Just because we have nearly reached the shortest day does not mean to say that we should only eat sprouts, cabbage and leeks between now and springtime.
With a few small pots of multi-purpose compost, a bright windowsill or cool glasshouse and as little TLC, we can all have a succession of yummy salad leaves to add to our five a day.
Cabbage Chinese ‘Natsuki’ & Leek ‘Autumn Giant 2 – Porvite
Flicking through the 2017 Thompson & Morgan catalogue, you do not have to look very far before you find Spinach ‘Perpetual,’ eaten cooked or raw, and Salad Leaves ‘Speedy Mix’ to give you a quick start. If you fancy growing your own pea shoots (they will need a few days in the dark to get them to start germinating) or spring onion seedlings to lift a posh meal to another level, why not give them a try.
If you like that wonderful peppery flavour that rocket gives, try Wasabi Rocket to spice up a boring lettuce salad. Add some colour to the salad with a few Beetroot ‘Rainbow Beet’ leaves. With a little more heat, up to 15° C and light you might try one or two of the fabulous basil varieties that are listed amongst the herbs. Coriander leaves can also be grown with that little extra TLC.
Lettuce ‘Yugoslavian Red’ & Turnip ‘Oasis’
If you like something unusual, try growing Cabbage Chinese ‘Natsuki’ and throw the leaves into a stir fry.
Check out the pages on Salad leaves for a whole collection of other salad leaves to try. If you have a cool glasshouse (10°C) with a soil bed or similar and a little more patience, why not try growing some white salad Turnip ‘Oasis,’ sown in early January. Harvest from April onwards.
Salad Leaves ‘Speedy Mix’ & Spring Onion ‘Feast’ F1 Hybrid
Remember that all most of these salads need is a bright windowsill, temperatures of between 10 and 12°C. Many are best being grown in shallow pots to avoid excessive use of compost – the plants will only be in the compost for 6 to 8 weeks and so do not need large volumes of compost.
Whichever ones you grow, enjoy your winter salads and look forward to growing more as winter turns to spring.
It’s biennial time again.
As our Aquilegias, Digitalis, Erysimums and Myosotis finish flowering, it is time once again to sow next year’s new ones to ensure that we get as good, if not better, display as this year.
Aquilegia ‘Green Apples’, Aquilegia ‘Firecracker’ & Belle perennis ‘Pomponette Mixed’
This biennial cycle goes on in our gardens almost without us noticing it, as various plants self-seed in the quieter corners of our gardens. Plants such as forget-me-nots (Myosotis) can pop up almost anywhere if we leave the parent plants to seed in May and June. This happens in the wild as well, with plants such as hedge garlic/jack-by-the-hedge (Alliaria petiolata) seeding themselves at this time of year in the bottoms of farm hedges – the seeds then germinate before winter, surviving the harsh winter weather as young plants that then flower in spring/early summer. The parent plants die as they drop their seed.
Foxglove ‘Excelsior Hybrid Mixed’, Foxglove ‘Silver Cub’ Myosotis ‘Symphony Blue’
So, what can you sow now that are grown as biennials? The starting point is to look for the letters HB at the beginning of the description of the plant. Sow Aquilegias cultivars now and watch out for a stunning display in May and early June – I like the look of ‘Green Apples’ and ‘Firecracker’ as interesting variations on the normal range of colours. Bellis ‘Pomponette Mixed’, although actually a perennial, is normally grown as a biennial and looks fabulous in the spring garden and in containers. It is loved by bees as well so we all win!
For something a little unusual, try Cabbage ‘Northern Lights Mixed’ with various foliage colours to delight you and your friends. If you leave them in until early summer they will flower and the yellow flowers are edible – yummy!! Dianthus barbatus, more commonly known as Sweet William, gives a stunning display in early to mid summer and there are a number of wonderful cultivars to choose from. Foxgloves (Digitalis) have come a long way in recent years from their biennial wild relatives and the range of colours and forms is worth studying, from ‘Excelsior Hybrids’ up to 1.5 metres to ‘Silver Cub’ at only 60cm high.
Dianthus barbatus ‘Excelsior Mixed’, Pansy ‘Majestic Giants Mixed’ & Viols ‘Sorbet Orange Jump Up’
Pansies and Violas are amongst of the most popular winter and spring flowering plants for containers in our gardens and, although they are classified as perennials, we do tend to grow them as biennials. The flowers are edible as well as colourful and one of my all-time favourites is ‘Majestic Giants’ with flowers up to 10cm across. Wallflowers (Erysimums) are one of the more traditional biennial plants used by local authorities and larger public gardens for spectacular spring displays. Try ‘Tom Thumb Mixed’ for an easy to manage cultivar with a wide range of flower colours from yellows to rusts and reds. It works well in a container because it only reaches 20cm high.
Cabbage ‘Northern Lights’, Calenduala officinalis nana ‘Fruit Twist’ & Nigella papillosa ‘Midnight’
Some plants can be nudged into a biennial life-cycle just by changing the sowing dates. Plants such as Calendula, Limnanthes and Nigella can be sown directly into the garden in late September, will germinate quickly in the warm soil and will then overwinter as young plants, flowering in April and May for instead of June, July and August. These plants are normally sold as hardy annuals for direct spring sowing. Give it a try and surprise yourself and your neighbours.
Whatever you grow now for your winter and spring garden, enjoy the surprises that these wonderful plants can give you.
With all the talk about the collapse of our bee populations and the decline in the number and variety of our native butterflies, gardeners can do their bit by providing the flowers that can help to support butterflies, moths, bees and hoverflies as they journey around our gardens looking for a pollen and nectar fix.
