Monday 29 February 2016

New kids on the block

Just look at them, all young, upright and full of energy! The potential stars of the new season are full of promise and undiscovered joys. Nurtured to perform at their very best and to achieve their potential, meet the new kids on the block ...

They wait in the wings before they take their turn in the spotlight, soaking up the light and the warmth they need for optimum growth.

Our new greenhouse ... erm ... conservatory is proving to be an absolute blessing for plant rearing. I used to struggle in the old one as it was not as well heated, or lit, and so seedlings sulked and grew leggy. The new one has a glass roof which lets in oodles more light, and has a thermostatically controlled panel heater which keeps the temperature constant.

Germination has never been a problem, as a heated propagator will give good results and get the seeds to germinate. The problem came when the seeds were then moved from the propagator and into the old conservatory which had huge fluctuations in temperature, and  got very cold at night. The only way to raise seedlings successfully was to leave sowing as late as possible so that both light levels and the average temperature had both risen considerably. Fine for fast growing annuals like cosmos, and veg like courgettes, but not so good for chilies and peppers, which need a long growing season to be successful.

Another problem which I have resolved this season is that of lack of space. Every year previously has seen seed trays of growing seedlings on every available surface, and, indeed, lack of space has curtailed my growing activity. Not so this year ...

Thank you 'Two Wests and Elliot' for this seed tray shelving unit which we bought a few weeks ago. It is not without fault - it is self assembly but you need the patience of Mother Theresa and the dexterity of Dynamo to be able to put it together. I asked the Exotic Gardener if he had a spare half hour to assemble it, and it turns out he did... three hours later he was still cursing and losing screws and nuts . Very fiddly ... but SO worth it !

It is exactly the same depth as a regular seed tray, and each shelf has a waterproof plastic tray for seed trays to fit into, so they can be watered without fear of floods!

I was concerned that , although the top shelf plants would be fine, that those on lower shelves would have restricted light, and would be leggy and grow towards the light. Not so! All plants are sturdy and straight, although I do  turn and move them around anyway.

Once the frosts are over the unit can be moved to the greenhouse, where it can continue to do a good job. It has castors on it, and is very light, so it will be easy to move.

So, why have I grown 3 different dahlias ? I must have got about 90 babies, and I will not be able to find a home for most of them in the garden! Luckily my friend is running a plant sale for charity, in April, so I will be able to donate the surplus to her stall.

I am trying 3 new Dahlia varieties this year - 'Redskin', Cactus Hybrids and 'Victoriana'. All are growing strongly and look very healthy. I sowed them early in February as I want them to flower well this year, so they need an early start to be able to do that.

As an experiment, I have some 'Begonia Rex' seeds currently sitting in the propagator, and I have a feeling they may be there some time as they are described as 'slow to germinate' and can be erratic. If they do show their faces, I intend to use them as  bedding in the new sub tropical area. However, they are very tender, and usually grown as house/ conservatory plants, so the great outdoors may be just too cold for them, even during an English summer. Thompson & Morgan now sell a Begonia Rex which is borderline frost hardy  (well 3 degrees!) called Begonia 'Angels'. They may be more suitable for a summer outside but they are nearly £20 for 4 plug plants ! I will experiment with the Begonia Rex seeds for this season, and see what happens.

Other begonias in the propagator are 'Illumination' white and 'Non stop' rose pink. I have never grown these before, or used them as part of a bedding scheme, so , again, an experiment to see how they perform.

I am growing  five different types of tomatoes, again, planted early to optimise fruiting, and they are all just growing their first set of true leaves. I am growing 'Sweet Aperitif' - small cherry fruits which are the sweetest imaginable; 'Marmande' (beef tomato),  'Romello' ( good outdoor plum, bush tomato), ' Mountain Magic', 'Losetto' , 'Akron' and  'Fandango (jury is out on these four, I was given free seed, so I am giving them all  a try!).

Other experiments for this season are Amaranthas ( two varieties , 'Caudatus' and 'Velvet Curtains'), and Celocia ('Flamingo Feathers' and 'China Town') which are all being grown as annuals for the new sub tropical area. Also, two varieties of Hibiscus, 'Simply Love' and 'manihot', again, for the new sub trop. Pictured further up this post are the new shoots of Oryza 'Black Madras' - a dark rice grass, which has just begun to germinate over the last couple of days.

Old faves already cooking in the propagator are Ricinus, although these are proving unusually slow to germinate. I also have 6 young Canna Indica growing strongly from a January sowing (pictured at the head of this post).

There are lots more packets of seeds forming an orderly queue next to the propagator, and I will be sowing right through to late April. This coupled with being able to get out into the garden and start clearing all the beds is serving to lift the spirits considerable. Spring is springing ! A whole new growing season is beckoning ...

Saturday 6 February 2016

Planning for that cold, rainy day

On a hot Sunday last August, I just happened to be browsing around a Garden Centre in Exeter, many miles from home. It was in the middle of a cloudburst, and the rain was drumming so loudly on the glass roof of the greenhouse that it drowned out all other sounds. I was surrounded by the lush late summer colour of Cannas and dahlias, and the season still held promise.  

I noticed the racks of spring bulbs, and it seemed almost impossible that all the foliage and the flowers of summer would shrink back to bare earth, and that winter would leach away all the colour.

Even though it seemed almost counter - intuitive to buy dry, brown bulbs when I was surrounded by such plenty, I chose three varieties of Iris Reticulata, and then took them all the way home.

I knew I wouldn't regret it, and that one day, in the depths of winter, I would be so glad that I had thought to choose them, and plant them.

Fast forward to the bleakest part of the year - grey, cold and rainy. This was the time I was planning for ... and I was so glad to see them.

They were the promise of spring, shining through the gloom.

Delicate, beautiful, intricate flowers, standing resolute in the cold, with heads unbowed.

Apologies for photos, which despite three attempts and a tripod are not what I had in mind !

I can't seem to do justice to the depth of colour, the silkiness of the petals or the intricacies of the markings. 

'Katherine Hodgekins' is the pale, cream iris, striped and mottled with blue and dotted with patches of yellow, looking almost like a Clarice Cliffe design from the Art Deco period in the 1930's. There is something pansy-like about it's markings.

The dark, velvety iris, in the photo above, is 'George', with its mottled purple and cream petals . The colour is rich and a dark contrast to the pastel hues of 'Katherine Hodgekins'. It seems more robust than the delicate 'Katharine'.

The lilac iris with darker purple tips to the leaves is 'Gordon'. 

All three have good solid names for such little powerhouses of beauty!

They are so easy to grow, that they can be forgotten about for most of the year. Although they can be grown in beds, borders and rockeries, I prefer to grow all mine in pots, so that I can get close up personal, and enjoy them! I like to move the pots next to the front door when the irises are in bud, so that I can appreciate every moment.