LUSCIOUS LILIES ARE SURE TO KEEP YOU IN THE PINK – but beware of that beetle!

London Heart

FIRST the not-so-good news . . . not all lilies are fragrant. Now the best news of all . . . all lilies are majestic, magnificent and truly exquisite, whether or not they tantalise the nostrils.
As a basic rule of thumb, the Asiatics are scentless while the Orientals are bursting with aromas – some almost intoxicating, so sniff with care! There are many others, including Trumpet,  American and Martagon hybrids.

Many devotees will argue that lilies are the stars of the bulb world, lavish in looks with their big, bold trumpets and combining the very essence of sophistication.

I’m reminded of an old Chinese proverb: “If you have only two coins left, spend one on bread and the other on a lily”.

That says it all. Our Oriental friends adored lilium and its numerous species and hybrids, spread across nine divisions, and it’s easy to see why.

I was wandering around my local Wilko store the other day when I spotted a pack of two lily bulbs of Asiatic variety London Heart.

The picture certainly provoked a Wow from me, showing its coat of burnt orange and near-black speckled centre, to be borne from mid-June to July on 3ft 6in stems.

When I Googled for further info, I was escorted to Hart’s Nursery from Congleton, Cheshire, who later kindly sent me their own picture of this home-reared stunner, along with images of two other newbies raised from the skills of their pollen-dusting exploits.

This specialist nursery is a third generation family-run affair, achieving a host of gold medals throughout years of exhibiting, as well as 14 golds at Chelsea for their succession of colourful lily fanfares.

To top things off during a highly successful 2019, Hart’s were presented with the coveted President’s Award at Chelsea, followed by a feature on BBC Gardeners’ World about their company and exhibit at Tatton Park.

So it goes without saying that Hart’s know their onions when it comes to lilies!

Bear in mind that lilies don’t start and end with Stargazer, perhaps the nation’s favourite in glowing pink with maroon spots and deliciously scented.

Stracciatella Event

There are countless others out there in every horticultural hue save blue. For sheer perfume power, let your nose be wooed by the Regal Lily – regale – with fabulous funnels in white tinged maroon and further enhanced by a yellow throat, often towering to 6ft.

The Madonna Lily – Lilium candidum – can carry up to 20 highly spiced white blooms – this one enjoys lime-rich soil – while the huge vibrant gold trumpets of African Queen and lofty purplish-red and white Black Dragon are very sniffable members of the Trumpet hybrid group.

Chocolate Event

If you don’t mind missing out on aromas try asiatics Cavalia in yellow, Hilux in pale pink, the pearly white Signum, the spectacular Stracciatella Event in burgundy and white speckles, its sister Chocolate Event in a blend of chocolate burgundy and peachy orange, Sterling Star with cup-shaped white flowers peppered with tiny maroon spots, Enchantment in orange-red with black throats, Connecticut King in radiant yellow and Black Beauty in deep red with white margins.

We really are spoiled for choice!

LILY LOWDOWN

Lilies don’t mind the cold but they resent getting their bulbs wet so make sure soil is well-drained and, preferably, humus-rich.

They will tolerate shade, but at least half a day’s sunshine will be optimum.

Bulbs planted in the garden should be spaced 8in apart, with 3ft between groups and to a depth of 4in to 6in.

If planting in pots, it’s worth tilting these on their sides in winter to prevent waterlogging.

The scarlet Lily Beetle is the arch-enemy, as are its larvae which cover themselves in black excrement. Both munching menaces appear as if from nowhere and can devastate whole plants. Pick off and squash or use a prevention spray stocked by Hart’s Nursery.

▲ Beware of the bright orange pollen, for if it gets on clothing it’s almost impossible to shift. It’s best to snip off the stamens straight into a paper bag. Blooms will last longer too. Do keep them away from cats as the sacs can prove fatal if ingested.

At signs of growth, feed lilies with a tomato feed every three weeks, utilising half the recommended dilution for toms.

Find Hart’s Nursery at www.hartsnursery.co.uk or phone 07855 785540.

Lily side garden

Sumptuous: From top – London Heart, Stracciatella Event, Chocolate Event, a cluster of golden lilies from my garden, variety unknown but possibly Connecticut King.

Catalogues galore, so snug up in front of the fire for some indoor gardening!

Papaver rhoeas 'Amazing Grey' - poppy

HELP! I’m being swamped on both sides – on doorstep and on screen – by a bevy of colourful catalogues full of seeds and plants just begging to get going.

Still in mid-January and still too early to don the wellies for an hour or so of digging, it’s nonetheless a perfect opportunity to sit by the fire in your comfy armchair to browse the pages and plan for your floral and veggie future.

