Tuesday, 12 April 2011

The Growing Season


Early April is a time when gardening really gets serious. Seed sowing of vegetables and flowers is in full production, chrysanthemum cuttings are being rooted, begonias started and plants germinated earlier are now needing pricked out or potted up. My greenhouse is always full even though I keep putting out plants to harden off as other younger more tender plants take their place. Outdoors I will be preparing the ground for the first sowings of vegetables and flowers, then if I can find a few spare days there is fences to be repaired, outdoor tables to paint, the greenhouse glass needs a wash,  my allotment shed roof leeks badly, and now the weeds have started to appear.
Fat chance of me taking advantage of some nice warm day to make sure my sun lounger is still in good working order. However my winter art classes are now finished till after Easter when I start again with a ten week summer session, (information on my website), so I will have no excuse for not getting some gardening done, unless of course I find my latest art project too stimulating to leave. I am currently working on new paintings for the Aberdeen Arts Fair in August where I will have a stand. My beautiful bright red Amaryllis was perfect as a colour prop in one of my figure paintings.

Greenhouse activities

Sowings of broad beans, onions, lettuce, early summer cabbage and cauliflower are now big enough to get hardened off so they are now outdoors in a sunny sheltered spot. They all went into cellular trays so did not need pricking off. This gives me a bit more space for my tomatoes now that they have been potted up and are growing strongly. They should be ready for planting into the growbags next week, but that depends on the weather just in case we get a late cold spell.
Overwintered geraniums are looking great. The largest ones are now outdoors, but younger smaller ones need a bit more warmth to bulk up.
Grape vines propagated last year from cuttings are now all breaking into growth, so they are due to get hardened off very soon. My greenhouse grapes are also starting into growth, so I ventilate on all warm days to keep a buoyant atmosphere so I don’t get troubled with mildew or botrytis.
Seed sowing continues with sweet corn going into small cellular trays to be transplanted into larger ones after germination.
Cape gooseberry seeds are also going into cellular trays as well as kale and Brussels sprouts.
Tuberous begonias have now come out of storage in the garage. I overwintered them in polystyrene boxes filled with a mixture of dry soil and sand, but now the warmer atmosphere has plumped up the buds which want to get growing. I start these in boxes packed quite close together covered lightly in compost, but they will get potted or boxed up again when they start to put on more growth. I have had about thirty non stop tuberous begonias for over fifteen years. The tubers get big enough in time to split in half as long as there is a few buds on each portion.
Chrysanthemums have had a hard time overwintering in my cold greenhouse, and I may lose some varieties, though it is early yet. Time will tell. I have started to take cuttings as they are big enough, (about two inches long) inserting them into trays. They will enjoy a bit of warmth on the living room windowsill to get them rooted, and then it is back into the greenhouse. I have a collection of early outdoor reflex and incurves which get disbudded to give me large heads and another collection of sprays which do not get disbudded. They are grown in a bed system on my allotment, giving a glorious display before getting cut for the house.

Outdoor work

Leeks can now be sown thinly in a well prepared seed bed outdoors. Once they are pencil thickness and about six inches tall, they can be lifted, topped and tailed, dibbled into big holes, then watered in to firm them up. The variety Musselburgh is always a good favourite. They are heavy feeders so make sure the ground for them has been well manured or composted, and still give them a dusting of fertilizer.
Dogwoods and willow growing in the winter border have now been pruned right back to ground level. This always seems very harsh, but they are very resilient and soon grow back quite strongly. I encourage growth with a dressing of compost in winter, then some fertilizer in spring. It is the fresh one year old shoots that give the brightest colours.

Landscaping works

Several shrub roses have been removed as they just were not strong enough to fight off attacks of mildew, rust and blackspot. They were growing on a very steep bank, so now I have to seek plants that can stabilize the soil and prevent erosion of soil running down the slope. Last summer I planted drifts of flag iris that have surface rhizomes that soon cover the ground holding the soil in place. They were supplemented with polyanthus, which were spare after they finished their spring display in tubs. They are brilliant at hugging the ground and continue to flower all spring. I will be adding a batch of Shasta daisies that are also great for soil stabilization, and once the threat of frost has passed I have a dozen young Fuchsia Mrs Popple ready to go out.
To add variety and cover other areas of this steep slope I am growing a batch of Cosmos which will go under glass for a few weeks to get them started, and a sowing of the annual Shirley poppy will go straight onto the steep sloping ground. I will prepare a fine tilth and add a sprinkling of old growbag compost to assist the germination, but they will get no fertilizer, otherwise it will be plenty of growth at the expense of flowers.

Early spring bulbs

The spring bulbs continue to flower. Now it is the turn for the Scilla siberica, Anemone blanda, grape hyacinths, early narcissi, and tulip species. February Gold is one of the first narcissi to flower, and the kaufmanniana tulip Stressa, Shakespeare and Show Winner are in bloom at the end of March. These are followed by the Fosteriana types such as Red Emperor and the white Purissima and the greigii hybrids Red Riding Hood.


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