Potato, Set(s), Go….

What a glorious Spring-like week it has been out in the garden. I am very aware winter will be back anytime soon, but still, it is lovely to be working in less layers of clothes for a while. I left you all last week with the Harry Chapin song ‘Flowers are Red’. Browsing the plethora of gardening websites and looking through my collection of planting inspiration books, I was struck by how we could get caught in a similar trap to the little boy in the song. It feels like I am forced to choose whether my preference for a style of garden is Cottage, Formal, or Jungle to highlight three of the popular choices for pigeon holes of styles. If I want to have more than one of these styles, must create garden rooms to divide each area from the others in case of cross contamination.

As if a Phormium would be seen with a Photinia!!! Why is this so? There are ferns that like sunshine and their different growth habit and dramatic fronds can add wonderful contrast to herbaceous perennials in a mixed border, why should they always be assigned to Japanese or Woodland gardens?

Things get worse when we start looking at colour. Thank God, Christopher Lloyd broke the mould and let all kinds of colours intermingle. I myself struggle with the colour yellow and I do have my own colour mixes that I prefer but I am certainly not adverse to being adventurous unfortunately though many of the media sources seem to have proscribed combinations that feel very restrictive and that if I deviate away from the norm I am straying from the pack.

So this year I shall challenge myself to use unthought of combinations of plants and colours and explore the success of the results. Whilst I have been thinking about colours and styles. What else have I been getting up to this week? I have planted some of the First Early Potatoes, I have chosen the variety ‘Arran Pilot’ as a reliable performer with a good flavour.

Planting out now may seem early but it means they are less likely to be eaten by mice when left to chit, as has happened to my main crops in the past! They are a good 4-5 inches down with a hefty dollop of manure on top. If they do start to sprout above this whilst there is still a risk of frost I can earth them up for protection. My second earlies (Wilja) and main crops (Desiree) I have set chitting. They are spaced out in a seed tray with another seed tray on top and being kept in the cool. I have a mixture of ‘Red Baron’ and white ‘Hercules’ onion sets waiting in the wings to go in. I  will dig some well rotted garden compost into the veggie plot next week and then mid March plant the sets outside.

Pruning jobs this week have included chopping down the Buddleja and any Mahonia that have finished flowering can be kept in shape now. Make sure you’ve got your stout gloves on they are lethal. I have also started pruning the Cornus and Salix that are grown for their colourful stems.

Pruning jobs this week have included chopping down the Buddleja and any Mahonia that have finished flowering can be kept in shape now. Make sure you’ve got your stout gloves on they are lethal. I have also started pruning the Cornus and Salix that are grown for their colourful stems.

Cornus sang. ‘Midwinter Fire’

I look after a mixture of Cornus sibirica ‘Alba’, stolonifera, sang.‘Midwinter Fire’, Elegantissima *which I think is my favourite but it’s a close thing* and Salix alba ‘Britzensis’. Whilst Cornus seem to have been over used and mistreated in new housing developments and car parks everywhere just recently it is no excuse to plant some of these shrubs in your garden, treat them well and enjoy the beautiful coloured stems all winter. They also provide you with copious amounts of material to stake up your perennials for the coming season and are much prettier than bamboo canes. Think about where you want the leafy growth to be in the summer before you prune them down to the ground.

If, as here with this Willow , they are in amongst tall perennials I do not prune down to the ground then the summer foliage creates a good back drop to the border once in rises in midsummer. It also raises the coloured stems to provide more spectacle in the winter. Other cornus that are surrounded by lower growing perennials like geranium I would cut back to within 3” of the ground and have the foliage just sitting about the geraniums for the summer. More recently I have planted a sibirica ‘Alba’ behind an ‘Elegantissima’ to add to the contrast in foliage during the summer. It also allows me to have red stems on two levels as the ‘Alba’ being more vigorous provides the top tier of red stems. I under planted these with Euonymus ‘Emerald Gaiety’ and they really help the stems to stand out in the winter against the green and white rather than the bare earth.

Seed sowing can start anytime now for me, Sweet peas, Broad Beans, Early leaves will do for a start. Next week I will start with a vengeance converting every available window ledge space to seed trays.

New plant additions that have caught my eye so far this year. Over coffee I was browsing through Sarah Raven’s catalogue, http://www.sarahraven.com  

After recovering from finding a listing for seed of Corydalis lutea. Proof enough that one’s prized plant is another’s weed! I spend most of my time pulling this plant out of walls in clients gardens who hate yellow. However, getting over the shock, I spied Heliophila longifolia, false blue flax, which looks like an interesting addition to this years bedding scheme. Collomia grandiflora is also a new plant to me and flourishing in dry shade, it sounds well worth an experiment for one of those difficult spots to fill.

To finish, another rarer Cornus that is worthy of a mention as well as a better photo (sorry) that was in the garden I was in today. The yellow flowers of Cornus mas are just about to open. The Lichen was also both colour co ordinated and profuse but amazing too. Happy days in the garden x