Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Springing back to life


The battle being fought between the end of winter and the beginning of spring is a real pain. We had more snow than we really wanted, but every so often, in between showers, the sun comes out and plants are leaping into growth. We have to ignore the constant dull rainy days as plants are seasonal so sowing, planting and hardening off are dictated mainly by the calendar not the temperature.
Vegetables, fruit and flowers all need attention. I try to start off many plants in the home, then onto a sunny windowsill at germination. Before too long plants need hardening off before they go out to the cold greenhouse. Unfortunately this is always full so some of the more hardier plants such as geraniums need shifting outdoors as soon as the threat of frost diminishes.
Up on the allotment the digging continues whenever the surface is dry enough. That has been a big obstacle this winter, but there is a lot of excellent compost to get dug in so if the sun is shining, I will most likely be digging.
The front of my allotment has a permanent flower border of roses, Iris, wallflower, tulips and Iceland poppies. Digging is not feasible here, but to keep it fertile I like to add a mulch of fine compost and lightly fork this into the surface. Dundee Council’s Discovery compost is perfect for this task, but unfortunately is no longer available at weekends.  Do they not realise that the modern gardener of today is not just the pensioner, but also the professional and working man of all ages, the young mother with kids and the student who wants to live cheaply but healthily. They are all working or studying through the week, so weekends are when the gardeners come alive.
The tip is staffed at weekends, so why is the compost kept behind a locked gate out of reach.

Glorious spring flowers

 This spring the crocus put on an excellent show, but now it is the turn of the Chionodoxa, the Glory of the Snow. I have a large drift of these planted in between my flag Iris. This gives an early spring display well before the Iris flowers alongside other herbaceous plants including Oriental Poppies and Pyrethrums. Another deep blue flower catching the sunlight is the ground cover plant Pulmonaria which is planted around a clump of golden Doronicum, an early flowering herbaceous plant. I frequently get them flowering together, but they both respond to weather differently, so the idea is not foolproof.
Rhododendron praecox is usually the first Rhodo to flower, but very often it gets caught with a late frost which wipes out the delicate blooms. Not this year as the season is late so it has been fantastic.

The winter border

The display of crocus drifting thickly over my coloured stemmed border will be over by the end of the month. However the coloured stems of cornus and salix may still be very attractive especially when the young emerging golden spring buds appear, but this is when I have to be brutal. The loppers come out and these get chopped back to ground level. They always quickly recover with fresh new shoots that will brighten up this border next winter.
I do not prune the green stemmed Kerria at this time as it flowers in early summer, but will get some thinning out after it finishes flowering. Also my wine red Japanese maple Acer Sangokaku does not get pruned.
The removal of the old stems clears the way for the next show of bulbs from my tulips, planted underneath the crocus. Flowers respond very well to interplanting to get the maximum display from all garden areas.

The fruit garden

I am keeping a watch over my peach tree, as it flowers very early, usually before there are any pollinating insects around. The pink flowers have to be hand pollinated with an artists sable brush every day. As an artist, I always have plenty sable brushes.
This year the seasons are running late and as yet my peach is not flowering, so hopefully they will not get frosted. Last year the season was also late and I could have had a huge crop, but a very late frost killed off many young fruitlets leaving me with a favoured dozen that ripened brilliantly.
My peach is growing against a south facing fence so catches a fair bit of sunshine.
Saskatoons and Chokeberry seeds were sown last autumn in cellular trays and stratified outdoors over winter. They are now all germinated, though they did suffer a bit when a few mice decided to make a meal of the swollen seeds. That was their last meal.
We are still enjoying Bramley apples stored in the garage, and the freezer is still packed with strawberries, rasps, blackcurrants, saskatoons, chokeberries and brambles.

Indoor gardening

Broad beans sown in cellular strips have now germinated and grown into nice sturdy wee plants on the windowsill. These will now be moved to the greenhouse to make room for my onions. They were also grown in smaller cellular pots with about four or five seeds per unit. I am getting a good germination, so in another week or so I will thin them down to two or three seedlings per cell. Onions are happy to be clump planted, but need really good soil as they are gross feeders and respond to heavy applications of well rotted manure or compost at digging time.
Amaryllis is now in full bloom giving a magnificent display for the living room.
Christmas cactus, also known as the Easter cactus, is back in flower again. It always produces its best show in early December, then I dry it off and store it in a light cool location. This ripens it up and every so often if you are lucky it will come back into flower just before Easter. After two sessions of flowering it will need a long rest so it goes back to its light cool spot for a couple of months and kept almost bone dry. Just give a wee bit of water to keep it alive, but not enough to restart growth too soon. It will let you know when it is ready to grow by pushing out some growth buds in early summer. At that point start to give it regular watering and a wee feed to encourage new growth. Put it in a sunnier location, even outdoors on a patio. At the end of summer dry it off again and keep it dry to ripen up the new growth which will then form flower buds for blooming in December.
Plug plants are now available in garden centres getting ready for the summer bedding season. These are not yet hardy, so need a warm sunny location to continue growing.
Do not buy any that have been allowed to go dry.


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