The Chinese Beauty Bush that lives up to its name – go search it out

Kolkwitzia close (R)

MOST of us have heard of the weigela, one of the most popular summer shrubs with flowers resembling mini-foxgloves. But what about kolkwitzia?

Call it a refined weigela if you wish – both are at their best in mid-summer but whereas weigelas come in several shades of pink and red, kolkwitzias are only in pink with yellow throats and with a five-lobed mouth.

It is often known as the Beauty Bush and for very good reason. It hails from China, is perfectly hardy despite its fragile appearance, its branches arch in elegant fashion and it has the bonus of peeling bark which adds to the shrubs appeal. Its deciduous foliage is dark green and slightly hairy.

The other main difference between the pair is that weigelas have 12 species and numerous hybrids, while kolkwitzia has just one species – Kolkwitzia amabalis.

Like weigela, kolkwitzia is generally trouble-free. If they could talk they would say “Please plant me in full sun but I can tolerate semi-shade.” And if you need to prune the right time is soon after the flowers fade.

Not so easy to track down as weigelas but the larger garden centres should stock them.

⏩⏩➡» Top – A cluster of pink kolkwitzia trumpets pictured at Rosemoor, Torrington, the Royal Horticultural Society’s West Country nerve centre.

 

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It’s Budeful: Why strolling on a summer’s day in February is simply perfect

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IT WAS, to say the least, somewhat surreal, strolling around my pet West Country resort in garb more suited to June or July.

February was still with us, let us not forget, yet such was the power of the sun from a supremely azure sky that every rule in the seasonal textbook was broken.

And that resort. It’s got to be Bude, my favourite piece of Cornwall and not because it’s only 25 miles from home but for a whole variety of reasons, including some fabulous floral displays dotted about the town. I even place it one rung above St Ives and Looe, two other helpings of Cornish cream.

When the mercury is so high, you expect to be greeted by beds of roses, petunias, alstroemerias, dahlias and a host of summer-blooming shrubs. But daffodils, crocuses and the fading beauty of snowdrops? What’s going on?

Rewind to exactly a year ago and the conventional floral fare is what we got – and in those deep-freeze temperatures even the daffs were nearer to dying rather than dancing!

I like Bude because it’s clean and sparkly, it’s got the lovely canal and its neighbouring river – some call it the Neet, some the Strat and others the River Bude – there are several streets of high-quality and family-run shops, you can walk to two separate beaches, Summerleaze and Crooklets, take the high road along the clifftops which are studded with wild flowers in spring and summer, wander along the canal-side and watch the swans and ducks cavorting, you’ll notice many fascinating buildings and you can pop into no end of eateries to while away an hour or so.

For a small, unpretentious holiday town, Bude seems to have everything. And I haven’t even mentioned its castle and museum, a major garden centre, a popular sports hub and some fine-looking hotels and guest houses. Oh, and the locals are a friendly bunch too!

Despite the calmness of today, the surf was roaring along, its white spray thrown high into the air at Summerleaze, though, as a canal expert told me, the tide was outgoing so things would eventually calm down.

Yes, Bude is my kinda place. Yes, it’s Cornish – they sensibly put jam first, then cream atop the scones! – and yes, I’m from Devon, so let’s be buddies!

I had to smile at the name of one homeware and art deco shop in the town centre. It’s called simply Budeful.

Clever, that. Says it all, really.

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⏩⏩➡» Budeful: Top – Daffodils and hyacinths adorn the banks of the River Neet; next down – elegant swans, mix with geese and ducks on the Bude Canal; above – a cloudfree sky at Summerleaze beach as February becomes summertime.

It’s a Fab Feb! So what better time to crack on with seasonal tasks?

Camellia Mary Phoebe Taylor (G)

SHIRTSLEEVE gardening in February. Well, I ask you, whoever heard of such a thing, especially when we recall what  was happening just a year ago?

Back then it was Febbbrrrruary, with bone-chilling winds and snow on the way. Now it’s a Fab Feb, almost as warm as June – and long may it continue . . . well, at least until March dawns.

