Bees emerge from the winter hibernation literally starving and have a very short time in which to find food or die. Early flowering plants are vital for the solitary bees and the best bee friendly plants for this time of year are: Pulmonaria illustrated left a low growing Woodland plant which is shade tolerant and easy to grow. Many Hellebores flower for weeks from winter through to spring and provide both a lovely garden display and food for the bees. The humble Forget me not is liked by bees and, as is Rosemary (in common with many herbs) which although it has small flowers is very attractive to bees. Also Viburnum × carlcephalum a fantastically sweet scented shrub, along with Bluebells and Blossom.
I love the sound of the early bees, low flying hovering over the ground foraging for food. The sound of the beginning of spring.
I love growing sweet peas and now is a good time to start seeding them. Sweet peas germinate very easily from seed and if you haven't tried, why not give it a go, they are easy and rewarding to germinate.
Growing from seed is cheaper, and you can pick the types and colours which you most like to grow. I love to pick pale pastels as illustrated left, but also strong blues and pinks. I select for scent and colour and this year I have selected several varieties described as "highly scented" to see how well they perform.
To germinate from seed you do not even need heat, but you do need root trainers or loo roll holders to seed into. Sweet peas like a long root run and they form great sturdy roots which, by the time you are ready to plant out, will be pushing out of the containers. Sweet peas are hardy, but they do best if sheltered from frosts so if after you have planted them out a cold spell ensues, cover them with a fleece or cloche to give a little protection.
This year I have chosen my varieties of sweet peas primarily for their scent. I am trying out for the first time Roger Parsons sweet peas. I liked the way the varieties were classified by their scent strength. It will be interesting to see how they compare.
There is no need to soak or nick the sweet peas before you germinate, just place at the top of the root trainer and sprinkle with compost which is a little damp. Stand back and watch it happen.
Once the seedlings have two pairs of leaves, pinch out the growing point this makes the plants produce more stems, and later on this will mean more flowers. There are lots of tips on the Sweet Pea pages including how to plant out video, and how to get straight stems which look so good as cut flower.
Sweet peas are an easy annual to grow and are the scent of summer.
This time of year is like a weather prison, looking outside is the image right, very wet. Yesterday I went out into the garden, thinking to do some weeding, when I realised the ground was still frozen from the severe overnight frost. Today, it is just pouring with rain and the ground saturated.
At this time of year there its all about looking forward and I was cheered up when my strawberry plants arrived from T & M, (who at the time this was published had a sale on Strawberry plants) and I have purchased three types, 'Cambridge' a mid season, 'Flamenco' all season and 'Florence' late season which should keep us going nicely. They are bare rooted plants and if you are busying bare rooted plants first check the roots to make sure all is good and clean, but dry, and most bare rooted plants need a good soaking first before planting.
Bare rooted plants can be planted out if the conditions are suitable, but since the garden is either a bog or a skating rink at present, I will opt to pot them up in the greenhouse and plant out in the spring.
Strawberry plants don't last for ever, after 2/3 years, their yield diminishes and it is time to think about replacement. This can be done by new plants or runners which can be taken from healthy plants. For cultivation tips and information on growing strawberries.
This time of year botrytis, commonly called grey mould, is a problem in the greenhouse, and coincidentally it can be a problem for strawberries.
Botrytis is a fungus and it develops in greenhouses and under glass where the air is still and damp in the winter, humid in the summer and outside in the veg plot on fruit such as strawberries, grapes and gooseberries. If you are gardening organically, all you can do is cut off infected parts of the plant. In the greenhouse Botrytis can settle onto many different types of plants, in the summer it tends to go for fruits.
Botrytis is recognisable by its characturistic fuzzy grey mould, and if you look a the video - when my finger brushes the plant to the left you will see a cloud of mould drifting away. This cloudy shower is very typical of grey mould, if you touch the plant it showers everywhere. The next image shows the plant where I have cut off and cleaned away all infected parts. The plants in the basket are hardy geraniums, this variety is very tough , I think it will survive the attack.