Much as I’d like to write a barrowful of words on each one, I’m also mindful that elongated articles can produce the yawn factor.

So, instead, here’s mention of all the catalogues I’ve received, either via the postie or the click of a button, along with a brief random choice of 2020 debutantes.

Plants or seeds – the choice is yours. If you’ve got patience to wait for germination et al, go for seeds, but if you prefer a near-instant, ready-made explosion of colour then buy plug plants in various stages of growth.

Meanwhile, it’s good to see firms like Oxfordshire-based CHILTERN SEEDS are still thriving. Indeed, 2020 marks their 44th edition- and what a star hits the cover of their 166-page, informative and instructive catalogue boasting colours as rare in the garden as a daffodil in June.

Poppy Amazing Grey – note spelling, they didn’t name it after me! – is a Papaver rhoeas (2ft) in shades of pearly grey, slate blue, misty mauve and, occasionally, dusky pink, both single and semi-double blooms.

I cannot recall seeing anything quite like this hardy annual before and it has “winner” stamped all over it.

In their fun fruit and veg book, Chiltern tell us about a wild musk strawberry – Fragaria moschata – a fast-growing gourmet fruit with an intense aroma and said to taste of strawberries, raspberries and pineapples. What a cocktail!

Cranesbill

CRANESBILL NURSERY, with its handsomely illustrated catalogue, is run by Gary Carroll near Walsall and specialises in hardy geraniums, with 120 plants listed.

These are versatile perennials, currently on a popularity surge, in many colours, shapes and habit and most are priced at £7.50. Gary also sells bare-root stock – dormant plants like a flower bulb or dahlia tuber – ready to burst into growth in sun or shade, depending on the variety.

These orders, at £5.75 per plant and free postage, must be placed before 28th February.

One to swoon over from the main list – Rothbury Gem in a spectacular soft-pink with rich cerise veins and a green centre.

Pomona

POMONA FRUITS, named after the Roman goddess of fruit trees and orchards, bring us another tongue-tantalising selection of juiciness in their 76-page booklet.

Very few fruits escape the Pomona spotlight – yes, even pomegranates and walnuts are there – and if you rate asparagus as a fruit you’ll find three new varieties which are much easier to cultivate than rumour has it because the UK climate is A1 perfect.

Try Guelph Eclipse, Vittorio or Burgundine, all exceptional-yielding and yummy-tasting.

If you’re a rhubarb lover, you’ll adore Fulton’s Strawberry Surprise, voted the best flavoured rhubarb in the Wisley Trials and producing striking red stems.

Broadleigh2

BROADLEIGH GARDENS, from Taunton, produce a spring catalogue filled with bulbs, tubers, corms and rhizomes that have a special edge. They are especially strong on agapanthus, with around 24 evergreen or deciduous varieties in blue, purple or white, as well as featuring plenty of nerines, irises, crocosmia and award-winning eucomis.

Newcomers include home-raised dierama Perky (30in), eucomis Pink Gin (24in), Siberian irises Dawn Waltz (30in) in soft blue and lavender and Moon Silk (24in) in white and lemon and the unusual South African watsonia Borbonica (4ft) in vivid pink.

Parkers

Lavish colour from J. PARKER’S spring catalogue over more than 100 pages, no less.

They kindly give customers eight lavender Munstead worth £9.99 with all orders and a dozen giant oriental lilies from their assortment worth £13.99 when you spend over £50.

A couple of collections that focused the eye – gazania Daybreak Super Colour (10in) in plug form in a fabulous strong colour range and six osteospermums (18in) that will smother themselves in rainbow colours all summer long.

From DOBIES of Devon comes geranium – botanically pelargonium – Big Ezree. It hits the stage in two colours – Flamingo in bright pink and Neon in a fiery red.

Dobies hail this pair as powerhouses, delivering a wealth of blooms from June to September. They’re robust, rounded in shape, branch freely and can be grown in borders, patio pots, troughs or, to add zing to the kitchen, on a sunny window sill.

Sister company SUTTONS offer us a family of blight-resistant tomatoes and a clutch of conventional newbies, most of which are F1 hybrids, so seed is limited and the price is higher than normal varieties. Handle with care!

Crimson Crush is one such tom, rated five stars and capable of shrugging off even the most severe blight

It’s an outdoor grower and, as a cordon type, will need staking, tying in and sideshoot-pinching. Toms are large, round, plentiful and terrific tasting.

As one reviewer posted: “Truly outstanding.”

