Thursday, 01 November 2012
Our columnist plants up pots for a splash of spring colour
Written by Sarah Langton-LocktonWhen I was in the first throes of my love affair with gardening, in my 30s, I visited gardens and read avidly, not just to learn what to do, but to discover my own style and tastes. As an impressionable new gardener I was much struck by an observation by the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire, guest contributor to the Diary in The Spectator magazine:
‘People go through five stages of gardening. They begin by liking flowers, progress to flowering shrubs, then autumn foliage and berries; next they go for leaves, and then the undersides of leaves.’
I wrote the words down carefully in my notebook. This was many years ago, but I have noticed with amusement how closely my evolution as a gardener has followed the pattern. Recently, however, I have found myself drawn to vibrant colour, planting lime green and plum-coloured gladioli, shocking pink dahlias and great clumps of yellow rudbeckia.
So far, these bursts of colour have only erupted on the allotment, in the flower garden that I claim is for cutting, but whose real purpose, I suspect, is to gladden my heart whenever I am there. A craving for colour is now starting to infiltrate plans for the garden. It’s not just me. I have noticed that the dusky palette of pinks, mauves and glaucous leaves that has held sway for decades is being swapped in fashionable gardens for the fiery tones of prairie-style planting and the vivid blue, orange and yellow of pictorial meadows.
One of the easiest and most effective ways of introducing colour into the garden is with pots. Tulips do the job perfectly in spring, and while it’s a bit late to plant daffodils or hyacinths outdoors, November is the time to plant up containers with tulips.
For bulbs that are only going to spend one season in their pot, the RHS suggests a mix of three parts multipurpose compost with one part grit. For longer-term plantings, use three parts John Innes No 2 mixed with one part grit. Bulbs grown in pots need good drainage, so put plenty of crocks in the bottom.
Plant your tulip bulbs at three times their depth and one bulb width apart. I like 10 or 12 bulbs massed in one pot. Tulips also look handsome combined with forget-me-nots, the traditional partner, or violas, a particular favourite. Another option is to grow single bulbs in small terracotta pots, as gardeners did in the 18th century, and arrange them in a studied manner around the garden to provide elegance and formality. When you have planted up your pots, don’t forget to cover them securely with chicken wire to keep the squirrels out.
And now, the agony of decisionmaking – what bulbs to choose? I love the species tulips such as T. clusiana, but I think they are happiest in a settled corner of the garden.
My first choice then: the big, showy Fosteriana hybrids, which flower early and are wonderful in pots. The creamy white ‘Purissima’ is a good one. The Early Single tulips are next on my list. They are excellent garden plants, as well as handsome in containers. I shall be filling the terrace with pots of ‘Prinses Irene’, a glowing orange, warm as a sunset.
The Triumph tulips come next, flowering from mid April. And then there are the Lily Flowered tulips, the Parrots, the viridifloras and many others. Spoilt for choice, I might just opt for one or two of the lovely tulip collections from Avon Bulbs. The Ruby Collection has 10 bulbs each of ‘Havran’, ‘Recreado’, ‘Jan Reus’ and ‘Night Rider’ for £20, and the White Collection includes the green and ivory ‘Spring Green’ and the dashing ‘White Parrot’; 40 luscious bulbs for £22.
Where to buy
- Avon Bulbs: 01460-242177, www.avonbulbs.co.uk
- Bloms Bulbs: 01234-709099, www.blomsbulbs.com
- Sarah Raven: 0845-092 0283, www.sarahraven.com
Getting to grips with pruning
I’m a dab hand at pruning roses, but distinctly nervous when it comes to shrubs and fruit trees. A compact new guide from the RHS is exactly what I need to tackle my untidy young apple trees.
RHS Pruning Plant-by- Plant is small enough to fit in a capacious pocket, and its 480 pages are packed with information, laid out in an admirably rational fashion that makes it a pleasure to use. The guide features over 200 of the most popular garden plants and fruit crops.
Each entry consists of a two-page spread with a description of a plant, its habits and uses, height and spread, and techniques and timings for pruning. A fullpage artwork shows the plant in two halves – on one side how it should look when in flower, bearing fruit or in full leaf – and on the other, the bare branches with a clear indication of where to make the cuts.
There’s an excellent introductory section on the purpose of pruning, tools and tool care, hard pruning to renovate plants and pruning for special effects. A fantastic little book.
RHS Pruning Plant-by-Plant (Dorling Kindersley, £9.99).
Plant of the week
Hydrangea quercifolia ‘Snow Queen’ is a gorgeous autumn-flowering shrub, a mass of white flower cones, and oak-shaped leaves that turn dramatic shades of pink and red. Hydrangeas have loved all the rain and are looking wonderful this autumn. £13.99: www.crocus.co.uk
Daily tip from the lady archive
“A GRACEFUL walk is a great asset, for sometimes it can create an illusion of beauty where little exists.”The Lady. Pleasant Exercises for Grace. 2nd April 1931