Plots and plans

The hawthorn hedge is greening up,

The sloe blooms gleaming white.

But clear skies and a chill east wind,

... I’ll need the heating on tonight.

So many storms this winter,

Their names I have forgotten,

Let’s hope this summer’s reasonable,

So my tomatoes don’t go rotten.

By Douglas Boatman of Scotplants

Seems that the winter weather pattern is changing right enough – mild and wild during the normal winter months then dry with nippy cold nights after Easter.

Such conditions certainly make it more difficult to get the garden into shape, particularly the veg’ plot. Soil so heavy and wet that the fork couldn’t turn it and now so hard it won’t break down to a decent tilth. The rotovator is not happy!

Mind you, I can’t complain about last year's efforts. Desiree potatoes lasted well in to February and I’m still grading through the Ailsa Craig onions – most are starting to re-grow now.

This year I’ve sown Bristol as a white onion and Red Baron. Not looking for exhibition size, just as long as they grow bigger than a golf ball and store well then I’ll be content.

Nice to see the camellia and magnolia getting a chance to show their stuff. So often the display is marred by a sneaky wee frost that kills the flower buds. Forsythia and flowering currant are almostfinished too.

Next up will be the azalea and rhodos, but currently the ornamental quince (Chaenomeles) is providing good colour. Soft and subtle show this year from the variety, Moerloosii – an old cultivar from the mid-1950s but tough and reliable.

It has unusual bi-colour pink and white petals that will be followed by large quince fruit that may be useful for making jelly. They have a lot of pectin in them and are a handy setting agent. A bit nippy on its own though!

Ornamental quince looks good as a ‘stand alone’ shrub but is really impressive as a low hedge. Got a nasty thorn, though – so watch how you handle it.

Many years ago I wrote about the benefits of a wood-burning stove and encouraged/ promoted the idea of planting some suitable trees for future use as home-grown fuel. I had the thought that it would be sensible and pleasing to the eye to plant up inaccessible parts where even the quad-bike couldn’t go.

Well, things have gotten a bit out of hand since then. The 'powers that be’ are now so determined to ‘capture’ every atom of carbon, that vast swathes of our productive countryside are being littered with thousands of plastic tubes with a wee tree sheltering inside.

I have been involved in the nursery and landscape business for the past 40 years and supply and planting has been an integral part of my trade, but now I am becoming uneasy about the amount of good quality land being tied up in woodland creation.

National food security has been ignored for long enough – things will go from bad to much worse with the current conflict in Eastern Europe – and this hypocritical rash of environmental virtue-signalling is only going get us into deeper problems in the future. We need compromise – and soon!

Now that Covid restrictions have been lifted (hurray!) everybody, including the dog, is heading for foreign climes. Thus the move toward container gardening. Plastic grass/gravel chips and a couple of containers at the front door equals zero maintenance.

Annual bedding plants may give a big show of colour but long-term you may want to opt for a plant that doesn’t nee a lot of fuss. Alpine, or moss phlox (P subulata) is a good choice. Evergreen, compact and hardy.

The variety Nettleton Variation has the advantage of needle-like variegated foliage which looks good all year round. Nice deep pink flowers from May to June. What’s not to like?

Don’t get this wee gem confused with its herbaceous cousin, Phlox paniculata. This is a herbaceous plant with tall flowering stems later in the year. It's sweetly scented, available in an impressive range of colours but, unfortunately, very prone to downy mildew and leaf spot.

I’m always on the look-out for something different for spring colour, so last October I bought a range of more unusual spring-flowering bulbs.

Amongst them was the Crown Imperial (Fritillaria imperialis). The bulbs were the size of a cricket ball so I buried them deep in a long rose-pot and hoped for the best. Lo and behold, they grew like Triffids and are now looking extremely handsome.

I chose the ‘dwarf’ cultivar, Aurora, as the common variety grows to about a metre tall – too risky in my exposed garden. Long-term, I may have to prepare a special area for them. They don’t like heavy clay soil and wet feet.

Crown Imperials are native to Turkey and Iran, so should be reasonably hardy but will need a little TLC – rich, organic loam and a sunny position. Flowers are literally dripping with nectar – an early season fuel station for bees. At £2-plus per bulb they are worth looking after!

Many garden centres (and supermarkets) are stocking peat-free compost. I understand the move toward this type of substrate but its use does have implications for plant growth. Compost made from green waste and bark/coir chips will not provide the same nutrition and moisture retention as the traditional type.

For patio containers you may need to add additional loam, or topsoil (buy sterilised stuff) to ensure that the bedding plants or your prized topiary continues to thrive through the summer months.

No need to worry about flying off to Tenerife for a fortnight. You’ve earned it. Plants will be fine!

Heard the subscriptions to Netflix had taken a dip. Doesn’t really concern us out in the sticks in North Ayrshire. Internet service is dire. Super-fast broadband? Ha!

The only thing ‘streaming’ round here is my eyes from the bonfire of the hedge clippings.

Happy gardening.

General action points:

• Getting a bit warm and dry to split up herbaceous plants although there may be still a chance with later starting stock, like Astilbe and Hosta;

• Sunny days bring out Sunday drivers and greenfly. Usual targets are roses and veg’, but watch out for them setting up home on the new growth of Japanese maple and fruit trees.

• Winter bedding getting past its best. Start of May is a good time for change-over. Before planting summer annuals rake in a small quantity of bonemeal, or Growmore. Not too much – you want flowers, not excessive foliage growth.