The Sunday Gardener's Blog

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    Fuchsia summer bedding






    The weather has been glorious and we think summer is almost here, and with it the temptation to buy and plant bedding plants. April is too early anywhere in the country because the risk of frost is present. Most bedding plants are not frost hardy which means they will be damaged, possibly killed by a frost and certainly the cold will shock the plant, which will often result in arresting growth for a while.  Understanding what is mean by frost hardy is really helpful to gardeners, especially as plant labels seem to contain less and less information.

    Illustrated left is Fuchsia, a lovely popular bedding plant which originates from Central and South America. Also from South America are Petunias,  Begonia, Pelargoniums (Geraniums) are from South Africa, Marigolds are originally from Africa. These origins give us a clear hint why we need to wait until we have warmer weather before planting out our most popular bedding plants.

    Given that the arrival of spring varies by several weeks across the country, the risk of frost passes in southern England a good time before in Central and Northern England. As a rule of thumb the country is generally frost free by the end of May, although there maybe some risk still on high ground because the higher the altitude the colder the area.


     Equally, if you garden in a sheltered spot in southern England experience of your area maybe that you are safe to plant out in Mid May. To avoid the risk of frost damaging your plants, or trying to protect them if we have a sudden cold spell, plant out in the last May bank holiday.

    You can, of course, buy bedding plants earlier and grow them on in a greenhouse or lean to. This is a good way to buy the more economical smaller plants and bring them on in the greenhouse. Plant up containers and hanging baskets and keep them in the comfortable climate of the greenhouse before putting out for the summer.

  2. Pulmonaria 'sissinghurst white' with solitary bee

    Bees emerge from the winter hibernation literally starving and have a very short time in which to find food or die. Early flowering plants are vital for the solitary bees and some of the best bee friendly plants for this time of year are Pulmonaria illustrated first left, a low growing Woodland plant which is shade tolerant and easy to grow.  Many  Hellebores flower for weeks from winter through to spring and provide both a lovely garden display and food for the bees.

    The  Forget me not is liked by bees, as is Rosemary (in common with many herbs) which although it has small flowers,  is very attractive to bees.

    Viburnum × carlcephalum is a shrub well worth growing for it's  fantastically sweet scented flowers, which are also like by bees as are Bluebells and Blossom flowers.

    Just yesterday I chanced to look at the outside wall of the house adjacent to garden. Very still, glistening, warming up in the sun was a solitary bee which look like it was on its first outing. I kept my eye on it for a few minutes and later it was gone. I hope in the direction of the Pulmonarias. 

     About now the humble Aubretia is coming into flower. It's a fairly common place plant, very easy to grow and it looks especially effective trailing down walls. Aubretia forms a dense mat of blue and with it come the bees. It is a good source of food and as we know, bees love blue. Just to remind us of what is to come later in the year here is a short, less than 2 minute video clip of the bees drawn to blue flowers, in this case hardy Geraniums and Chives, on a sunny day, with plenty of birdsong.

    I love the sound of the early bees, low flying hovering over the ground foraging for food. The sound of the beginning of spring. 

    blossom emerging
    Aubretia with bee


  3. Lovely delicate light mauve sweet pea

    I love growing sweet peas and now is a good time to start seeding them. Sweet peas germinate very easily from seed and if you haven't tried, why not give it a go, they are easy and rewarding to germinate.

    Growing from seed is cheaper, and you can pick the types and colours which you most like to grow. I love to pick pale pastels as illustrated left, but also strong blues and pinks. I select for scent and colour and this year I have selected several varieties described as "highly scented" to see how well they perform.

    To germinate from seed you do not even need heat, but you do need root trainers or loo roll holders to seed into. Sweet peas like a long root run and they form great sturdy roots which, by the time you are ready to plant out, will be pushing out of the containers. Sweet peas are hardy, but they do best if sheltered from frosts so if after you have planted them out a cold spell ensues, cover them with a fleece or cloche to give a little protection.

    This year I have chosen my varieties of sweet peas primarily for their scent. I am trying out for the first time Roger Parsons sweet peas. I liked the way the varieties were classified by their scent strength. It will be interesting to see  how they compare.


    Scented sweet pea

    There is no need to soak or nick the sweet peas before you germinate, just place at the top of the root trainer and sprinkle with compost which is a little damp. Stand back and watch it happen.

    Once the seedlings have two pairs of leaves, pinch out the growing point this makes the plants produce more stems, and later on this will mean more flowers. There are lots of tips on the Sweet Pea pages including how to plant out video, and how to get straight stems which look so good as cut flower.

    Sweet peas are an easy annual to grow and are the scent of summer.





  4. This time of year is like a weather prison, looking outside is the image right, very wet. Yesterday I went out into the garden,  thinking to do some weeding, when I realised the ground was still frozen from the severe overnight frost. Today, it is just pouring with rain and the ground saturated. 

    At this time of year there its all about looking forward and I was cheered up when my strawberry plants arrived from T & M, (who at the time this was published had a sale on Strawberry plants)  and I have purchased three types, 'Cambridge' a mid season, 'Flamenco' all season and 'Florence' late season which should keep us going nicely. They are bare rooted plants and if you are busying bare rooted plants first check the roots to make sure all is good and clean, but dry, and most bare rooted plants need a good soaking first before planting.

    Bare rooted plants can be planted out if the conditions are suitable, but since the garden is either a bog or a skating rink at present, I will opt to pot them up in the greenhouse and plant out in the spring. 

    Strawberry plants don't last for ever, after 2/3 years, their yield diminishes and it is time to think about replacement. This can be done by new plants or runners which can be taken from healthy plants. For cultivation tips and information on growing strawberries. 

    This time of year botrytis, commonly called grey mould, is a problem in the greenhouse, and coincidentally it can be a problem for strawberries. 

    Weather Prison



    Strawberry and-Botrytis 310

    Botrytis is a fungus and it develops in greenhouses and under glass where the air is still and damp in the winter, humid in the summer and outside in the veg plot on fruit such as strawberries, grapes and gooseberries. If you are gardening organically, all you can do is cut off infected parts of the plant. In the greenhouse Botrytis can settle onto many different types of plants, in the summer it tends to go for fruits. 


    Botrytis is recognisable by its characturistic fuzzy grey mould, and if you look a the  video  - when my finger brushes the plant to the left you will see a cloud of mould drifting away. This cloudy shower is very typical of grey mould, if you touch the plant it showers everywhere.  The next image shows the plant where I have cut off and cleaned away all infected parts. The plants in the basket are hardy geraniums, this variety is very tough , I think it will survive the attack. 

    However, some plants can be badly affected, soft fruits are often a target, and strawberries are susceptible. Last year, partly because of the humid weather I had real problems with Botrytis on strawberries and I know from e mails into the web site I was not alone. All you can do is keep clearing away the infected leaves and fruit, but it halved my crop.  The other reason was because my strawberry plants were getting elderly, more susceptible to disease. 

    So this year to avoid it Botrytis I am using new plants and moving the strawberry bed, as the infection has probably built up in the soil and will overwinter. As part of crop rotation, most crops move around the vegetable plot each year, with strawberries I will move the bed for the next few years until the problem reoccurs.

    If you find your strawberry plants are not producing very well it may be time to replace them. You can make some new plants from runners but from time to time it is good to introduce new plants. If Botrytis was a problem you may need to replace plants and if you have been growing in the same spot for some time, plant into a different part of the veg plot or garden. 

    It maybe that it's just too wet underfoot to do much in the garden, I can  make best use of the greenhouse,  pot up my strawberry plants, and look forward to a spring planting.