DON’T panic! Corporal Jones’ words were ringing in the ear last week when snow and frost were mentioned yet again in relation to the weather forecast in our region.
By late November last year we were up to our knees in it and the arrival came completely out of the blue. So this time around, in anticipation of the unexpected, we have acted accordingly.
Stem cuttings have been taken from tender perennial plants that would stand little chance of survival in extreme conditions. Penstemons were certainly on the list because six cultivars bought as a group offer had striking flowers and performed so well.
A group of erysimum, the perennial wallflower, were frost victims last year but thankfully we had rooted cuttings as back-up and they have turned into strong plants. It’s much better being safe than sorry, so we’re also propagating more of them.
Four different groups of outdoor fuchsias are looking far too happy at present, in full growth and blooming still, but we know that the popular seaside hedging choices, magellanica Alba and Riccartonii (scarlet) are as tough as old boots.
When the top growth dies they can be pruned to soil level, safe in the knowledge that strong new growth will reappear next spring. The same applies to Genii (attractive golden variegated leaves) and Gracilis.
No need to propagate them to cover winter losses but hardwood stem cuttings popped straight into the open garden will root if you want an attractive screen or hedge.
It is surprising how much frost protection a plant gains from not having the dead top growth removed as winter approaches. It is correct to take all the dead growth from hardy herbaceous plants, if only to tidy up a border, but certain sub shrubby types, cotton lavender for example, benefit from leaving it until spring.
Old lavender plants can also struggle when a hard frost persists for several days, so forget the ‘skinhead’ chop, a light trim of top and sides will suffice. Definitive pruning comes in spring when new shoots dictate exactly how far you can safely cut back to.
We were recently tidying up one of those gardening grot spots that was typically out of sight and mind, when a heap of leaves caught the eye. The light rake was just poised to bring it within range when a slight movement and sound brought the operation to a halt.
No need to actually uncover the creature to confirm identity and upset it in the process, I’ve disturbed one of these fellow’s rest before. We must put a notice up ‘hedgehog having long peeps, do not disturb until spring.’
When the weather really closes in on us it will be a pleasant change to turn over pages rather than the soil. And just to ensure there’s plenty of garden-related reading material to hand, we’re checking which seed and plant catalogues have not yet arrived.
The gardening magazines are awash with contact details for all the main seed/plant firms and once interest has been shown you tend to be added to their annual mailing list. There is so much information packed into these publications that they’re almost as good as a book, and some are available for the cost of a stamped addressed envelope.
Whereas years ago, each firm presented everything on offer in a single catalogue, we now have a situation where several mini publications exist. They deal with the different plant groups.
Thompson & Morgan (www.thompson-morgan.com) has always produced a well-illustrated main catalogue full of flowers and vegetables, with the odd novelty thrown in. This is where I sourced my first coffee and banana seeds years ago. After a cursory glance at the 2012 edition there is at least one vegetable that appeals, a purple-podded mangetout pea. £3.49 for 100 seeds seems reasonable for something new and exclusive. There are fruit, kitchen gardener and floral Christmas gifts supplements to digest, and possibly more to come - all from the initial request.
Suttons (www.suttons.co.uk) and Dobies (www.dobies.co.uk) send a similar range, and any serious vegetable gardener should have Marshalls (www.marshalls-seeds.co.uk) on the list, if only for the Gro-Sacks potato offer which is repeated in the new edition.
Robinson’s ( www.mammothonion.co.uk ) have always staked their reputation on big, occasionally unusual produce, and their trade stand at Chelsea Show is certainly worth a visit. I see they are offering slips (un-rooted cuttings) of two sweet potatoes Beauregard Improved and Georgia Jet, at 10 for £12.50. After growing them for the first time this year, how can we resist!
My first port of call, after the local garden centre, for everything fruity, is Ken Muir (www.kenmuir.co.uk). I love the catalogue for its latest information on soft and top fruit developments and the number of seasonal updates that follow the initial request.
And so to the flowering plant catalogues that brighten up the dullest day. Several trade brochures that introduce new arrivals on the market are useful for the knowledge, but purchase is generally in large trays of plug plants beyond the needs of most. This is not so with the majority of specialist nursery catalogues which are welcome because we can place modest orders through them.
Woolmans (www.woolmans.com) means chrysanthemums, including the late-flowering, large mop-head and spray types blooming in the greenhouse right now. Order today and the rooted cuttings will arrive in spring, ready to be potted up. If you raise your own from cuttings in February, its almost 10 months of effort before the reward. But it is rather special being able to cut them for vases as we approach Christmas.
Consider Vernon’s Geraniums (www.geraniumsuk.com) for almost any pelargonium variety that will grow indoors, and if herbaceous perennials, especially irises are your thing, contact (www.claireaustin-hardyplants.co.uk) for two beautifully illustrated catalogues. The good thing about such publications is that they can confirm at a glance for beginners, exactly what certain perennials look like. For this reason alone www.hayloft-plants.co.uk, a firm that is run by a group of dedicated lady gardeners, is a compulsive browse. So too Hardy`s (www.hardys-plants.co.uk ) the specialist herbaceous perennial growers. I cannot recall any recent year when they have not had a gold medal on their stand at Chelsea.
David Austin’s Handbook of Roses (www.davidaustinroses.com) cost £1 at the last count, but that`s a small price to pay for the illustrations, information and description of fragrances alone. My most recent copy is the 39th edition, which just about marks the number of years since he launched the first English Rose. It was handed over by Richard Stubbs, a gentle giant who has made several working visits to The Alnwick Garden, when I met him at their Chelsea stand earlier this year.
“That`s in return for the coffee you bought me last time I came to Alnwick” he quipped. What a memory and what a gentleman!