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Jan/Feb 2012

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Choosing vegetable seeds, forcing rhubarb, Autumn Bliss and early clematis

Oh, the misery of the wintery days! Thankfully I got all my cutting back of herbaceous plants completed before Christmas, I am now keeping warm by digging the vegetable garden and applying a mulch of manure. After a good lunch at a local garden centre, we spent a great time trailing through both flower and vegetable seeds. 

My first purchase were red onion sets which I always plant in early March, with their tips just above the soil, on raised beds that have not been recently manured. I moved on then to beetroot, parsley, French beans, radishes, courgettes, squash and purple sprouting broccoli.

There is an old story that a good gardener cannot grow lettuce, and it is true for me - if the slugs don't take the seedlings, the rabbits do. I now purchase young plants which I plant near the back door, success!

A few stools of rhubarb has been covered with straw, or forcing pots, these plants will produce delicious pink sweet shoots in a few weeks. After three pickings, I move onto other plants as the forcing can reduce the vigour of the plant. If you do not grow asparagus, you should try it. It will be three years before you reap the benefits but it is well worth the wait.

Having been sold ‘Autumn Bliss' raspberries that were not what they were supposed to be, failing to fruit, the nursery accepted the error and replaced them with new stock. I am now planting these 30 cm apart in well-manured ground and I expect a little fruit next August.

I have had tree surgeons removing overhanging branches from trees near the road. This was precautionary but it has let lots of light onto the shrubs below that had become leggy. A hard pruning of skimmias, physocarpus, mahonia and Griselinia ‘Bantry Bay' in the next few weeks should encourage lots of fresh growth.

A tree which needs major pruning is Pyrus salicifolia ‘Pendula', which has a tendency to reach for the stars. I am using a telescopic pruner with a saw attached removing the upward branches and thinning out the branches. It is underplanted with my favourite Brunnera ‘Jack Frost' which will flower next month with blue forget-me-not flowers.

I have been repairing some Liscannor slabs that have become loose, especially the steps. I put in a concrete dye to age the new pointing. Gravel is the next big job, top-dressing all the gravel paths, and another awful job is the removal of oxygen plants from the pond, which I do with a long rake. I suspect I will also have to lift and divide all the water lilies replanting young pieces and weighing them down with stones.

I have noticed some varieties of bamboo flowering, and from past experience they usually die. I have cut them to the ground and hope they will revive. I thought I had lost my outdoor Lapageria rosea, cut to the ground last winter, but up it came and this year I have one flower.

Tetrapanax rex also disappeared all last year, this superb foliage plant emerged in the last few days.

As clematis varieties start into growth they get a heavy mulch of compost. I have just planted Clematis ‘Early Sensation' on a south-facing wall. I find Clematis cirrhosa and its hybrids very straggly. Clematis napaulensis is seldom seen - I had no flowers last winter but when in flower, it's a cracker with creamy yellow flowers and shocking purple anthers, and it is scented.



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