I feel as it I have spent most of the past month getting bulbs into the ground and into pots, and now the finishing line is almost in sight. There are just a few tulips to go and because they are destined for gaps in the border that are not yet available I am potting them up, seven at a time into black plastic pots so that they can get on with growing, rather than shrivelling in their paper bags. Depending on how the winter progresses, I will either plant them out as space is cleared, or if it proves to be a hard winter I will sink the pots in the ground in early spring. The terracotta pots that I have already planted get a hat of wire netting to keep the squirrels away and upturned wire hanging baskets cover groups of tulips in the flowerbeds.
I do like to sow my sweet peas in late autumn so that I can start picking them in June – and if I had enough space I would do another sowing in March to extend the picking season – but it is tricky enough as it is to find room for the autumn plants. Sowing in autumn means that if I do have any germination problems, I can resow. This year, most varieties came up like mustard and cress, but a few have failed so I am having another go.
I have some tips to aid germination.
- Before you put the seeds in the compost, rub them with sandpaper to gently scuff the hard surface
- Water lightly once and do not water again until they have germinated or the seeds may rot, especially now that temperatures have dropped
- Gentle bottom heat will speed up germination
- Once the seedlings are growing well I move them from the greenhouse to the coldframe and pinch out the growing tips to two sets of leaves. This encourages the plants to grow good strong roots overwinter.
In previous years I have used Root Trainers, sowing one seed per cell, but I do find them quite fiddly, so this year I am sowing each variety in its own long tom pot. I know you are supposed to avoid root disturbance, but as they seldom emerged from the root trainer cells with their rootballs intact, I think it is worth a go.
Sometimes a piece of equipment proves so useful that I want to share its virtues. Much as I would love to have a fully installed irrigation system, the disruption and expense mean this is unlikely ever to happen. With a hillside garden on different levels, dragging a hose around usually results in kinks and bad language, but now I use a Hozelock multi-tap connector, life is so much easier. The connector is next to my one outside tap. From there I have run a connecting length of hose (discreetly hidden) to each of three reels in different areas of the garden. Each of the reels is clipped on to a Take Anywhere Tap (from Darlac). All I have to do is select which area of the garden I want to water by turning on the outdoor tap and switching the flow to the appropriate hose and hey presto, stress free watering.
- Ursula’s recommends growing sweetpeas up a circle of pig netting rather than a wigwam which narrows at the top and restricts flowering – unless you have the time and space to grow them as cordons
- She has found that planting a rye grass green manure in ground where sweet peas will grow the following year produces stronger plants that flower for longer
- Don’t use bamboo canes – the plants find it too slippery to cling to and need more tying in
- I asked one of her team about a problem I have had with my own sweetpeas failing to form flowers properly at the end of the stem I was told that this was caused by temperature fluctuations early in the season. Apparently I have done the right thing by removing these stems to encourage the formation of new flowers
- Pick, pick, pick to keep your plants as productive as possible for as long as possible