So what’s on the to-do list as the daffs dance to and fro and those flowering cherry buds start to swell with the promise of pretty prunus in the weeks to come?

Here are a few tasks you may not have considered:

✴ Plant hardy cyclamen, such as hederifolium, under trees or tall shrubs. They bloom in autumn followed by a spring show of nicely marbled leaves.

✴ Sow the first summer cabbages in plug trays in the greenhouse and continue for a few weeks for successive crops. Greyhound and Hispi – both compact growers – have been around for years and are easy doers.

✴ Guard juicy young shoots of delphiniums, lupins and hostas from slug attack. Pick the critters off or, if you prefer, use a modest and careful scattering of pellets.

✴ To advance your strawberry crop, cover plants with cloches for added warmth. Alternatively, if you grow them in pots, bring them under glass for a few weeks.

✴ Complete rose pruning before too much new growth shows. Slice out any old, cracked or diseased wood and any shoots that crisscross untidily and feed generously in April.

✴ Put the hoe to work. Doing it little and often is wise and always remember that tiny weeds sprint into bigger ones once April shines in.

✴ If you grow late-flowering clematis such as Etoile Violette, Ernest Markham, Ville de Lyon and and viticella varieties cut them back hard and feed with fish, blood and bone.

✴Plant bare-root fruit trees and bushes when soil and weather conditions allow and give them a good mulch with manure or garden compost.

✴ Don’t let seedlings become overcrowded. Thin them out and, if you wish, replant the surplus in extra seed trays.

✴ Dig out the lawn mower from its winter hibernation, check it over thoroughly and clean and oil those nooks and crannies.

✴ Check the garden pond and net out any old leaves and debris which are certain to have accumulated over winter. Give the pump and filter a once-over if it was switched off over winter.

Triteleia uniflora G

⏩⏩➡» Spring glories: Top – Camellia Mary Phoebe Taylor; above – a cluster of Spring Starflowers, Triteleia uniflora, both of which greeted me today.

The quest goes on for a yellow pink as plant firm sells us a stunning trio

Pinks Woolmans 2019

YELLOW is the one principal colour that eludes the pink, the exquisitely scented petite version of the carnation.

Well, perhaps not exactly, for there is one species of the 300 in the family of dianthus – its botanical title – that’s a pure sulphur yellow. That’s why it is often known as the yellow pink.

Its name – Dianthus knappii. It hails from Hungary and the Czech Republic, grows to around 12-14in high, the serrated blooms are borne in clusters in June and each one often has a mauve spot at its base. It’s a pretty thing, but no scent and, to my mind not a real pink as we know them.

Yet – and it’s a big Yet – the breeders have so far failed to produce a hybrid that’s both yellow and a true pink . . . if you see what I mean.

The pink’s “big brother,” the carnation, does include shades of pure yellow and creamy-yellow, but again the elusive shade hasn’t yet been transferred to its tinier relative.

So we soldier on with the colours within reach and enjoy pinks for what they offer – that glorious clove-like fragrance, long-lasting flowers for months on end, and oh-so-easy to grow in the garden or in pots on the patio.

Plant specialists Woolmans have selected three new varieties for 2019. Much-loved and admired in gardens over the years, the humble pink has to be the best-known of the hybrid dianthus.

Tom Stimpson of Woolmans comments: “We were so impressed by these new varieties, not only for their delightful fragrance, but also for their naturally well-branched habit and incredibly long flowering time – our trial plants were still blooming in December!”

Woolmans brand new trio, pictured top, are Bridal Crown, with pure white fluffy double flowers, Pink Ruffles with rich double pink blooms and Red Carpet producing semi-double bright cerise flowers. All are hardy perennials and will reach 12in high.

They can be ordered as a collection of six young plants – two of each – for £11.95, with a saving of a fiver if ordering two packs. Plants will be despatched from mid-April.

⏩⏩➡» To order Woolmans Chrysanthemum & Ornamental Plant Catalogue, open www.woolmans.com or phone 0845 6589137.

 

 

Cracking crocuses that beat the squirrels’ jaws to give their best display

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NOT so long ago I had my doubts about crocuses. Were they worth the effort of planting, only to be disappointed because they seemed to bloom and bust before you could say “Grey squirrels, clear off!”