Some years ago, the RHS developed lists of plants called ‘Perfect for Pollinators.’ The two lists are for cultivated plants and wild plants across the seasons. Check out http://www.rhs.org.uk for more details and the lists.
Rudbeckia ‘All Sorts Mixed’ & Cosmos ‘Xanthos’
Over the last century, gardeners, growers and breeders have concentrated some of their efforts on developing and using double flowers to increase the effect of the display and this, alongside many other factors, has not helped us to support our pollinating insects because the pollen and nectar are hidden deep in the flowers, making them inaccessible to the insects.
The ‘Perfect for Pollinators’ lists contain, for the most part, wild species of plants whose flowers are simple, single and easily accessible. Comb through your latest Thompson & Morgan seed and plant catalogues and compare them with the ‘Perfect for Pollinators’ lists. It will not take you long to find some stunning plants for your garden that will not only give you a lot of pleasure, but will help to support some of our vital flying insects as well – everyone is a winner!
Ageratum houstonianum ‘Pincushion Mixed’ & Perfect for Pollinators
The new Rudbeckia collection, with three fabulous cultivars that will flower from July until October, with their simple, flat, open daisy-like flowers are a perfect example of a flower design that suits all of our pollinating insects. The new yellow Cosmos ‘Xanthos’ is another excellent example to search out.
Plants that have lots of very small flowers in clusters, such as the new Ageratum ‘Pincushion Mixed’, that will flower from June to September, are perfect examples of plants that will provide that quick nectar fix that butterflies and moths need to give them the energy to search out a mate – an essential part of maintaining their populations! The 2016 catalogue contains a number of different strains of Foxgloves and I feel sure that we have all seen bumblebees struggling to clamber into one of those inviting trumpets to get their daily pollen supply and a nectar fix for energy.
Foxglove ‘Dalmation Mixed’ & Cornflower ‘Classic Fantastic’
Many of our hardy annuals (HA in the catalogue), that can be sown directly into the garden in April and May, will provide hundreds of nectar and pollen rich flowers from June right up to the first frosts of autumn. Some can even be sown in September and October, lasting the winter as young plants and flowering in April, May and June. Examples to look out for include the new Nigella ‘Midnight’, Amberboa muricata, Ammi visnaga, Bupleurum ‘Green Gold’, Calendulas, Californian Poppies, Cornflowers, Cosmos and Daucus ‘Dara’ .
I will leave you to go through the rest of the catalogue yourself to discover the many other wonderful examples of plants that can provide that essential support for our butterflies, moths, bees and hoverflies. Remember that 30% of all that we eat is reliant on pollinating insects – apples, pears, plums, blackcurrants, blueberries and runner beans, to name but a few.
As this is my first blog, ever, I thought I would start by reflecting a little on where our gardening world has been going since the Second World War and, of course, where we are on the journey now!
Immediately after the war our successive Governments, of a variety of political persuasions, encouraged farmers and growers to maximise the cropping potential of every acre of land they could make productive. This move, in turn, caused what became known as the chemical treadmill. Where we applied stronger and stronger chemical products to kill off pests, diseases and weeds; that dared to attack our ever increasing acreages of crops. By the time we reached the 1970’s we had food mountains and wine lakes and had, without realising it, started to kill off wild flowers, insects, birds and wild animals in numbers that are now causing us serious concern.
Meadowland Mixture and Wildflower ‘Honey Bee Mixed’
When Rachel Carson wrote ‘The Silent Spring’ in 1962 few people listened to her concerns about the excessive use of chemical pesticides across the developed and developing world. When Dr. Chris Baines got the BBC to make the film ‘Bluetits and Bumblebees’ in the early 1980’s we all watched it but did not pick up the message. The Henry Doubleday Research Association (now Garden Organic), started in 1954 by Lawrence Hills has been encouraging amateur and professional growers to steer away from inorganic pesticides for over 60 years but who has been listening?
Now that scientific evidence and advanced knowledge of the damage that we have done to our planet over the last 60 + years has come into the public’s view, our Seed companies, breeders, researchers, nurseries and growers are seeing the potential market in offering us new strains of old favourites that require less and less pesticide attention.
Tomato ‘Mountain Magic’ and Carrot ‘Flyaway’ F1 Hybrid
Scanning through the first eleven pages of Thompson and Morgan’s 2016 Seed Catalogue, I have found five cultivars of popular vegetables that have known resistance to one problem or another. Tomato ‘Mountain Magic’ F1 is resistant to early and late blight; Carrot ‘Flyaway’ F1 is resistant to carrot root fly; Parsnip ‘Gladiator’F1 is resistant to Parsnip canker; Cucumber ‘Bella’ F1 and Courgette ‘Defender’ F1 are both resistant to powdery mildew.
Parsnip ‘Gladiator’ F1 Hybrid and Cucumber ‘Bella’ F1 Hybrid
Maybe someone will find strains of Impatiens and Aquilegias that are not devastated by Downy mildew in the future and Ash trees that are resistant to Ash dieback.
Busy Lizzy ‘Divine Mixed’ and Aquilegia ‘Swan Mixed’
This is all fantastic work on the part of breeders and growers and I feel sure that the list will get longer over the years as the pesticides gradually disappear from our Garden Centre shelves and pests and diseases become more resistant to them.
This cultural method of reducing the impact of pests and diseases should now be at the forefront in our battle with Mother Nature and, if we use physical barriers to help prevent attacks alongside the occasional use of biological control methods, we should be able to stop the use inorganic pesticides altogether.