Dream Gardens: Laurel for hardy planting

Dream Gardens: Laurel for hardy planting

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Dream Gardens flowers planting winter

SPRING BEDS: Play safe with pretty but hard-wearing Forget-me-nots (Image: Getty Images)

Cold, wet, overcast conditions are a total washout for many of the trendy warm weather bedding and patio plants we’ve been growing during the past spell of Mediterranean-style summers. So if you’re thinking about what to grow in containers this coming season you’d be well-advised to stick to more traditional species that always fared best in the typically iffy summers that we grew up with. For anyone who likes to start their patio gardening season off early-ish it’s worth playing safe with classic hard-wearing spring bedding such as double bellis daisies, forget-me-nots and pots of spring bulbs, the shorter the better since little stalks are more windproof and smaller flowers look less battered when weather turns.

Polyanthus are good for a well-sheltered spot from March onwards. T

he more glamorous ranunculus and cultivated coloured primroses are a tad fragile outdoors but great for an unheated porch or conservatory.

Come summer the most reliable performers are going to be the old faithfuls: fuchsias and pelargoniums (the usual zonals and the ivy-leaved trailing types, including the Swiss balcony sorts, which are exceptionally prolific bloomers).

You could safely beef up mixed displays with lobelia, Busy Lizzie, dwarf French marigolds or compact varieties of nicotiana (flowering tobacco).

Dream Gardens flowers planting winter

It’s worth playing safe with classic hard-wearing spring bedding such as double bellis daisies (Image: Getty Images)

Alyssum, compact antirrhinums and annual dianthus are pretty weather tolerant too so try those if you fancy something that’s not quite so commonly seen in containers.

And despite their fragile, glamorous good looks, petunias can do well in “traditional” weather if you give them your most sheltered spot.

But if you like the easy life hardy annuals are a great “find”.

With these you can sow the seeds straight into the containers where you want them to flower, in March or April, so there’s no pricking out or planting to do.

Dream Gardens flowers planting winter

Polyanthus are good for a well-sheltered spot from March onwards. (Image: Getty Images)

Some of the best to grow this way include the ever-reliable nasturtiums, which are brilliant for hanging baskets.

For tubs and troughs go for dwarf sunflowers, or any combination of calendula, candytuft, clarkia and godetia which create a traditional riotous cottage garden effect.

If you want something a tad more contemporary-looking try the annual poppies: Californian, Shirley or field.

They will produce masses of flowers and are a lot less fragile than they look.

Dream Gardens flowers planting winter

Nicotiana (flowering tobacco) (Image: Getty Images)

If your heart is set on “fancier” flowers that need a good summer I’d suggest growing them in small quantities in case things don’t work out.

Alternatively grow “fair-weather flowers” in containers that can be shifted into the conservatory if it turns out to be a duff summer.

The secret of a superb container display is to do less but do it better.

Attention where it counts – feeding, watering and deadheading – makes all the difference.

Dream Gardens flowers planting winter

Nasturtiums are brilliant for hanging baskets (Image: Getty Images)

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TURN OVER A NEW LEAF

WHEN it’s miserable outside, there’s nothing quite like staying in with a good book and for anyone of a green-fingered persuasion it’s great to find some light reading with a gardening plot, or one that at least touches on gardening in passing.

Try Beverley Nichols’ Down The Garden Path – the reminiscences of how this Edwardian gentleman-journalist came to acquire a country cottage and went about making his first ever garden, with all the entertaining pitfalls and delightful garden characters he encounters along the way.

Another cherished author is Flora Thompson, of Lark Rise To Candleford fame.

Although her book is about Victorian cottage life in a remote rural backwater, enough gardening creeps in to keep a horticultural reader fascinated.

Dream Gardens flowers planting winter

FLAT OUT: Enjoy a garden-themed book during your downtime (Image: Getty Images)

“The Elephant” potato, which she describes as much treasured by male vegetable growers, is luckily no longer with us.

If you enjoy adventures try Nathaniel’s Nutmeg by Giles Milton, which makes quite a change from the usual planthunters’ tales.

It describes the voyage taken in the sailing vessel Swan in the early 1600s by Captain Nathaniel Courthope to an island in the East Indies in search of nutmeg, which at the time was believed to be a sure-fire cure for plague. It’s a riveting story.

There are light romantic novels starring gardeners. 

Dream Gardens flowers planting winter

Another cherished author is Flora Thompson, of Lark Rise To Candleford fame. (Image: Getty Images)

I’ve written one myself though modesty forbids me from plugging Mr MacGregor by name (oops, sorry! ).

But the lightest green reads of all for my liking are the Blandings Castle books by PG Wodehouse, featuring the doughty Scots head gardener Angus McAllister.

The Custody Of The Pumpkin is a corker, as is Lord Emsworth And The Girlfriend.

Wodehouse is just the job for the local book club group. And if they don’t have a book group why not suggest it? There’s bags of brilliant material to discover.

For more information on gardening and other subjects go to Alan Titchmarsh’s website: www.alantitchmarsh.com

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