a bad bargain. I for one am definuitely going to be ordering one.

Sowing Peas

Today, I sowed Peas. Unfortunately I do not yet have this year’s vegetable seed order, so my pea seed is old. (Sow before 2006). This is quite old and may well not be viable. If it does not germinate, I shall sow again with new seed. However, it’s worth a try.

This year I have sowed three varieties – Endeavour and Balmoral both of which I have grown in the past with good results and Canoe which I have not grown before. If it germinates, it will be interesting to see the results.

I sowed all the peas in 3 inch pots, 3 seeds per pot. I would usually sow them 2 seeds to the pot but as I expect the germination to be lowered, I have added 1 seed per pot. When they are large enough, I will plant them out in rows 1 foot apart. I will plant them so that the pots touch each other. This will give the right spacing.

I also sowed Lettuce, Ultimate mixed seed in a 3inch pot. This is a mixture of red lettuces which I like because they add colour to a salad plate. They also taste delicious.

Morning Glory was the last seeds I sowed today. This was a mixture of colours and are a useful climber. The seeds germinate better if they are soaked overnight in warm water. This softens the hard outer shell. I then sowed them 2 seeds in 3 inch pots.

Sunflower and other seed sowing

Today the main focus of my seed sowing is Sunflowers, although I have sown some vegetables as well. I have not yet received my vegetable seed order this year so I am using old seed. I don’t know whether it will still be viable but the only way to tell is to sow it. I will let you know results when I know.

The first seeds I sowed today was Sunflower Bees Knees. This is an F1 Hybrid variety. They are pollen free so suitable for cut flowers for those with allergy problems. They are only 4-5 ft tall, so should stand up well to windy weather. I sowed them 2 seeds per pot in 3inch pots.

Continuing the sunflower theme, I sowed sunflower Russian Giant. This is the tall variety that children grow for competition. I am not overly fond of them as they have huge heads (12 inches in diameter) which are really too heavy for them to support themselves so they always end up hanging their heads as though in disgrace.These were once again sowed 2 seeds in 3 inch pots.

Next I sowed Vanidium Jaffa Ice. Although these are not sunflowers, they look very like them. However, they are only 2 ft tall and have purple to black centres. They also have silver green foliage. I sowed these in a seed tray.

I have sown Delosperma Floribunda Stardust. This is a half hardy perennial which attracts butterflies. It is only 4 – 6 inches tall and is ideal for rockeries and hot dry places in your garden. The flowers look like Michaelmas daisy flowers, so it should look attractive. I shall keep some in pots and dig some up after they have flowered and protect them against frost. I will also leave some in the garden to see it they will survive. I sowed these on the surface of a seed tray of compost and covered the seed with vermiculite.

The last of my flower seed sowing today is Nemesia Tapestry mixed. I love Nemesia flowers. They are so different. I have grown the variety KLM in the past and the blue and white flowers really are spectacular even though the plant is so small. Nemesia is only 10 inches tall so they are ideal for the front of borders, for pots or in the rockery. The variety Tapestry has large flowers in a range of colours. They are quite bright.

I have sown two varieties of lettuce: Webbs Wonderful and Triumph.  The Webbs wonderful variety is one most people know and buy from their local shop. The seed is at least 5 years old so it will be interesting to see if it germinates. If it doesn’t I will buy a fresh packet of seed and re-sow. The Variety Triumph is an Iceberg type of lettuce. It has some root aphid reistsance which could be useful. However, the seed should have been sown by 2006. We shall see.I sowed a pinch of each seed in seperate 3 inch pots and will prick out when they are large enough to handle.

Celeriac is one of the new vegetables I grew last year. I cooked it in Cider and it was delicious. It was easy to gropw and since I have part of a packet of seed left, I have sown it in 2inch cells. It is last years seed so hopefully will still be viable.

Cauliflower All Year Round is a good variety as you can sow and harvest it at any time of the year. The seed should have been sown by September 2006. So it may well not germinate

All my seeds are carefully stored in a plastic container which is kept cool and moisture free, so often they will remain viable.Some seed, however has a very limited period in which it will germinate. Parsnip is one of these, so it is no good keeping part packets of that seed.

First of March Flower sowings

I was going to leave sowing any more seeds until next wek, but the weather is so warm and I have started to get withdrawal symptoms, so I started sowing some seeds today.

I started by sowing Portulaca Grandiflora ‘Kariba’ mixed seeds in a seed tray. Although this is a half hardy annual, I like to sow inside particularly at this time of the year. The fact that I can sow these earlier inside than I could in the cold, wet soil outside makes up for the time lost by pricking up and planting out. I first came across Portulaca by a free packet of seeds in a breakfast cereal. I sowed them in an empty patch of soil not expecting much. When they flowered, I was stunned. They have really bright ‘jewel’ coloured flowers. This particular strain is an F2 hybrid which has extra large double flowers. It is well worth a place in the garden.

