My Garden This Week

011The pots of tender Agapanthus which languish at 10°C in my friend Paddy’s heated greenhouse all winter came out a few weeks ago in bud and are now gracing the south facing front of the bungalow. They attract admiring glances and some longer lingering looks from those who either don’t know what they are or who do know and just want to savour them. We split them two years ago from 2 pots to 4 which has done them good. The biggest one has 8 flower spikes this year.078

We have been picking Sweet Peas for two weeks and now get armfuls every day. This is ‘Painted Lady, one of the oldest and most fragrant of all. 075                                                  But my favourite at the moment is the one I bought on a whim because it’s name is also my wife’s, ‘Cathy’. She is stunning (and the Sweet Pea!) in a shade of creamy white with a wonderful scent and is a strong grower, the tallest of the 20 varieties so far and very floriferous.

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The raised bed behind the sweet peas is full of Sweet Williams grown from a packet of seeds last year. Like a lot of biennials they looked half dead from October to March but perked up when the sun finally came out and the weather warmed up. Now they are in full flower and getting picked every day for the house. They have a light sweet scent and last well in the vase. Behind them, the blackberry Rubus fruticosus ‘Bedford Giant’  planted last year is in full flower and covered with bees all day so pollination is assured. 058                                        The flowers themselves are huge, almost like white dog roses, so I am expecting equally huge fruits. The ‘Black Satin’ and ‘Ruben’ are weak by comparison and a big disappointment. The ‘Bedford Giant’ takes some managing due to it’s vigour but looking at the sheer size of the stems and side branches and the number of flowers, it should be worth the effort…and the scratches!042

The little north american woodlander, Gillenia trifoliata bought at Gardeners World Live last year and planted in my shady area has delighted me with strong growth and the dainty pure white flowers again after a shaky start. I hadn’t appreciated this was an herbaceous perennial and when it disappeared in the winter I thought it had died. It looks like a sub-shrub with woody stems but is not. Everything dies back to the ground.

Hemerocallis fulva

Hemerocallis fulva

The inherited orange day lily, Hemerocallis fulva, is exceptionally tall this year, a good 150cm and covered in masses of buds. It must have enjoyed the division from a huge clump into several smaller ones two years ago.

Osteospermum jacundum

Osteospermum jacundum

On the edge of the drive in full sun and dry poor soil, the Osteospermum jacundum is pushing it’s many heads to the sky and looking glorious. The pinky white flowers shine and can be seen for a hundred metres down the road!

Front border with Salvia greggii 'Royal Bumble'

Front border with Salvia greggii ‘Royal Bumble’

This is my first year with shrubby salvias and so far they haven’t disappointed. The current red ones will soon be joined by purple Salvia ‘Christine Yeo’ and even darker purple Salvia greggii x serpyllilifolia.

Sysirinchum with Lysimachia and Geranium

Sysirinchum with Lysimachia and Geranium

I love it when combinations work well and these three seem to be in perfect harmony. The pale creamy yellow of Sysirinchum striatum with that well known spreader Lysimachia cilliata ‘Firecracker’ and supported by tall pale blue Geranium pratense ‘Mrs Kendall Clark’.

Thalictrum rochebrunianum

Thalictrum rochebrunianum

And finally, my current favourite plant in the garden, for the second year running, the gorgeous Thalictrum rochebrunianum. Five feet tall with strong glaucous foliage and the most exquisite flowers of lilac petals and bright yellow stamens.

Plenty more to come next week!

First Sweet Peas!

003I don’t know why, but the first Sweet Peas of the year just make me smile!007

The stems are always longest and strongest on the early ones and these are no exception. Sown on 31 October last year, overwintered in a cold frame and planted out at the end of April, these will be followed by a further 20 plants sown on New Years Day which are now only 2 weeks behind! The March sown seeds were given away and swapped. I hope they get the same pleasure from them that we do.

Sweet Pea Sowing Time

Cathy and I love Sweet Peas and we grow them every year. They seem to like the alkaline clay soil in the front garden and are much admired by passers-by. Our window cleaner also happens to be a champion sweet pea grower and he reckons it is because the place we grow them is where the mixer was when the extensions were done and each day the builders washed it out and the cement soaked into the ground in that spot. I am not sure I totally believe him but it’s a good theory!

