IT is ‘blink and you miss it time’. Blossom is fleeting, daffodils are drawing to a close and the mad rush to late spring is already upon us. Miss it at your peril!
So much is happening, so quickly that things are easily over-looked. A less frenetic approach to the one advocated by some garden presenters is well rewarded.
After all, what is the point of working so hard if you do not then have time to enjoy your garden?
Of course, if we want things to look their best in the season to come, then a little work now will pay well in a few months’ time.
One area on which I need to concentrate is filling gaps where hedges have been burned back and climbers have died.
I want to take some time to get any permanent planting done, so a temporary measure has been sought. I must admit, apart from Sweet Peas and the odd nice looking plant picked up at the nursery, I have never really looked at annual climbers before as they are not really my cup of tea.
They are often blousy and brash, in a range of totally unsuitable colours and totally at odds with my more relaxed and informal planting scheme. However, needs must.
Gaps do not plug themselves and I find to my surprise that research has paid dividends and I have come up with a few little gems which are already storming away in my greenhouse.
One of the biggest surprises was Thunbergia alata (Black Eyed Susan). I had been researching varieties of this for another project, having previously written it off as being ‘too yellow’.
I was delighted to find it in a range of more subtle colours, a lot of work having been undertaken by breeders to get some variation in its colour. African Sunset is in a range of pastel shades from primrose to peach and Susie White With Black Eye is exactly as its name suggests. This led me to look again at other annual climbers. Lophospermum scandens (formally sold as Asarina) is available in a wide range of soft pink and purple hues, as is Cobaea scandens (the Cup and Saucer plant) and both provide a long season of colour on strong growing stems.
I grew Rhodochiton atrosanguineus very successfully last year.
Its unusually shaped flowers are deep purple and it is a fast and vigorous climber. Other deeper coloured climbers include Ipomoea ‘Bohemian Shades’ (Morning Glory) and Lablab purpureus (Lablab bean). More vivid, striking colours are still to be found and among the best for providing this are the often overlooked, but strikingly simple to grow Nasturtiums.
These are now available in a huge range of colours, some with darker or variegated leaves and grow absolutely anywhere, although they do bloom best if kept on poorer soil where the leaves can not develop enough to hide the flowers. Ipomoea lobata (Spanish flag) is another star performer, readily scrambling up to over 6ft in height and another brightly coloured good-doer is Eccremocarpus scaber (Chillean Glory Vine) which probably has the longest flowering season of all the annual climbers.
All these plants require something to grow up and this can be as difficult or as simple as you like.
As these plants die back at the first sign of frost, the supports do not need to be as robust as those required to stand up over winter but nevertheless they must be reasonably sturdy as growth can be fast and prolific.
I tend to grow climbers up an existing framework and they are also most effective when grown through permanent planting, although care should be taken to ensure that they are not out-competed by their hosts. Arches and arbours also provide adequate support and even a tripod of bean poles tied up with a bit of string will suffice.
Either way, the support will soon be covered and is unlikely to be visible so it is not really worth spending huge sums of money on something fancy.
All annual climbers should be planted out well after all risk of frost has passed, in a sheltered, sunny site with soil that is neither too wet or too dry. Many will do well in pots and tubs provided that they are watered and fed regularly.
Lophospermum and Nasturtium can even be persuaded to trail as well as to scramble so are useful for window boxes.
Frequent dead-heading will prolong the flowering season but it is worth leaving some seeds to mature as these will supply you with free plants for next year. It is a little late to sow any of the above, bar Nasturtiums, but many are widely available at nurseries and particularly by mail-order. Plant fairs are also an ideal hunting ground.
Plant of the month
Another climber for you but this time one which is hardy and perennial.
Do not be blinded by science with names and varieties, just get it in a colour that you like and give it enough room to grow and you will be rewarded with brilliant blooms in every shade of blue and purple you can imagine.
A lot of myths surround Wisteria cultivation, none of which are usually true.
Buy a grafted plant, put it in a hole which has had plenty of organic matter dug in to it, provide a sturdy support and ensure that it is well watered until it is established.
Tie in regularly.
It may take up to five years before it flowers abundantly. Complicated pruning techniques are not necessary.
Sheering off whippy growth during late summer is usually enough to keep it under control, although older, established plants may require a more brutal approach.
Wisterias which refuse to flower may benefit from a dressing of potash in spring and ensuring that the plant is not allowed to dry out.
They do not thrive in anything other than full sun.