The Sunday Gardener's Blog

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  1. It's not to late to plant Allium bulbs for a great spring display. In the right place, Alliums are low maintenance and will return reliably every year and are surely one of the most stylish plants for a border, illustrated by the images.

    Alliums like a sunny spot with well drained soil, which means they are unhappy on wet boggy soil especially over winter, which can cause the bulbs to rot. If you do not have ideal growing conditions Alliums can be raised in containers for a patio display, or place the containers in the borders.

    Alliums are wide ranging in size, from the quite small suitable for the front of the border such as  Chives which the bees love (2nd image) and A. Moly, which is a bright yellow variety, both of which grow to around 30cms. Chives make a great edging plant, fodder for us and the bees.

    Amongst the taller  varieties Allium Cristophii (illustrated 3rd image), spectacular with it's spikey flower heads and A. Globemaster one of the taller varieties over 1m.

    Alliums need to be planted in early Autumn so from September up to mid/3rd week October is best. Buying and planting as bulbs is much cheaper than buying as plants next spring. Like all bulbs the rule of thumb is to plant 4x the depth of the bulb, and if you are container planting a deeper pot is best.

    There are also unusual varieties such as Nectaroscordum siculum, (6th image) technically not an Allium, but often sold as one. 

    Alliums look great planted on mass, as in the images 4 & 5, which is in an RHS garden, but most of us don't have that much space. In smaller gardens Alliums can be used to great effect as a theme, planted in groups,reoccurring maybe 3/4 times, will give a border real style.

    Taller varieties may need staking, especially in exposed areas. Allium are easy to grow and make a fabulous show. Good value for money as they will return and flower year after year with very little attention.

    The leaves on Allium are not attractive, especially after flowering and traditionally Allium are planting with companions to cover up the leaves such as Achillea Mollis  or Euphorbia.

    More about growing Alliums and planting combinations.


    Allium with butterfly

    bee on chive

    Allium Cristophii

    Allium with Camassia

    Alliums on mass

    Nectaroscordum siculum a close relative of the Allium



  2. There are two good reasons for overwintering plants. Firstly, for some tender plants it is a necessity and I have in mind here, especially in more exposed gardens, Tree ferns, Canna lily, and some varieties of Agapanthus.  The other reason is to nurture through the winter plants which would usually be treated as annual bedding and thrown away. 

    Commonly called Geraniums, Pelargonium will survive a winter under glass. In cold areas they are best in an unheated porch or conservatory, in milder areas they will be fine in the greenhouse.  Geraniums need light, little water and cutting back will encourage the plant to bush out more in the spring as often over the summer Geraniums can become leggy. I keep about a dozen in the conservatory and 90% survive the winter. Once it warms up they can be planted back out into containers for a summer display.  Fuchsia can be overwintered in the same way; cut back and brought into a frost free enviroment and kept on the dry side dormant until around March time.


    Nepeta tender bedding overwintering in greenhouse

    The second image above  is a variety of Nepeta which is commonly found trailing in hanging baskets and is very happy in the greenhouse over winter.

    Why bother? As a gardener I would rather recycle plants. In common with many gardeners I am becoming aware of the many road miles undertaken to stock garden centres now that small nurseries are so rare. We cannot turn the clock back to times past when garden centres grew a lot of their own plants, but we can recycle more of our own.

    And another fear which has recently been flagged up is that many of the plants we buy from garden centres, even those sold as bee friendly, are, perversely, covered in pesticides. If this concerns or interests you the Independent's article is a good starting point with the recommendation gardeners try and grow more of their own to avoid contaminated plants from garden centres. It rather looks as if winter may come early this year be ready to bring plants under cover.

    More advice on how to overwinter plants

  3. By the meteorologist calender Autumn started 1st September but we gardeners tend to think of Autumn as starting later in the year, perhaps early October onwards. However we date it, the season of Autumn in so far as it is marked by the turning of leaves is definitely early this year.


    Autumn Beech Hedge


    This early onset of Autumn was noticed by the head gardener  at Churchill College at Cambridge University where the Boston Ivy started changing into Autumn colour about a month early.

    Here on the ground, digital cameras come in so helpful. The image above is of the Beech Hedge starting to change colour and was taken 17.10.2016 . Looking out the window today, only 09.09.2017 and the hedge is changing colour. Autumn is a lovely season and there is so much fantastic colour, but it is sad to see summer slip away so early. The consolation is those lovely Autumn walks to enjoy.

    Autumn Walks




  4. Agapanthus in flower


    Finally I have persuaded the Agapanthus to flower. You may think so what, especially if you garden in one of the more sheltered parts of the country. Agapanthus are a real sun loving plant originating as they do from South Africa. This means in many parts of the UK its a bit of a struggle, especially where light levels are lower, higher rainfall and colder and I am blessed with all of these.

    In less than ideal conditions it can be very tough to get Agapanthus to flower in the borders; it can take years. Restricting their growth in containers may speed up the process although restrict the ultimate size of the plant. I dug up my Agapanthus out of the borders 2 years ago, and this year after 2 years in containers, 3 out of 4 are flowering. Image left is the proof taken today, along with some other images Agapanthus at their best.


    It's all a question of conditions. Below is an image of Tresco in the Scilly Isles, where the climate is hugely better. Visting Tresco I saw for myself Agapanthus growing in abundance, and wild; a beautiful sight in a natural landscape setting.
    Tresco Island Agapanthus growing wild