INFO WORTH NOTING

http://www.chilternseeds.co.uk /01491 824675

http://www.cranesbillnursery.com /01684 770733

http://www.PomonaFruits.co.uk /01255 440410

http://www.broadleighbulbs.co.uk /01823 286231

http://www.jparkers.co.uk/ 0161 8481100

http://www.dobies.co.uk /0344 9670303

http://www.suttons.co.uk /0344 3262200

51 daffs for a cool quid – now that’s what I call a new year bargain

Daffodils Fremington

Serenade of spring: The simple beauty of this cluster of daffodils – possibly Golden Harvest – lights up a roadside hedge at Fremington, Devon, last year.
TEN DAYS into the new year and what was I doing in the garden this afternoon? Planting daffodil bulbs, that’s what!

Well, there’s no excuse for missing out on a big time bargain. Which is why I snapped up 3kg of daffs from St John’s Garden Centre in Barnstaple. Normal price £6.99, dangle-the-carrot price for a late-late planting – £1.

Yep, a round pound for what turned out to be 51 bulbs, many of them doubles. OK, they were only bog-standard yellow trumpets and there’s no guarantee that they will deliver in the spring, given such an ultra-late contact with the soil.

But I may be lucky and have a few sunny blooms, followed next year by what should be a 100% success rate.

For the more ambitious, incidentally, St John’s are selling a Santa-sized sack of bulbs for a fiver.

I was tempted . . . for a fleeting moment before deciding to plant safe with the smaller quantity – just in case I was still digging ’em in at the end of the month.

All around the beds and borders, established daffodils and those I planted in September and October are budding up nicely. It’s true what they say – the earlier you can plant members of the narcissus family the greater the chance of seeing them all emerge.

That leaves my January hopefuls embracing no more than a 50-50 success chance this spring. After digging the holes, I added a handful of high-grade topsoil to boost the bulbs’ chances and, of course, popped in white markers to make sure I knew where each bulb batch was positioned.

The first one to blow its own trumpet gets a photo on this page, so do keep checking.

Fabulous and fragrant: It’s time to sow the most revered hardy annual

Swt Pea Fragrant Boundary (Sut)
SWEET PEAS – autumn sown, winter or spring? The arguments rage on with the same impetus as when it’s best to prune roses or sow broad beans.

It makes the gardening game that bit controversial which is surely no bad thing!

I sow most of my sweet peas in late October or early November, based on the premise that plants will germinate before Christmas – which they have – and that they will be ready to transfer to the Great Outdoors soon after Easter if the weather’s right.

It has always worked for me, though last year I did sow a few extra in spring which enabled me to pull up the faded, autumn-sown plants and pop in the later ones, thus extending the sweet and colourful show.

No harm in waiting until April before you sow, just as long as you realise that those seeds which germinate later won’t be wafting their nectarous aromas around the garden until summer is well and truly with us.

To chip or not to chip? And to soak or not to soak? Well, my short answer is I’ve never done either.

Seed and plant people Suttons remind me that now is a good time to sow and offer a handful of gorgeous-looking varieties for customers to ponder over.

One of those I’ve picked out here is Fragrant Boundary, the newest member of the ‘Fragrant’ family and said to be perfect for an informal hedge, reaching 3ft-5ft. Price is £2.99 for 20 seeds.

They bear highly-scented bi-coloured blooms in pink, white and blue on shorter-than-average stems, so just the thing for smaller vases.

Swt Pea Cupani

Another featured here is perhaps the most famous of all Lathyrus odoratus – Cupani.

It was introduced to Britain by a Franciscan monk, Brother Cupani, in 1699 and is, like Fragrant Boundary, a grandiflora type sweet pea.

With maroon upper petals and violet wings, as well as boasting a magic fragrance, this beauty is easy to grow and contrasts well with those pastel shades. Stems not too long but plants can reach up to 6ft. Price is £2.49 for 20 seeds.

One that particularly stood out for me was Fragrant Skies in stunning shades of blue and purple. It’s a Spencer type, extremely fragrant and will reach around 6ft. Price is £2.49 for 22 seeds.

Sweet Peas, incidentally, have always been thought of as a very traditional flower, and Suttons have been supplying them to the Royal Household since the reign of Queen Victoria.

They enhance a garden with everything from towers of height, to tumbling cascades of colours and they also make superb cut flowers. Above all though, they’re versatile, and Suttons seeds will help you fill your garden with sensational perfume and a riot of colour.

Remember, there are many beautiful colours and highly scented sweet pea seed varieties to choose from. They act as an eye-catching addition to your garden and can be grown as cut flowers.

www.suttons.co.uk /0344 326 2200

Swt Pea Fragrant Skies

Sweet and sensational: From the top – Fragrant Boundary, Cupani, Fragrant Skies. Pictures courtesy of Suttons.

