Around the Garden with Busy Lizzie

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Finally, some useful rain, which was badly needed in the garden.

While I have enjoyed the comparatively quiet time which a dry spell brings, no doubt everything (including weeds and the lawn) will now burst into joyful and bounteous growth and I will be back outside, chopping, weeding, mowing and pruning once again.

It’s always nice when things return to normal.

What is not normal, however, is the early flowering of many of our traditional plants.

My Rosa ‘Fruhlingsgold’ usually does its thing at the end of the month but is blooming a full three weeks early.

It seems a little odd to see its delicate yellow petals sitting alongside a brash pink Clematis montana ‘Elizabeth’.

Possibly a ‘Chelsea Moment’ but not one to be necessarily proud of.

What should have happened is that the rose should have bloomed as the Clematis faded (no pink and yellow together thank-you) and the variegated Elder should have been covered in frothy white flowers to compliment it and everything should have looked well balanced and pleasing to the eye.

I am not going to do anything drastic – there’s been enough enforced destruction in this garden due to the cold winter – and in any case, things may well settle down next year, but it is food for thought.

We are told that spring has arrived a full three weeks early this year.

If this is going to become the norm for our seasons then colour conscious gardeners (myself included) may have to look long and hard at some of their established planting schemes to see if anything can be altered.

A temporary solution for me has been to use some planted pots to ease the eye around any glaring clashes.

I grow a lot in pots, perennials and shrubs as well as seasonal bedding, as they are easy to move around the garden when faced with just this kind of problem.

I must admit that the bulk of my pots are plastic and, whilst not the most aesthetically pleasing of materials, they are light, portable and frost proof.

Smearing them with live yoghurt and even manure can encourage algae to grow and their looks do improve as they age.

As with any container planting good drainage (ensure holes are drilled in the bottom of the pot and are kept clear with a good layer of crocks or gravel), appropriate compost and regular attention to watering and feeding will ensure healthy plants and a good display.

Compost is a touchy subject at the moment.

There has been a great drive to wean gardeners off peat and, as most of our shop-bought multi-purpose compost contains shed loads of it, alternatives are now becoming more widely available.

Peat is not, in my opinion, necessary for good plant growth but it does help to improve water retention.

I have found that when using peat free compost, I also need to use water-retention granules, especially with summer bedding plants which dry out all too quickly.

For more permanent planting schemes, soil-based compost is more appropriate and plants will need feeding less often.

This, however, will need to be topped up from time to time if the contents are to stay healthy.

Plant selection is subjective.

Garden centres and nurseries are bursting with tender plants for summer planting schemes, all in a dizzying array of colour, scent and form (sadly with the loss of some old favourites – has anyone seen any Tagetes – but I suppose things must move on).

You can literally pack the plants in to the container and, once established, they will put up a good display for months to come.

The fertiliser in the compost will usually last six weeks and you will need to feed regularly after that.

If using perennials in pots and containers, use the same planting spacing as you would in the ground.

It is possible to put things a little closer than you would normally, but the plants will only need moving out later in the year, which rather defeats the object.

Those planted in soil based compost will usually need feeding not earlier than eight weeks after planting.

I prefer to use a diluted form of fertiliser as it is more easily absorbed by the plant.

I make my own (it stinks but it is cheap and very effective) using nettles and Comfrey, both of which are deep rooted and subsequently full of nutrients.

A handful of leaves steeped in water for a few weeks produces a black gloop which should be diluted 1:20 before applying liberally to the base of the plant, preferably with a peg firmly attached to your nose throughout the whole procedure!

Plant of the month

Astrantia (Masterwort)

A hardy perennial plant with large cut edged leaves and tall flowers which resemble pin-cushions throughout late spring and well in to late summer.

It requires well drained soil, grows well in sun or shade and does particularly well in pots.

Varieties include A. major with greenish white flowers, often tinged with pink and the more red flowered ‘Hadspen Blood’ and ‘Ruby Wedding’, both of which also have much darker leaves.

The plant will self-seed readily, often cross-polinating with its neighbours.

It is also very easy to propagate by taking basal cuttings in spring or autumn.

Try growing with Geranium macrorrhizum and Hosta ‘Hadspen Blue’ whose glaucus leaves will offset the flowers perfectly.