Today the sun is shining, the rain has stopped and the strong mild winds will soon dry up the ground. The temperature is pleasant, but it needs to be a bit warmer before I have my coffee breaks outdoors, though maybe it will be totally different in ten days time when you read this.
The garden is just bursting with flower potential. Daffodils and narcissi are at their best, the first tulips are showing colour and my tubs and flower beds are looking really good even though they have another fortnight to reach their best.
My first shrub to flower in spring is always Rhododendron praecox, but that is now finished and others are taking centre stage.
Tubs and Baskets
The cold winter has not been kind to any plant that is not totally hardy. Polyanthus are normally no problem, but this year the continual wet soil at constantly low temperatures has killed out many plants. The roots just rotted. I suspected vine weevils which love polyanthus, but could not find any.
However those that survived are now putting on a brilliant display. I also use pansies and Forget me not, (Myosotis) in my tubs as they don’t grow too tall so less liable to get blown over in strong winds. This year I have no Myosotis. I had an excellent germination last June after I sowed a nursery seed row, so just left them to bulk up before transplanting into wider rows for growing on. I got quite a shock when I went to check on their progress. They had been attacked by slugs who devoured the lot. They have flourished in the mild wet climate. Too late to get my slug pellets scattered. I won’t make that mistake this year as the weather does not seem any better so far.
Pansies make an excellent winter hanging basket, but keep flowering right into summer. I replace mine once the summer baskets are ready and just find a spot in the garden to plant the whole pansy hanging basket, once I have separated the root ball from its container.
Plants in tubs get underplanted with dwarf tulips and those near entrances get scented hyacinths. Once the tubs have finished flowering the polyanthus get replanted to a shady part of the garden, where they will grow on and flower next year. Tulip and hyacinth bulbs get dried off and replanted somewhere. Over time the garden will get flooded with a mass of flowering bulbs.
Wallflowers are hard to beat for sheer impact in a large flower bed and where they are near entrances and patios their scent is an added bonus. Cloth of Gold was always my favourite variety and when underplanted with red tulips is it dazzling. I usually use the strong taller Darwin Hybrid tulips such as Apeldoorn, or the single early tulips such as Keizerskroon, Bellona, Brilliant Star, or Van der Neer. However the very early fosteriana tulips such as Red Emperor or Purissima are excellent and if you are planting amongst Myosotis or other dwarf bedding then the less tall dwarf early doubles are a better buy such as Peach Blossom and Orange Nassau.
Wallflower have also suffered a bit this winter and the foliage seems a bit thin, but I think they will still put on a good show.
Daffodils and Narcissi are at their best just now. Dundee Parks Dept has large drifts all over the town so there is no doubt that spring has arrived when the highway verges and Parks are a blaze of bright yellow flowers.
They are very easy to grow and are excellent planted amongst deciduous shrubs. I have large drifts underneath my apple and plum trees.
Other bulbs drifted around the garden include bluebells, Anemone blanda and a mixture of pink hyacinths and the deep blue grape hyacinths. This is an excellent combination as they both flower at the same time.
A good garden design needs plants with a wide range of heights from trees to ground cover. Shrubs can be used to blend the hard landscape into the garden giving it structure, shelter, privacy, screening for eyesore, compost heap, washing line and separate ornamental areas from vegetable garden. They can also be used to stabilize steep banks where maintenance could be a problem.
They are excellent for adding a special feature to a lawn, or building with their size, form and flowers. There is a flowering shrub for every month of the year, and now winter is over, hopefully, the Viburnum fragrans, Jasmine, and Mahonia will now be superseded by the Rhododendrons, Azaleas, Camelias, Kerria and Magnolias.
As the season moves into early summer the Philadelphus, Escallonia, Ceanothus, Cistus, hardy Fuchsia and shrub roses will have their day if they have survived the last two harsh winters. Although I am leaving many dead looking shrubs alone to see if they will recover, I have my doubts about quite a few, but live in hope that I may be wrong.
There are numerous Camelias available, but I find that Donation is a very reliable pink and Adolphe Audusson is my favourite red. There are even more Rhododendrons and Azaleas and everyone has their own favourites. Brittania is a brilliant red, Pink Pearl an excellent pink and coming down in size, Elizabeth a great red but does suffer a bit of mildew. Gibraltar is a very showy orange azalea, but there are numerous other excellent types.
The evergreen forms of dwarf Rhododendron obtusum also known as the Kurume azaleas only grow a couple of feet high, but what a show they put on in April and May. There are many different varieties.
Rhododendrons and Azaleas require an acid soil that is also free draining but retains moisture. Soil can be supplemented with course peat or leaf mould applied generously before planting and worked into the soil. The roots are very fibrous and shallow so an annual mulch of well rotted leaf mould will keep them in good order. Most soils around Dundee are fairly good for these plants.