Wednesday, 4 May 2011

A Blaze of Colour


The garden is now at its peak for spring flower impact. Wallflowers, pansies, polyanthus and all types of tulips are in full bloom and the dry warm sunny weather has brought them to perfection.
However this is the spring display and the summer flowering plants are all growing nicely, ready to take over in a few weeks time.
This is when we start to prepare the hanging baskets, tubs, troughs, window boxes and other containers used to show off the summer bedding plants. I like to have mine established with the first flowers showing before I put them in place. I keep a double set of baskets and pots as the spring and summer bedding plants overlap each other.
Spring flowering pansies can continue flowering to the middle of summer, but although they get replaced by the summer bedding plants, the pansies can either be left somewhere to continue their display, or gently removed from their containers and planted at the front of a garden border.
Tulip, daffodil, crocus and hyacinth bulbs used in the spring display tubs can be reused to brighten up other parts of the garden the following year. All my shrub borders, winter garden and fruit trees get underplanted with extra bulbs every year from the tubs. Even my outdoor grape vine which doesn’t get a canopy of leaves till mid May is in a flower border full of spring bulbs.
My mini orchard of culinary and dessert apples and plums has a show of daffodils, then tulips before it becomes the bluebell woodland glade, then in summer the lilies take over. The fruit trees are very happy with this underplanting of flowering bulbs.

Suitable containers

Hanging baskets come in a range of sizes. I find that a 14 to 16 inch diameter, (35 to 40 cms. for younger gardeners) is about right for the normal urban garden. A larger one will have more impact, but will need really solid and sturdy wall brackets to hold the weight. Good wire baskets are available in all garden centres. Some come with a liner, but I find the best and cheapest liner is an old polythene compost bag turned inside out. I just push it into the basket, put in some compost then trim the top. Remember to keep the black side showing on the outside as you do not really want pictorial compost information competing with the flowers.
A good basket will eventually be smothered in foliage and flowers, so to get a quick all round effect plant some bedding plants into the sides of the basket as you fill it up. Cut slots in the polythene liner and push the plants through gently.
A hanging basket is quite heavy after watering so make sure your wall bracket support is strong enough to take the weight and is well screwed into the wall.
Tubs also come in all sizes from six inches to a couple of feet across. Avoid any that have a small diameter base related to a wide top, as it is likely to blow over as soon as we get a strong wind. It is also a good practise to place a brick or large rock in the bottom to add weight to stop it toppling over. The larger tubs are excellent for specimen begonias, Brugmansia, (Angel Trumpets), Agapanthus (blue African Lily), Canna or an exotic palm tree while still small. Plastic containers may be cheap and will hold water better, but they are very light and easy to topple over if the plants get too big.
Window boxes are less common today, but a strong plastic one is more preferable being lighter and it will need to be very securely attached to the wall at window sill level. Select plants that are trailing or don’t grow too tall if windows need to open outwards.

Unusual containers

Plants can be attractively displayed in all sorts of containers from old garden boots, buckets, rusty wheelbarrows and even colourfully painted old tyres. A few years back we were upgrading our bathroom and had ordered new units. The supplier sent a new toilet with the wrong pipe fittings so had to be replaced. It was too much trouble to collect the wrong one so he told us to dispose of it. I dumped it outside by the bins awaiting disposal. It was spotted by one of my art class students who was a very keen gardener, and liked to try things unusual. She was delighted to find a home for our unwanted brand new loo as a decorative floral feature in her garden.

Good bedding plants

Garden centres stock a wide range of suitable bedding plants from early March onwards. Many have come directly from greenhouses and may not be hardy so be wary and only buy in March if you have a greenhouse to grow on. At this time of year most plants are now hardy.
You can buy plants as small plugs and grow them on into bigger plants.
Growing your own plants from seed or cuttings is a cheaper way to produce good plants, but you need space and time.
I have been growing my own geraniums from cuttings every year for over ten years and my own tuberous begonias for over fifteen years. They are both very easy. Impatiens (Busy Lizzie) is also very easy but when overwintered in the house in a window sill it is prone to attacks of greenfly and red spider. These are not easy to control for the amateur as chemicals available in garden centres are now very limited and not very strong. After spraying, greenfly and red spider just sulk for a few days with a mild headache then a week later they are ready to feed and party again.
My other favourites include Nemesia Carnival, Petunias, especially the blue scented one, trailing Lobelia, Fuchsias especially Swingtime and African Marigolds for larger tubs.
However it is always worth trying a few different plants, so include some Salvias, Livingston Daisies, Verbena, dwarf Phlox, Ageratum, Antirrhinum, and bedding annual carnations.

Something different

Edible landscapes are becoming very popular and useful to introduce children to gardening as they have more interest to them than flowers. They just love popping things into their mouths.
Cherry tomatoes grown as a trailing bush are perfect and newer varieties are quite sweet when allowed to ripen before picking. Make sure they get plenty of sun as this enhances the sugar content.
Strawberries can also be used in baskets, boxes or specially created tall pots with numerous pockets to pop in a plant. Keeping them off the ground means there is no slug problem, but watch out for birds and small children who can devour the crop long before the adults get a berry.


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