Getting to Grips – Part 2

Weather wise, the start of 2016 is beginning to feel like a re-run of 2015 – a mild winter followed by a chilly spring that refuses to get going. A number of false starts and we are back to cold nights and cool days again, today combined with squally showers. It is April after all. Yet there comes a point when, fuelled by longer daylight hours, most plants decide to forge ahead regardless of the temperature. In our coastal garden an enormous Geranium maderense “Album”, measuring over 7ft from side to side, is preparing to explode into its characteristic atomic cloud of blossom. The bees will go crazy for the myriad white flowers. Blue tits are supping on the nectar-rich flower spikes of Melianthus major and I can see nibs of icy-white in the leaf axils of Iris confusa. This is especially pleasing as I planted these exotic looking irises in November and had no expectations of flowers so soon.

Meanwhile the pots making up my bulb theatre are already disappearing beneath a proliferation of foliage and plump buds. Flowering has been incredibly patchy, with five or six varieties of narcissi yet to bloom and only Tulipa “National Velvet” showing so much as a blush of colour. All this bodes well for late April when we should be rewarded with a spectacular crescendo of colour to rival anything we’ve enjoyed before.

Sunny days accelerate the bulb theatre's crescendo
Sunny days accelerate the bulb theatre’s rapid growth

I adore crown imperials (Fritillaria imperialis) and will happily overlook all their faults; the foxy smell, the appeal to lily beetles and the randomness of their appearance above ground. For this spring I have planted F. imperialis “Sunset” (top of post), F. imperialis “William Rex” and F. imperialis “Maxima Lutea”. The former is the only one to flower so far and is very much living up to its name.

Brainy bulb: Narcissus "Professor Einstein"
Brainy bulb: Narcissus “Professor Einstein”

Back in early October I published a post entitled “Planting A Narrow Border for Spring Colour”. I am happy to report my little project has cheered up the path to our new house for weeks already and will have done its “thing” before the builders trample it under foot. The pansies and violas were an out-and-out disaster. Those that didn’t rot away at the base before Christmas have been chomped back to their skeletal frames by the snails. Everything else has been a triumph, starting with Tulipa “Early Harvest”, which was in bloom at the end of January, and now Narcissus “Professor Einstein” and double yellow N. “Apotheose”. Ipheions (spring starflowers) abound in neighbouring gardens, poking out between paving slabs and emerging at the base of walls, so I have supplemented existing clumps of an unknown pale blue variety with violet-blue Ipheion uniflorum “Froyle Mill”, a solitary flower of which can been seen at the bottom left of the image below. When the straggly leaves are crushed by my wheelbarrow they smell potently of garlic.

Scarcely a masterpiece, but cheerful all the same
Scarcely a masterpiece, but cheerful all the same

While the garden cruises towards May with minimal interference, there has been frantic activity behind the scenes. I have planted or replanted almost 40 dahlia tubers – too many for my garden, even with my “cram it all in and hope for the best” planting policy – and taken countless cuttings, most of which should properly have been taken in autumn. My gingers and cannas have all moved up a pot size, some now requiring industrial scale black plastic tubs that will satisfy their ambitions of world domination. Both my tiny propagators are bursting at the seams with tomato seedlings, castor oil plants and colocasias, all of which will be desperate for pricking out or potting on soon.

All my fun is about to come to an abrupt end with the start of our house conversion project. I had made a temporary and rather luxurious potting shed out of the half-gutted kitchen at Polegate Cottage. This will be one of the first rooms to be ripped apart to make way for our little garden room. The windowsill which is currently home to succulents and seedlings will be no more. The old metal sink in which I have washed a thousand pots will be relegated to a skip and the cupboards still crammed with nerine and lily bulbs waiting to be planted will be torn out and used for firewood. It was fun whilst it lasted. I am sure we’ll enjoy the new garden room more, even if it isn’t full of compost, grit and seed packets.

Bright lights: Euphorbia x martini "Ascot Rainbow"
Bright lights: Euphorbia x martini “Ascot Rainbow”

Needless to say I am drawing things out in the hopes that the builders will arrive just as it’s safe to start standing plants outside without fear of cold damage. The greenhouse is full to bursting, so there is no room at that particular inn. We have visitors coming next weekend so I have broken the back of what needed to be done, whilst at the same time managing to do something of a damage to my own spine. A week of rest and relaxation is what’s required!

Wishing you all a good week in your gardens. TFG.

Peace and tranquility at The Watch House .... for now at least
Peace and tranquility at The Watch House …. for now at least