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Spring flowers and spring weeds!

Anemone nemorosa

Wandering out into one of the shade tunnels yesterday I noticed that we have a really nice collection of Anemone nemorosa 'Robinsoniana' heading into flower.

The wood anemone is a very attractive thing at this time of year.  A. nemorosa 'Robinsoniana' is a beautiful pale blue cultivar - which like all the wood anemones likes humus rich soils in shade, and needs to be keep away from accidental disturbance by garden forks - as it dies back to little stick like rhizome in the soil which are easily weeded out by mistake.

One thing that needs to be weeded out is the dreaded hairy bittercress - a true menace to gardeners and nurserymen alike.  With the arrival of spring this has started to germinate all over the place.  These anemones will need a thorough weeding before they can go out to market.



The race is well and truly on!

Young plants on greenhouse benches.

The vernal equinox has arrived and perhaps more importantly the clocks have just gone forward!

There is always something encouraging about the evenings getting that bit lighter - once you have got over the loss of an hour on sleep on Sunday morning.  Despite there being still a month or so until the final signs of winter are past, everything on the nursery has geared itself into life.  Our benches are covering rapidly with plants as things are potted out.

From now things will be pretty full on just keeping up with the grow spurt that is well underway.  As the evenings grow lighter so we will be working later and later.  Suddenly the end of the working day is often gone nine o'clock at night. Plants are demanding masters!



Plenty of Agapanthus to split!

Clumps of Agapanthus rootstock.

Along with the bulbs we got some nice clumps of agapanthus to split up and grow on.

Dividing up clumps is a satisfying but sometimes frustrating business.  Some plants divide easily and without complaint - others do their very best to resist being split apart.  Once you get the new growth tips growing away you want to avoid damaging the fresh growth so things need to be done carefully.  Unpicking the clumps can be rather like untying the Gordian knot so use of a sharp knife is a definite help!



Looking forward to seeing these flower - Salvia 'Black & Blue'

Young plants of Salvia guarantica 'Black & Blue'

A bit of recent spring warmth and sunshine has brought these Salvia guarantica 'Black and Blue' on nicely.

In a well grown stand later in the summer, and indeed well into autumn, these are a wonderful plant, with really handsome indigo blue flowers with a black calyces.  On sharp drainage they are reasonably hardy once they develop a good root stock.



Another onslaught!

Potting up bulbs.

Just when you think you have made a bit of progress with getting the seedlings potted out, we have another major task to sort out - potting up our bulbs for the year ahead.

Every year we buy in a range of different and interesting bulbs.  A couple of days ago our consignment arrived and is now needing to be potted up and sorted out.  It looks like some late evenings will be required!



The tasks of early spring are mounting!

Pricking out seedlings.

Spring is undoubtedly accelerating as the days lengthen and the temperature begin to climb.

A few weeks back we started sowing lots of seed making use of a bit of extra warmth under glass.  Much of this seed has now germinated and needs pricking out rapidly!

Seedlings can rapidly get crowded out and their growth can stall if you don't thin them out or transplant them.  It is a satisfying job knowing that in a few weeks you will have lots of nice young plants maturing rapidly. However it takes a lot of time and concentration as they are very delicate to handle.  As is always the way the jobs at this time of year are mounting rapidly - and there never seems enough time to get things done!



Echium pininana seedlings growing fast in response to a bit of added warmth.

Echium pininana seedlings

On the subject of things responding to a bit of early warmth, we have some very handsome young plants of Echium pininana which are growing very rapidly.  They should be great to get out in the ground hopefully in the next month so that they can really get going.



Keeping Pelargonium 'Lord Bute' happy over winter.

Pelargonium 'Lord Bute' cuttings.

Pelargonium 'Lord Bute' is a fabulous plant - and one of our most popular lines at Columbia Road. However it is a demanding customer when it comes to winter conditions.

Over recent winters we have lost large numbers of plants due to botrytis and stem rot.  Plants that were vigorous, well rooted and seemingly happy by late autumn seem to really dislike the chill and damp of winter, often seeming to sicken within hours.

The last winter has been really pretty easy on plants in the heated house.  No extreme cold and generally pretty dry - none of the endless wet of the winter before.  However despite this we have lost a couple of hundred two litre plants - which is very frustrating and costly.

So one of our experiments this winter has been keeping the young plants on heated beds in the propagation units.  So far they are looking good - so I'm hopeful we will still have a good crop for Columbia Road.  I'm already getting requests!



Everything springing up

Fresh spring growth in the herbaceous borders

Further to my last post - while clearing the herbaceous beds it has become very clear how fast things are now developing.

When using a spade / fork we have to be very careful not to damage new emerging growth of the things we do want to keep.  It also makes planting the spaces tricky as you sometimes don't have anywhere to put your feet!  in this case we have just planted some Eremus rootstock - marked by the canes and gravel.  Proper labels will soon be going in to try to warn off anyone using a spade / fork in future!