Next I sowed Cosmos Gazebo mixed. I sowed this on the surface of the soil in a seed tray and then covered the seeds with vermiculite. The seed germinates better in light and the vermiculite will not exclude light but will stop the seed being moved around when watering.

I have sown two varieties of Calendula. Candyman Orange and Candyman Yellow. These both have bright double flowers carried on strong multi-branching stems. They will make a bright splash of colour in the summer. These were both sown in seed trays. Carefully labelled so that I will know them apart when it comes to planting them out. The common name  for Calendula is Pot Marigold and you can pot them up and use them as indoor plants if you wish.

The last seeds I sowed  today were Nasturtium Jewel of Africa and Nasturtium Ladybird. These have large seeds, so they were sown in 3 in pots 3 seeds in a pot. Although the genus of these flowers is common, they are very different both in habit and colour. Nasturtium Jewel of Africa is a climber getting up to 8 ft tall. It is also a good plant for hanging baskets and this is why I have chosen in it. However, it could equally well be used to train over fences or trellis. It has cream marbled foliage so this should be attractive also. The snag (or perhaps the useful) thing about nasturtium is that the black fly love it, This means they will not attack your other plants but it can make a mess of your nasturtiums. Nasturtium Ladybird on the other hand is only 8 ins high. I chose it because it has unusual flowers for nasturtiums. They have golden yellow flowers with 5 bright red spots on each flower so this should be attractive.

Last seed sowing for February

The weather is at last warming up a bit. It is sunny and almost at the average temperature for the time of year. This means that already the cold greenhouse is warming up. It’s actually reached 15 degrees and, provided the sun stays out (it looks as though it might!) I would expect the temperature to rise further. Unfortunately, the clear sky will mean that it will be cold at night. However, part of the floor is concrete slabs and this will store the heat during the day and release it at night. It will still be cold, but probably not cold enough to freeze.

Today, I sowed the last of the seeds scheduled for February. There is a variety of seeds.

First, Brachycome variety Bravo mixed.

Brachycome bravo

Brachycome’s common name is Swan River Daisy. I don’t know why it is ‘Swan River|’ but it certainly looks like a daisy. It is tallier than a common daisy (8-10ins) and this variety is a mix of three colours. Planted together, they look great for a long period of time. Although this is a hardy annual, and therefore you could, if you wanted, sow them in situ, I like to sow my plants in pots and seed trays. I feel like I have more control that way and I actually enjoy the process of pricking out and potting on. These Seeds were sown in a seed tray on top of the compost and lightly covered with vermiculite.

Next came Echinops ruthenicus variety Platinum Blue.

Echinops ruthenicus

This is known as Globe Thistle and actually looks like a miniature thistle. It is not prickly though. I used them in my wedding bouquet when I got married. The seed was sown on the surface of 3 inch pots, two seeds per pot and covered with vermiculite.

Although I already have Lavender in my garden (I actually have a variety called Hidcote) I want some more, so I have chosen a variety called Lavender Angustifolia Munstead Dwarf

lavender munstead

I heve sowed in a seed tray on the surface and covered with vermiculite. This variety is 12 –24 ins (30-60cm) tall so is ideal for edging and hedging. It has deep blue flowers all summer long and a god strong scent, so I Will enjoy this.

I always think Lupin are one of the most majestic of flowers, particularly if they are planted marching up a slope. I have sown a variety called Lupin regalis Band of Nobles

lupin band of nobles

They are mixed colours and will be 3 – 4 ft tall (90 – 120 cm). These were sown in 3″ pots with two seeds per pot. I will prick them out and grow than on when they have germinated. These are hardy perennials, so, if you wish they could be sown directly where you want them to flower. Wait until the soil warms up a bit though.

I would not normally have bought seeds for Foxglove Milk Chocolate.

foxglove milk chocolate

I have already got foxglove growing by my garden hedge, but this was a free packet of seeds and it seems disrespectful not to grow them. They look as though they are a bit wishy-washy in colour for my taste, but the insects will no doubt enjoy it. It is fascinating to watch bees buzzing from foxglove to foxglove getting almost lost in their flowers. These were sown in a sed tray on the top of the soil and covered with vermiculite.

Datura Sauveolens is a hardy annual shrub.

white angels trumpet

They are also known as Angels Trumpet and are closely related to Brugmansia but have upright blooms whilst Brugmansia are pendulous. They are richly scented at night and supposedly grow up to 15 ft. We shall see. I sowed the seed in 3″ pots, 2 seeds per pot.