We started with a small pot of mixed Grandifloras in 2009 and now grow several different cultivars including Cupani, Matucana and Painted Lady which, as far as I know, are the three oldest varieties.

Lathyrus odoratus 'Painted Lady', Fabaceae, Fa...

Lathyrus odoratus ‘Painted Lady’,  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This year we participated in the Which? Gardening trial of ‘High Scent’ and have just reported back so I shouldn’t reveal the results until they do!

‘High Scent’

I have tried sowing them in autumn and spring and directly in the ground in April, and I have come to the conclusion that it all depends on the weather! In a mild winter and spring autumn sowing probably produces stronger plants and earlier flowers. The earliest I have managed is an overwintered self-sown white Grandiflora in flower on 24th April. However, in severe winters it is a struggle to keep them going, even in an insulated cold frame with fleece over at night. It is definitely better to grow them ‘hard’ but if the compost freezes for too long there are often casualties. It is strongly advisable to pinch out the growing tips when two pairs of leaves have formed, same for the side shoots, to keep the plants compact and bushy.

I have tried all the recommended germination techniques and read all the conflicting advice. There seem to be many contradictions in the ‘best practice’ expounded by the expert growers and it must be very confusing for some novices. Do you soak the seeds overnight in tepid water to soften the hard seed case? Or do you nick them with a knife or nail clippers or sandpaper them to expose the white pith beneath and ease the passage of root and shoot? Or do you, as I now do, just take them straight from the packet and sow them!

‘King Size Navy Blue’

Then there are the containers to sow them in. Should you use a standard 9cm pot, a discarded cardboard toilet roll tube, a root trainer, seed tray or what? Perhaps you should buy the special biodegradable grow pots from J. Arthur Bowers or special deep Sweet Pea Pots marketed so cleverly by Sarah Raven? I have tried them all but, in the end, I have opted for none of them. Instead, I have bought 100 re-usable polythene grow tubes for £5 from Eagle Sweet Peas as they seem to offer the best solution.

Although they will stand up on their own when full of compost, I can get 20 in a standard mushroom tray which keeps them upright and makes them easy to move about.

As the autumn sown seeds are going to be in the tubes for at least 5 months, I mix a little slow release food in the gritty compost.

The window cleaner reckons you should sow them when the clocks go back and plant them out when the clocks go forward. Simple to remember and has worked for him for over 30 years. Three seeds of each variety are now sitting in their grow tubes in the greenhouse and as soon as they germinate they will be transferred outside into the cold frame.  I will sow 3 more of each on New Year’s Day in the propagator, on 1 March in gentle heat if it is still cold, and directly in the ground on 1 May. If two thirds germinate and grow to maturity, bearing in mind how much slugs, snails, mice and birds love the seeds and seedlings, this should provide me with around 160 plants, half for us and half for friends and neighbours and the Horticultural Society Plant Sale in May. I am hoping to avoid the usual glut of flowers in June and July and prolong the season to provide cut flowers from mid-May to mid-September.

According to Mr Fothergill’s, 2013 is the year of the Sweet Pea and they have released a new variety in conjunction with the RHS called Chelsea Centenary to celebrate.

My 20 selected varieties for next year are as follows:

  1. Cupani
  2. Matucana
  3. Painted Lady
  4. Grandiflora purple/pink
  5. Grandiflora red
  6. King Size Navy Blue
  7. Cathy
  8. Heirloom mixed
  9. Alan Titchmarsh
  10. Apricot Sprite
  11. High Scent
  12. Singing the Blues
  13. Henry Eckford
  14. Ensign
  15. Air Warden
  16. Beaujolais Purple
  17. Noel Sutton
  18. Royal Family
  19. Mrs R Bolton
  20. Lathyrus chloranthus

Lathyrus chloranthus is a species variety and unique as it is the only ‘yellow’ sweet pea known to exist. It is a bit of a novelty and has little or no scent but I thought I would grow it simply for the colour which is really an acid green rather than yellow.