 Plenty of outside work to be done! 

Working in central London garden

While much of March has been somewhat chilly, when the sun comes out there have been some really nice days to get out and about doing some necessary seasonal tasks.

We have been working on a fine garden in central London doing a considerable amount of clearance before setting about a replant.  This is me filling in a new planting pocket with good new topsoil.  Note we have had to line the pocket with a membrane to prevent incursions by Acanthus mollis - bears breeches - beautiful in its own right but very vigorous and deep rooted.


Crocus tomassinianus - a delicate pleasure.

Crocus tommasinianus in flower

If they survive the attentions of mice and squirrels, Crocuses are always a real spring treat, especially if they get the sunshine they need to open up properly.

Crocus tommassinianus, and its various cultivars are a particularly beautiful early crocus, flowering in February and March. If they like the conditions they are a good naturaliser.  A native of SE Europe / the Balkans it loves good drainage - these were photographed growing on a raised bed under the shade of Lavender.


Phlomis fruticosa - interest all year round.

Old seed head of Phlomis fruticosa

Plants that provide all year round value in the garden are a great bonus.

In the case of Phlomis fruticosa i would almost argue that it is more attractive for its fine grey foliage and elegance seed pods that for its yellow flowers, which for my tastes are a little bit brassy.

A vigorous grower which provides a fine structural presence as a mature shrub, it has really fine long lasting seed heads which last well through winter.  They are also a very useful addition to dried flower arrangements.

One note of caution - be careful when pruning this plant - the sap can cause nasty skin reactions and the plant sheds a dusty residue which can cause breathing problems!


The joys of early spring iris bulbs.

Iris reticulata 'Alida' in flower

When ever I go to the early spring flower shows, I'm always amazed by the displays of early spring bulbs, especially the jewel like brilliance of the early bulbous irises such as Iris reticulata, histroides, danfordiae, and ther many other species and hybrids.

The great thing with many of the commonly available cultivars is that they are both cheap and easy to get to flower at a point in the year when you really appreciate them.  Grown in a terracotta pan or pot, they can be brought into the house and enjoyed at close quarter while they are at their best.  Even if they don't survive to another year they are a modest indulgence that gives great pleasure.


Sarcococca confusa - Sweet box

Sarcococca confusa in flower

Winter scented plants are always a pleasure - especially when there is not much else in flower in the garden.

Sweet box (Sarcococca confusa) is one of those plants grown for both its winter fragrance and as an effective evergreen with good leaf form and nice black berries to boot.  I have tended to find it more valuable as an evergreen than as a producer of winter / spring scent.  Like many flowers that produce at this time of year, the weather conditions will tend to determine whether you are aware of the fragrance.  However if you are lucky and the conditions are right it certainly has a pleasant sweet scent.


Hemerocallis already well into growth.

Young growth of hemerocallis

While most of the herbaceous perennials in the borders are still very much at the dormant / just beginning to show signs of growth stage, Hemerocallis or daylilies are well into growth and have thrown up lots of young fresh foliage.


Old cider apple trees decked in a golden haze of Mistletoe!

Old cider apple trees covered in mistletoe

Late winter / early spring colour can come from surprising sources.

This stand of old cider apple trees over on the Shropshire / Herefordshire border has a wonderful display of late winter mistletoe. 

At this time of year Mistletoe often developes an amazing golden hue which I suspect is due to the lack of sap flowing up the host tree.  This has given this particular stand of old cider apple trees a most spectacular appearance in the late winter sunshine.

If you want to see Mistletoe the old orchards of the Marches is a great place to look.  The centre of the Mistletoe trade is the town of Tenbury Wells which lies at the junction between Worcestershire, Shropshire and Herefordshire.  Every year Tenbury holds a Mistletoe festival in early December. 

Tenbury Mistletoe Association - Festival

The Mistletoe Pages


Not forgetting Helleborus foetidus!

Helleborus foetidus in flower

While it is easy to allow Helleborus x hybridus to grab all the attention with its richly coloured flowers, another winter / spring flowering Hellebore, H. foetidus is in many ways just as handsome.

Despite its rather unfortunate common names - the stinking hellebore or dungwort! - this is a most decorative and elegant plant, with both fine cut foliage and beautiful lime green flowers.  It is a great addition to the woodland garden.


The glory that is Helleborus hybridus!

Helleborus hybridus in flower

While the beginning of March mark the start of meteorological spring, the current cold biting wind makes it feel far more like winter than it did during December and January.  Perhaps the arrival of the Spring equinox later in the month will signal a return to a more spring like feel to the weather.

Despite the current colder snap, the Helleborus x hybridus that are just starting their flowering run are looking amazing.  With their rich colours and wonderfully marked flowers they are a real treat.  Plus if they like you they will produce a great crop of seedlings which will go on to produce a wide variety of flower colours.


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