A veg that packs a punch and makes your eyes stream . . . but not every one!

Allium cepa Fen Early
KNOWING your onions makes you a smart cookie – and it’s tempting to assume the popular expression was in homage to Charles Talbut Onions, a Victorian editor of the Oxford English Dictionary.

Some believe the phrase originated in America, but what cannot be denied is that onions – botanically Allium cepa – pack a punch and inject a certain something into so many dishes, cooked or raw. They also bring tears to the eyes!

When cooked they mellow and soften to deliver their sweet caramelised flavour, often remaining crisp and tasty. Eaten raw in salads or sandwiches or pickled for adding extra zest, they win many friends.

Seed and plant firm Suttons have been looking into what makes great onions and introducing varieties to satisfy every onion grower with a wide selection of this staple kitchen globe.

The Devon-based company have introduced three newbies in seed form for 2020, with each quite different and perfectly suited for a range of culinary uses.

The Walla Walla sweet onion has been produced as a speciality veg crop since 1900 in the south eastern corner of Washington State. It’s no wonder they celebrate this fabulous onion every July at their sweet onion festival.

Because it’s so sweet, Walla Walla can be munched raw and won’t send the eyes streaming. Its mildness is not due to sugar but to its low sulphur content which is half that of an ordinary onion. It is jumbo sized, round, sown February to April and harvested August to October.

Onion Borettana

Borettana delivers small and perfectly formed flat bulbs with fine golden skin. Leave these ultra-sweet onions whole and braise for the most comforting of side dishes.

Or for a slice of Italian cuisine, pickling these will provide the most delicious of nibbles, just like those from your favourite deli! They are known as cipollini in Italy and are loved in Europe, served as a side dish with chicken or fish.

Isabel Rose – now, that’s a name for an onion! – makes a terrific addition to the veg patch, having been bred in Lincolnshire and enjoying the UK climate.

The attractive variety boasts a true pink skin with pretty white and pink internal rings which deepen in colour when stored. So if you fancy a splash of pink among the veg it’s best to pick an Isabel Rose.

Walla Walla costs £2.99 for 150 seeds; Borettana £1.99 for 250 seeds; Isobel Rose £2.99 for 250 seeds.

www.suttons.co.uk /0344 3262200.

Onion Isabel Rose

Get to know them! From top – Walla Walla, Borettana, Isabel Rose.

£3m banked for charity this year and 3,900 gardens to open in 2020 – it’s got to be the NGS!

Chygurno, Lamorna
CLICK your seat belts or hang on tightly to whatever’s handy as we’re off on a dizzying tour of England and Wales with one thing in mind – the wonderful charity known as the National Garden Scheme.

But before I let the handbrake go, consider this: In the year just about to fade away, this group donated £3million to nursing and health charities.

No surprise, then, that the NGS hail this effort and support as “phenomenal”.

It’s a two-way push, of course – the garden owners on one side of the fence and the eager visiting public on the other.

And year on year the final grand total creeps ever higher and higher, which in turn helps the various charities to make their own important contribution to the nation’s health and care.

As to the gardens themselves, more than 3,900 exceptional private ones across England and Wales will be welcoming visitors through the gates in 2020.

Harbour Lights

Each one offers unique and unrivalled horticultural delights, whether it’s rolling country house acres, cottage gardens, tiny rooftop plots, urban hideaways, compact town and city paintboxes or all that productive soil down at the allotment.

With almost 900 new and returning gardens to explore, there’s never been a better time to see what gems fellow greenfingered sorts have created.

So here we go on a purely random recce of gardens a long away apart.

First stop CornwallChygurno at lovely Lamorna, near Penzance. Here’s a gorgeous three-acre cliffside garden overlooking Lamorna Cove. See camellias, hydrangeas, tree ferns, terraces. Sat, 25th April, 2-5pm.

Into Devon, my home county, and a garden with a difference – Harbour Lights, near Bideford. Wit, humour, artwork, volcano (yes!), fernery, bonsai, shrubs, water features. Mind how you go! I was once squirted on from a great height! Sat/Sun, 21st-22nd June, 11am-6pm.

41 Westmorland Road, Felixstowe

Cross country to 41 Westmorland Road, Felixstowe, Suffolk, where since 2009 the owners have transformed the garden into a treasure chest of over 400 different perennials with eclectic features. Sun, 31st May, with 246 Ferry Road.

