Roddy Llewellyn: The beauty of simplicity
15:07 01 February 2012
Roddy Llewellyn: The beauty of simplicity
Why plants found growing in the wild can be preferable to man-made creations...
The more I garden the more I appreciate the simple beauty of species plants, i.e. plants found growing in the wild, rather than those that have been bred by man in the quest of creating something more beautiful. I am thinking of crocus tommasianus (with small, single flowers ranging from lilac to purple) and the wild jonquil daffodil (Narcissus jonquilla) both of which easily naturalise and spread fast if happy.
When I visited St. Petersburg a few years ago I couldnt help but notice the limited trees and shrubs growing there. The winters there make ours feel more than balmy in comparison, by far the most widely deciduous tree/shrub planted there being lilac. This is something to bear in mind if you have a cold and exposed garden during the winter. Again I prefer the good old common lilac, Syringa vulgaris, with a scent that is hard to beat even amongst her grander, man-bred relations.
If you have not eaten your way through your entire parsnip crop it is best to dig them up and lie them in a heap somewhere cold, at the base of a wall, for example, lightly covered in soil. They will keep firm for quite some time. If the ground is neither frozen nor sodden, you can always sow a fresh crop of parsnips now. Those grown for showing are often sown, two to a station, above an inverted cone shape about two feet deep formed with a crow bar or iron spike. Once the hole is formed it is filled with fresh potting compost with a fine tilth, the idea being that the root eventually fills the
hole to form one mighty parsnip. If both seeds germinate, the weaker one is removed.
Because winter started so late in southern Warwickshire, I did not need to lift my dahlia tubers until early December, and even then there was little evidence of frost burn on the leaves. What a strange year it has been. In about late February you can take the tubers out of storage, out of their boxes filled with dry organic potting compost, if you want to take cuttings. Ideal conditions for doing this is are in the greenhouse or conservatory where the temperature does not drop between 13oC / 55oF. Place the tubers in a box, cover them in old compost (I sometimes use old grow bag compost from last year) so that the tubers are covered and last years dead shoot still shows. As the new little shoots appear you can increasing watering.
After about one month some of the new shoots can be cut off once they have grown to a length of about 5cm (2 in.) Cut just above the tuber, clean the base to just below a leaf joint, remove lower leaves, and dip the ends in a rooting powder. If placed individually into small (6cm / 2 in.) pots they will be happier as there will be no
need to disturb the roots until they are planted outside once the threat of frost is over.
These cuttings will be more than happy to start off their lives in a propagator although they will do perfectly well in a box with a sheet of glass over the top in a warmish room. February can prove to be a dry month. If indeed there hasnt been much rain or snow remember to water containerised bulbs, especially tulips. While on the subject of water, please consider installing water butts fed by down pipes from your shed or greenhouse gutter.
If your last summer was as dry as mine was you will be giving it serious thought. In February you can start to force rhubarb. If you havent got one of those beautiful terracotta forcers, you can always use an ordinary (large) flower pot or indeed a box full of dry leaves. Broad beans can be sown during this month in boxes in a slightly heated greenhouse. In a warm greenhouse you can start sowing peas and lettuces.
Late this month is the time to lift and divide clumps of over-congested chives. The chive is a tough plant and will grow practically anywhere. So long as it is not freezing cold you can always start to prune your roses. With bush roses the main aim is to keep the centre of the plant open and to prune back to shoots that face outwards. Give them a mulch of farm yard manure and they will love you all the more. If you do not fancy yourself as a good gardener, you can always attack your roses with shears. RH S trials have proven that roses produce more flowers as a result.