However, some plants can be badly affected, soft fruits are often a target, and strawberries are susceptible. Last year, partly because of the humid weather I had real problems with Botrytis on strawberries and I know from e mails into the web site I was not alone. All you can do is keep clearing away the infected leaves and fruit, but it halved my crop. The other reason was because my strawberry plants were getting elderly, more susceptible to disease.
So this year to avoid it Botrytis I am using new plants and moving the strawberry bed, as the infection has probably built up in the soil and will overwinter. As part of crop rotation, most crops move around the vegetable plot each year, with strawberries I will move the bed for the next few years until the problem reoccurs.
If you find your strawberry plants are not producing very well it may be time to replace them. You can make some new plants from runners but from time to time it is good to introduce new plants. If Botrytis was a problem you may need to replace plants and if you have been growing in the same spot for some time, plant into a different part of the veg plot or garden.
It maybe that it's just too wet underfoot to do much in the garden, I can make best use of the greenhouse, pot up my strawberry plants, and look forward to a spring planting.
This time of year is great for planning, looking forward to spring. The lull between Christmas and New Year gives time to look at the seed catalogues, check web sites and think about the veg plot. Often there are some great offers as the various companies scramble to attract our money.
When thinking about what to plant where it is worth remembering the need to rotate crops. To keep pests and diseases away it is best not to plant the same type of veg in the same part of the plot or garden each year; a detailed explanation of crop rotation.
I have also been inspired by some of the beautiful vegetable gardens I have seen in recent years. So much so that growing vegetables has become an art form incorporating mixed planting of different coloured vegetables interspersed with flowers. Adding flowers to the vegetable garden such as Calendula, the Pot Marigold has the added benefit of attracting pollinators, but happily not attractive to slugs, and Limnanthes douglasii, the poached egg plant is often covered in pollinators. Having these flowers within the veg plot adds bright colour and helps pollination which if it is another poor summer, will help to increase yields. The image below left is of part of the vegetable garden at Ness Botanical which is so colourful.
Thinking about colour I have been drawn to some different variety of veg this year including 'Pea Blauwschokker' a heritage variety from Dobies, part of Rob Smith's heritage vegetable collection and which is described as having purple flowers and dark purple pods which sounds interesting, image below centre. Runner bean 'Sunset' also from Dobies described as having peachy pink flowers instead of the usual red/white. In previous years I have also grown Broad bean 'Crimson' available from Thompson and Morgan and as illustrated below right which has fabulous flowers and really good firm beans.
Another favourite is the little gem lettuce 'Red Amaze' which is tasty and pretty. It has all the qualities of a little gem but with attractive red edged outer leaves. It looks really good grown with all green lettuces alternating red/green.
I also liked Thompson and Morgan French Dwarf bean collection because it was offering three varieties to harvest across the summer, and competitively priced. Last year, especially with not the best of summers, the yield from dwarf beans was better than from the taller varieties which seems to me a reason to grow them again.
This year I am opting for tomato plants as well as germinating some from seed, mainly to see if buying a ready grafted plant would fruit earlier to give a longer cropping season. I thought the idea on Dobies web site of early delivery from April onwards was a good idea so will see how these plug plants fare. Fortunately I have several varieties of tomato seeds left over from last season to germinate this year.
I also bought a host of other seeds and veg; salad crops, onions, courgettes, cucumbers, garlic, carrots the list goes on.If you are busy planning your veg plot, its good to check first what's left of from last year's seed selection as many seeds are viable for several years. Given that seed is quite expensive it is worth checking what's in hand already. I have a lot of herbs seeds, Pea, tomato and lettuce seeds left over from last year. Seed keeps well in a sealed metal tin, better than in plastic as drier and I keep it in the fridge where it is cool and dark. The most important thing is to keep seeds dry, if they get damp there is a real risk they will rot. Many seeds will keep for years. I always try old seed first and it is generally successful, although for carrot and parsley it is best to buy fresh.
Just a few weeks and it will be time to think about germinating the early seeds under cover. One of the best things about gardening is always looking forward.