Martin Brady tells us what to plant and when …
The swelling of buds has turned into a burst of growth as all around us gardens are filling with colour and blossom. From now on, until midsummer we can look forward to some glorious displays from flowering trees and shrubs.
Learning the names of these plants is the first step towards knowing what plants you like. This is a lot easier when they are in flower. In 1984 I was asked to prune a shrub for the very first time. As a student at the National Botanic Gardens in Glasnevin, I got to work and learn on the job. I didn’t know the name of the plant, or the name of any plant at that stage. As it happens it was a Forsythia, this is the first plant I learnt to recognise. Everybody has to start somewhere. The Forsythia is now in flower and its vivid yellow blooms on bare wood transport me right back to my earliest days as a gardener.
Another plant that takes me back is the dahlia. Up until very recently the dahlia was not considered to be very chic, grown only by devotees. Now we cannot get enough of them. Available in a vast array of wonderful colours, these fantastic and sometimes strange-shaped blooms add excitement and a touch of glamour to the garden in summer. If you have considered growing them even as a cut flower, now is the right time to plant them. There are so many to choose from. Start by deciding on the colour and flower type, single or cactus, pompom or ball-shaped. They are very easy. Start them off in pots and grow them on, while protecting them from frosts. When placed in a sunny position, if kept well-watered and liquid fed, they will flower throughout the summer months. With so many joyous colours available, you can have fun with dahlias. I particularly like the peachy-orangey tones of “Happy Butterfly” and “Totally Tangerine”.
As the pace of growth picks up, new growth is appearing in the garden on an almost daily basis. This week I have noticed the gradually unfurling leaves of Brunneras along with the first delicate-looking, but very robust, flowers of Epimediums. Grown as much for their striking foliage as their beautiful early flowers, these plants will tolerate a certain amount of dryness and shade. They add early interest and colour when mixed or blended with other like-minded plants such as ferns, hellebores and hostas. Brunnera “Looking Glass” has silvery foliage with forget-me-not blue flowers while Epimedium x rubrum is a very tough perennial with delicate red racemes. Another plant to look out for, with similar attributes, is Pachyphragma. It’s a hard name to pronounce but a great plant that tolerates sun and shade with white flowers from February through to April.
When growing plants, remember the soil. It’s important to add compost, rotted manure or mulch to improve the overall soil structure, this helps the soil to retain moisture while improving plant growth and health. Healthy soil means healthy plants. I often use Gee-up, which is an Irish organic compost and soil enricher. However getting your hands on gardening supplies is a bit tricky at the moment. The larger chain stores are open for composts, fertiliser and some plants.
It is way too early to buy summer bedding. Walk past these dried-up temptations on your weekly foray for groceries. If you do want to buy plants and you cannot wait for the full reopening of garden centres then try online at www.howbertandmays.ie, www.horkans.ie, www.arboretum.ie, www.tullynurseries.ie and www.countrylife.ie. They all offer a selection of beautiful plants sold by experts. If they are out of dahlias and summer flowering bulbs, try www.farmergrace.co.uk and www.peternyssen.com.
Finally, one bulb to add to your list is the Nerine – love them. Nerine “Isabel” is a particular beauty. They originate from South Africa and every autumn without fail their strikingly sparkler shaped blooms help to prolong and stretch out the flowering season.
That’s what gardeners do, we talk about the autumn before summer has even begun.
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