Friday 12th February 2021

Really cold. But, in the immortal words of E.L.O. –

‘Sun is shinin’ in the sky, there ain’t a cloud in sight. It’s stopped rainin”

Yes, it has. And, what’s more, ladies and gentlemen, Mr Blue Sky is living here today. Hey hey.

Not only blue skies, but also blue Hyacinths. Garden House really is Keeping Up Appearances. Hyacinth Bucket would love it.

Plant ident.

Good evergreens and ever-greys for pots and borders.

Ballota pseudodictamnus

Square stems – so it must be a member of the Lamiaceae family. False Dittany is a low-growing, bushy, evergreen/grey sub-shrub. Soft, rounded leaves grow in pairs opposite each other on the stems. Small pink flowers appear in the summer. Like most silvery-grey plants, it needs hot, dry and well-drained conditions to thrive, and is at its best in poor rather than rich soils. Rollicks away in full sun and looks great in Mediterranean-style planting schemes.

Ballota roots easily from cuttings – try taking some in March or April when it should be pruned back. Don’t cut into the old wood though, like other sub-shrubs it won’t re-grow from there. Can be shaped into a pleasing dome for a neat finish. Since by now, we are all experienced hairdressers, we should be perfectly able to whizz round and clip anything in our path. Garden House itself is being renamed Maison Enid. Special rates for pensioners on Wednesdays.

Eucalyptus

With 700 different types of Eucalyptus, you’re never short on choice. They do, however, have a habit of heading for the skies, but can literally be brought back down to earth by chopping them to the ground; they will regrow. Maybe opt for a variety that can be grown in a pot. Lovely blue-grey foliage, especially the juvenile growth which has small rounded leaves and is much used and appreciated by florists. As they get older, the leaves change, becoming longer and thinner as is often the way with polymorphic plants. Whatever, Eucalyptus is total koala nirvana.

Acanthus

Bear’s breeches are vigorous herbaceous perennials with handsome, glossy green, lobed foliage and tall erect racemes of two-lipped flowers. The lower lip is white and the upper bract becomes more purple with age. They love sunshine and well-drained soil, but will cope well in shade, although there may be fewer flowers. Very stately and architectural. The best known varieties are Acanthus mollis (rounded, divided leaves), Acanthus spinosus (spiky edges to the leaves) and the elegant A. ‘Rue Ledan’. The latter has pure white flowers on silver-green spikes and is said to be less invasive than its relatives. This one is good in a north-facing border.

When the new growth starts in the spring, cut back any dead, diseased and damaged leaves to allow the new leaves to emerge. Cutting the whole plant back after flowering will encourage new foliage.

Geranium renardii

Virtually evergreen in sheltered locations, G. renardii produces low mounds of lovely, rounded leaves with scalloped edges. These are a pale sage green and have a soft, velvety quality to them. The flowers are lilac or white with dark purple veins and are attractive to bees and butterflies. Incredibly attractive and useful. Good in sun, but also in partial shade and is an excellent groundcover option.

Hardy geraniums (Cranesbills) are a superb resource for the busy gardener. Tough, easy to grow, little required in the way of maintenance, can be propagated from cuttings and division, flower for months and will suppress weeds. There are a huge number of varieties, some more suitable for shade, some for ground cover and some for full sun. Get loads.

Euphorbia ‘Jade Dragon’

A compact and robust, bushy evergreen sub-shrub, there’s no need to tame this dragon. An exciting new hybrid, ‘Jade Dragon’ is a cross between Euphorbia characias subsp. wulfenii and E. amygdaloides ‘Rubra’. Its glaucous, lanceolate leaves flush reddish-purple in spring. A magnet for pollinating insects. Beware of the milky sap which can be an irritant to skin and eyes. A new top favourite at Garden House. And no wonder.

Bergenia

Elephant’s ears. Poor elephant. Part of the Saxifragaceae family. These clump-forming, hardy perennials spread by rhizomes, making them easy to split in the spring or autumn and to propagate new plants from the divisions. They are often used in shady positions, but some varieties really thrive in sun and poor soil, especially those grown for their leaf colour. In Beth Chatto’s garden they grow well in the gravel garden as they are very drought tolerant. Lots of cultivars to choose from . Semi-evergreen, although some seem to keep their leaves year-round, like B. ‘Bressingham White’ and B. cordifolia ‘Purpurea’. Flowers can be white, pink or deep red/purple. A good and effective ground cover plant.