North-bound to the Midlands and The Mill Garden at 55 Mill Street, Warwick. This garden lies in a magical setting on the banks of the River Avon and beneath the walls of Warwick Castle. See winding paths, dramatic views, a profusion of plants, shrubs, trees and admire the owners’ achievement of being the current Warwick in Bloom gold winner for the best open garden. Daily from 1st April-31st Oct, 9am-6pm.

The Mill Garden, Warwick

Much further north to Church View, Appleby-in-Westmorland, Cumbria. Less than half an acre but with layers of texture, colour and interest in abundance. Will suit plantaholics, with plant combinations in real evidence, and is a photographer’s dream. Wed, 20th May, 1-4pm.

Finally to Bwlch y Geuffordd. Yes, it’s got to be Wales! This 1½-acre landscaped hillside is in Aberystwyth with fine views of the Cambrian mountains. See three ponds, mixed borders merging into carefully managed, informal areas. Banks of rhodos, bluebells, shade and moisture lovers, climbers and trees. Sun, 17th May, 10.30am-4.30pm.

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Bwlch y Geuffordd

Don’t forget to pre-order your NGS Visitors’ Handbook online for delivery in late February. It’s full of all you need to know about every NGS garden, complete with stunning photos, map and calendars.

Snowdrops are the first glisteners in the new year. There are many snowdrop gardens due to open soon – and you won’t regret searching them out!

Go to ngs.org.uk and follow directions.

Garden glories: From top – Chygurno, near Penzance; Harbour Lights, Bideford; 41 Westmorland Road, Felixstowe; The Mill Garden, Warwick; Church View, Cumbria (photo by Val Corbett); Bwlch y Geuffordd, Aberystwyth. Other pictures courtesy of NGS.

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Plenty in twenty-twenty for a blaze of colour from top plant firm

 

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EXPERTS in the Garden Since 1855 is their front page slogan and a quick glance at the Thompson & Morgan 2020 Spring Catalogue reinforces the truth behind those few words.

Putting it simply – T & M know their onions!

At 148 pages, the catalogue – it’s surely closer to a handbook – is awash with plants that will turn your cherished patch into a blaze of colour and your veg plot into a fruitful harvest.

This is T & M’s plant catalogue, so don’t go searching for seeds as you won’t find any.

Depending on what you decide to order, the plants will arrive as garden readies, jumbo plugs, posti-plugs, ordinary plugs, bulbs, bare roots or potted plants.

So do consider your timing and needs with due care, depending on what facilities you have at home – heated or cool greenhouse, cold frame, window sill and the like.

Unboxing your new arrivals and watching them die of cold or frostbite a few days later is not recommended! If you order bare rooters and the weather doesn’t permit planting, simply heel them into the soil – they will be quite happy there for a while before taking up their permanent quarters.

It’s best to take company advice and scan their instructions which will arrive inside the package.

As for choice, well . . . it’s almost boundless.

A clutch that really tugged at my attention includes dahlia Tropical Breeze (12in) in a bicolour of pale yellow edged bright pink. Radiant in containers or borders.

There’s fuchsia Rocket Fire (20in), a giant three-tone stunner in cerise, pink and purple and with unique split outer petals; a zonal pelargonium duo in Pink Splash and White Splash (16in); clematis Advent Bells (up to 15ft), an evergreen hardy winter bloomer from November to January, lemon scented and nodding flowers of creamy-white on the outside and red-speckled markings inside; and an agapanthus twosome in pale blue Fireworks and deep violet Poppin Purple (both 24in).

How about growing alstroemeria Valley Series (18in) – three stunners in pastel colours and all with those distinctive artist’s brush marks on the petals. Winter-hardy and vibrant shades all summer.

Alstro Times Valley

For petunia lovers, go for a Sweetunia trailing trio – Johnny Flame in deep plum, Fiona Flash in red and near-black, and Starfish in lilac and white. All strikingly coloured and will turn tub and baskets into a riot all summer long. Or try Frills & Spills Ocean Mix (18in) with fragrant double blooms said to be completely rain-tolerant.

Final pair coming up – verbena Royal Dreams (24in) which, happily, is half the height of the lofty bonariensis and bears those familiar purple heads adored by butterflies and bees; and peony Coral Sunset (36in), with semi-double flowers that emerge pink and then evolved through various coral shades to apricot and finally to a soft yellow . . . leaving mature plants displaying all these tones at the same time.

Simply spectacular!

www.thompson-morgan.com

Clematis Advent Bells

Twenty-twenty’s aplenty: From top – dahlia Tropical Breeze, fuchsia Rocket Fire and verbena Royal Dreams, alstroemeria Valley Series, clematis Advent Bells. Pictures courtesy of Thompson & Morgan.