The last seeds I have sown today are for Gazania hybrida Talent mixed.

gazania talent mixed

These are a half hardy annual; so need protection from frosts. They are 8 ins high (20cm) and are good for the edge of borders or even the rockery. Their flowers are very bright and they keep flowering for a long period during summer until the first heavy frost. They have silver leaves and are drought tolerant. You never know we might get a good hot summer yet!. They are also good in exposed places. I sowed them on the surface in 3″ pots and covered the seed with vermiculite.

This is all the February seed sowing complete. I shall probably leave it a week or two before starting to sow the seeds which require a bit more warmth and therefore  need to be sown in March.

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!

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.

Tulips

Tulips are such a good spring flower. There are so many forms and colours  and the different varieties means the flowering season is very long indeed.

This year the tulips will look particularly good. Many bulbs which do not often flower will do so this year. This is because tulip bulbs need to be frozen in order to force them to flower. Because the winter has been so cold and prolonged, the soil has frozen deeper than usual and any tulip bulbs which have been planted a little too deep have still been frozen, thus you will see more flowers than usual.

Tulips require a sunny position in a well drained soil. They like a summer baking. However, if your soil is cool and wet, you can lift them when the leaves have died back and replant in autumn.

My personnal favourire are the Kaufmanniana hybrids. These have mottled or striped leaves making them attractive even before and after they flower. They have single flowers which are usually bi-coloured (although not always- I have some which are bright red) and which open out flat in the bright sunlight. They flower in early spring. Another bonus!

Apart from these and, of course, the single early which are the traditional shaped tulips every child draws as flowers, there are 15 other horticulturally different groups of tulips. On top of that, there are many hybrids which add different colours and shapes to the mix. Add to that, there are now a range of heights, what more could you ask of a group of flowers.

Generally speaking, the names of the groups of tulips are descriptive of the way they look. Single early; single late (they flower late spring to early summer) Double early and double late are self explanitary.Others need a bit more investigation: Rembrandt comprises mainly of very old cultivars similar to lily flowered tulips but  their flower colours are often broken into stripes or feathered patterns – they look like they have had paint splashed on them – thus the name.

The Darwin hybrids are now very poppular. They have large, single flowers or variable shape on strong stems. They stand up well even in bad weather and always make me think of soldiers. I presume they arre called Darwin because they are the strongest.

Everyone knows of the parrot tulips – the flowers are fringed and usually twisted; Fringed tulips are similar although they are narroiw waisted.

This is just a summary of some of the tulips. If you are looking for colour in your garden for the spring, you could not do better. Take a look at what is on offer!

Early spring plants

My snowdrops are out in flower!
Despite the weather,( it’s still really cold here in Lincolnshire and has been snowing and hailing today, )the small white flower has put on a great display to remind me that spring is not too far away. If only the weather would take some notice!

There are a number of plants which will flower through the winter but I always feel that early spring flowers are among the best there are, both for theit looks and their perfume.

Some of the flowers do not smell very much – Crown Imperials are among these. You can get them in red and yellow and they grow from bulbs in most soils. Planted with dafoldils and narcissi, they reliably flower giving a display to rival almost any other.

Lower to the ground, Aubretia and primulas will look great. They will both grow in most soils, in the case of aubretia in very little soil and  they do not mind not being in full sunshine. Aubretia is such a useful plant, covering banks and in rock gardens. They come in a variety of colours ranging through reds and purples. Some of my primulas have flowered all winter, whilst the more colourful ones will start to flower imminently. Primulas have been hybridised to provide such a wide range of colours they will fit into any flower scheme.

If you are looking for scent in your spring flowers, then you cannot do better than to grow hyacinths. They have an intense fragrance and will grow in most soils, they do like a sunny position though. Honeysuckle is another spring flowering plant which will give you good fragrance. They are naturally a rampant evergreen climber which is useful to mask areas of garden from each other. The larger hybrids grow up to 30 ft (9metres) although this can be kept controlled by regular pruning. There is now a new hybrid (labelled as a patio flower) which is supposed only to grow up to 3 ft (1 metre). It is designed to grow in pots on the patio and trained up wigwams of stakes. I have it in my garden and so far it has treached 5 ft!

If you have acid soil, clematis is a wonderful shrub. It looks very exotic but is fully hardy. Don’t plant it where it gets full early morning sun though, it does not like full sunshine on its frosty leaves. Camelias grow up to 6ft and will spread up to 11 ft. in good conditions, but like most shrubs can be pruned to the shape and size you want.

If, like me, you enjoy loking at spring flowers, there are a number of gardens which are open to the public. Among these are special walks for snowdrops as well as gardens created to especially enjoy spring. Many of these gardens are opened to help charities and this is known as NGS (National garden scheme).

They have a book devoted to the gardens giving details of opening times, descriptions of the garden and maps of how to get to them, in fact everything you need to know. The book is called ‘The yellow book’ and for anybody looking for inspiration for their garden, or who just enjoys looking at gardens, it is worth getting a copy.