Topic of the week: Growing vegetables

A massive subject, and although one which thrills many, it can leave others bored (‘It’s a radish. And?’) or rigid with apprehension. Why bother to grow your own? Well – it’s interesting, it’s good exercise, you can grow unusual varieties, it’s good for pollinators, you can save seeds from year to year, the veg. taste better, you can guarantee no chemicals are used, no food miles….the list goes on and on. As can vegetable growers. Ad infinitum.

There are loads of good books and veg experts out there. Garden House, natch. Charles Dowding (the No Dig Guru) is another, with plenty of video clips available on Instagram to advise and inspire.

Vegetables fall into four basic categories: Legumes (pod growing crops like Peas, Beans, Mangetout, Lentils); Brassicas ( Brussel sprouts, Cabbages, Turnips, Swedes, Cauliflowers); Roots (Parsnips, Carrots, Beetroots); Permanent veg. which remain in the ground year on year (Rhubarb, Asparagus, Artichoke, Cardoons, Alliums).

Crop rotation

It’s important to establish a programme of crop rotation to ensure healthy and productive plants, to preserve soil fertility and health. Specific groups of vegetables must be grown in a different part of the veg plot each year to prevent pest and disease problems. It also means that crops can be grown according to their specific needs and abilities. Different crops use different amounts of soil nutrients – and some actually add nutrients to the soil. Brassicas, for example, are a very leafy crop and require nitrogen to make them green. Legumes are a crop which can fix nitrogen in the soil, and are therefore good to grow in a position which will be occupied by brassicas the following year. Root vegetables, however, don’t need nitrogen so much as phosphorus.

Pests and diseases in the veg garden can be devastating for both crops and the poor gardener. Club root disease, which brassicas can suffer from, can last in the soil for 20 years. A long time to wait for a perfect sprout. Carrot fly prey on carrots, onions have to ward off white rot, parsnips, canker, and potatoes live in fear of blight. It’s war out there. Good veg husbandry will go a long way to preventing famine: crop rotation, companion planting and nurturing the soil with compost and well-rotted manure.

The plot itself

Location is important – it should be sited in an open space, away from overhanging trees, with plenty of light and sun. Think about shelter from prevailing winds and avoid frost pockets. Access to beds should be easy and paths ideally need to have hard surfaces, or at the very least be mud-free. Otherwise the gardener may emerge looking something like The Creature from the Black Lagoon.

This is the right idea

And, as well as providing food for the table, vegetables can also be appreciated for their beauty –

Veg as an art form

And they are a lot of fun to grow

Break out groups

We discussed what vegetables or salads we might try to grow in our own gardens this year. Maybe something tried and tested or maybe something completely new.

Ideas ranged from Tomatoes (Sungold and Gardener’s Delight are good) to crimson-flowered Broad Beans, Spring Onions, edible flowers (Calendulas, Nasturtiums, Borage and Violas), Beetroot (Chioggia, Golden Beetroot and Boltardy), Purple French Beans, Tromboncino (a climbing Squash, not a musical instrument), Tree Spinach, Pink Fir Potatoes, Pumpkins (‘Jill be Little’ and ‘Munchkin’ are dwarf forms), Rainbow Chard and Leeks ‘Northern Lights’. Cut and come again salads in boxes would be good. Maybe we’ll try growing some veg in pots too.

We’re going to be so productive

Jobs for the Week

Bring the outdoors in and enjoy the small miracle of individual flowers.

The fabulous colour and markings of Iris unguicularis.

Snowdrop martini, anyone?

Prune Clematis in the viticella group

These are an easy group to deal with. Simply cut back the stems to a pair of strong buds about 30 – 40 cms above the ground. This will promote strong growth in spring.

Prune Wisteria again now

Sow seeds requiring a long period of growth

Cleome and Cobaea scandens are two. Also Chillies. Place pots in a heated propagator to facilitate germination.

Weed the weeds

Again and again

Plant radishes in lengths of guttering

This makes them very easy to plant once the seedlings are underway. Or you can just grow them on in the guttering and harvest direct from there.

Plant Broad Bean ‘Crimson Flowered’

Planting the seeds in root trainers allows long root systems to develop. Sow now and pinch out the shoots when 3 pairs of leaves have formed. This is the most ornamental of the Broad Beans – perfect for that parterre you’ve just created.

Late winter posy from Garden House

A fantasy in flowers and foliage

Inside and outside

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