Between bouts of weeding I have been working in the vegetable garden. Unfortunately I had to remove the purple sprouting broccoli before it was really finished as I needed the space for the next row of peas. We grow a lot of peas, usually Hurst Greenshaft. We freeze quite a lot for use during the winter. I know Birds Eye are cheap, and they work well in many recipes, but for most uses we prefer peas with a more adult taste. Wendy plants the seeds for the first row in little pots in the greenhouse in early March. Once these are ready to go out I then plant successive rows, setting each new one once the one before has sprouted. We also grow one row of mange-tout which usually yield their bounty before the first of the real peas are ready. There is still plenty to eat on our plot. The asparagus is sprouting. The overwintering cauliflowers are heading up. There are still a few leeks, although they are rapidly going to seed, the spring cabbage is still good, and we always leave the leaf beet in the ground to provide an early spinach substitute. Having lived for some years in Nigeria and acquired the taste for West African food, a plentiful supply of green leaves is required. I have planted out over half of this years brassicas. I am trying to grow fewer plants of each type this year. There is always too much for us, and only so much can the hens eat without their eggs tasting sulphurous. Finally it worth noting that the parsnips have sprouted, a cause of great relief each year. Why do they take so long to germinate?
Geralds main job this month seems to have been spreading stuff. Firstly applying a fresh coat of chippings over several of our shrub borders and then emptying the last of the compost bins onto a area we are developing into a new border. This is a fairly narrow section that leads north from our main shade garden. It has become cut off, and difficult for Wendy to manoeuvre the ride-on mower into and out of. She poisoned off the greenery earlier in the year, but the real problem has just appeared .... mares tails. Reading about them there seem to be three possible solutions: Abrade the stems and apply glyphosate... but each stem needs individual attention; constantly cut or pull out the stems for a couple of years or put down weed suppressant fabric and cut out all light, plant through this and make sure that new stems dont come up through the cut hole. We are currently leaning to the last of these options. We are still thinking about what to plant, but it will probably be largish shrubs that can take the damp ground.
We made the pilgrimage along the A5 to Crug Farm Nurseries this month. I had arranged to pick up a Clethra fabri from them. I arranged to go on Tuesday without realising that they are normally closed but this had the advantage that I could not be tempted by anything else. The clethra is a good specimen, about 5 ft tall, with its new leaves still with the red-bronze colouration. It has been repotted into a soil-based compost and will be planted out once the roots have grown out into this.
Over the years we have bought quite a few plants from Crug. At first we had a lot of losses, and talking to gardening friends found out that they too had a lot of little green tombstones. However we discovered the problem and an easy solution. To get good growth in pots Crug use a very open, soil-free compost with quite a lot of large chipped bark. They also use a drip watering system. Together this is the ideal life for a root... lots of oxygen and plenty of water. The problem comes if you try to plant this out directly into a normal garden soil. There is not enough root to provide moisture to the top growth without assiduous watering and the roots seem loath to leave their ideal site and venture into the real world. And so we introduced a standard practice for Crug plants. When we get them home we knock off as much of the Crug compost as possible and then pot up into a compost that contains about 50% soil. We keep the plant in the pots until the roots have grown strongly into the soil mix, and then plant them out into a hole that is back filled with soil containing about 25% compost. It works, and we now have many of their wonderful and interesting plants in our plot.
I have just been wandering around the garden with my camera and thought I would finish with some pictures of what looks good at the moment.
It is a time for spring-flowering trees and shrubs. We grow several flowering dogwoods, but three are the real stars: Miss Satomi, Norman Hadden and Eddies White Wonder. The first two are still to colour up, but Eddies White Wonder is a reliable early flowering variety with good, big white bracts. It seems happy in our soil and survives our winters. Varieties of C. florida seem far harder to please and, although they dont die, dont really flourish for us. We have a couple of C. kousa var chinensis that flower well, even if the bracts are a bit small compared to Eddies. I have just bought C. kousa Bodnant Form which already has bracts even thought the plant is only 2 ft. tall. I have great hopes for it.
It is also a good year for Deutzia. Late frosts can cause havoc with them, causing the flowers to be small and slightly deformed. But this year has been fine and several of ours are looking good. I enclose a photo of D. glabrata, which is uncommon in cultivation. I like it even though the flowers do look a bit more like a spirea than a deutzia.
The Halesia is also in full flower. I would like to point out that the genus is named after a Mr. Hales, and should be pronounced this way. Please do not call it Halleeesia. The photo is of H. carolina Vestita Group. I also have a specimen of H. diptera Magniflora Group. This is still small, but is already producing the large flowers implied by the name. Once established they seem happy enough in our soil which is just on the acid side of neutral, but when young they do tend to look a little chloritic, and I dose young plants with sequestered iron.
I enclose two other photos to finish with. Firstly Epimedium davidii. This is probably the easiest to please of the Chinese species and soon makes a good plant provided it does not get flooded in winter or desiccated in summer. Secondly, the first hydrangea picture of the year. I think the spring foliage of H. serrata Kiyosumi is hard to beat.
Text and photographs by Joe Sime of the HPS Shropshire Group.