Well, I’m having second thoughts as we breeze into spring after one of the best crocus displays I can recall.

I can’t be sure why they’ve performed so superbly well, possibly reaction from the highs and lows of the day and night temperatures and, possibly, thanks to the compost and leaf mould mix I scattered over the beds in early autumn.

Whatever the answer, I’m just delighted at the response from these dinky autumn and springtime charmers, which are easily confused with the similar – but unrelated – colchicums.

Crocuses, natives of Eastern Europe, Italy, Greece, Crete, Portugal, Israel, the Alps and the Pyrenees, North Africa and China, are adored by grey squirrels . . .  at  least, the purple ones are, which is why, each spring, my lawn is dotted with random blooms, the result of these athletic critters digging them up from where I planted them, burying them in the grass and promptly forgetting all about them.

Not that I mind, as they make a pretty picture – the crocuses, that is, not the squirrels – but, curiously, there has never been a stray yellow under the turf,  so there must be something about the taste of the “purple passions” which the saffrons don’t contain.

The pictures here were taken today in various parts of the garden. I have no idea of the varieties’ names as it’s one plant I don’t tend to label. But I do know there are about 80 species and numerous varieties, among them popular choices of varying heights such as Bowles’s White, Snow Bunting, Whitewell Purple, Haarlem Gem, Firefly, Skyline, Vanguard and Spring Pearl, as well as a host of specie crocuses even tinier in stature.

So do enjoy these harbingers of spring that are hot on the heels of snowdrops and are the forerunners of the main surge of daffodils in early to mid-March.

They can certainly provide a prolific reward to gardeners who have allowed them to naturalise and spread. They will thrive in rockeries, borders, among shrubs and in woodland areas, not forgetting window boxes and patio pots and troughs.

⏩⏩➡» Spectacular: Top and above – Some of the crocuses showing off their wares in my garden today, having escaped the jaws of the hungry grey squirrels.

 

Beet that! Is Pablo en route to be ousted by this new kid in the veg garden?

Beetroot DTB

PABLO had better watch out. A new kid on the kitchen table is emerging to challenge its culinary rival as one of the best beetroots to sow and grow.

Its name – Subeto, an F1 variety marketed by Suffolk mail order Grow your Own specialists D T Brown.

And, it would appear, it’s got a tough act to follow, for Pablo is hailed as an “exhibition variety par excellence, a consistent winner at National Vegetable Society championships and holder of the prestigious Award of Garden Merit”.

Not to be outdone, Subeto’s “CV” – Consistent Veg? – sees a high-quality variety producing uniform, spherical roots of intense, deepest crimson. Not only offering an attractive, blemish-free skin and excellent resistance to fungal diseases and scab, Subeto (pictured above) can be harvested as baby beets when golf ball size or when fully formed to enjoy the sweet, succulent flavour.

D T Brown’s Tim Jeffries says: “We’ve had an overwhelming response from customers who simply can’t get enough of this magnificent beetroot – it simply had to stay!

“Outstanding flavour, disease resistance and attractive enough for the showbench, what more can you ask for?”

Each year, D T B supply their customers with a free trial seed variety, allowing the company to gain invaluable feedback on products to add to their range.

Alongside this generous gesture, NVS members were offered the chance to trial Subeto and exhibit their results in a special class at the society’s national championships in Harrogate. With more than 35 entries, members couldn’t help but comment on both the exhibition quality and the taste.

Gareth Cameron of the NVS says: “We’ve had nothing but great feedback about the new up-and-coming Subeto F1. Members were surprised just how well this new variety looked and tasted.

“We think Subeto has a really exciting future on the showbench and in the kitchen. Finally, D T Brown have found a variety to challenge Pablo.”

Subeto is now available in the 2019 range and is sold in packets containing 200 seeds costing £2.19. Sowing time – March.

⏩⏩➡» To request a copy of the new Fruit & Vegetable Grower’s Seed and Plant catalogue, phone 0845 3710532 or go online at www.dtbrownseeds.co.uk