As I write this I have just returned from RHS Malvern Garden Show. The ticket was a Christmas present from my daughter. We were accompanied by my son and my sister, tickets courtesy of Abigail as well, so it was jolly band of keen gardeners . As Abigail put it “Out for a day of Floral Fun.” I think Malvern is my favourite show – a lovely time of the year when there is the promise of everything to come. Last month in my article I sang the praises of umbellifers and here they were at Malvern in abundance. The show gardens were awash with wild flowers and cow parsley featured strongly – soft planting – so different from the manicured plots of the show gardens of yesteryear – and what a delight they were. We played a guessing game on the way as to what would be the “in” plant this year. Well it was Camassia. I had not seen these until I went to Prince Charles’ garden at Highgrove many years ago. The Biddenham Gardeners’ Association had arranged a visit. Security was very tight in those days and clutching our passports, which had been checked off by the police who boarded our coach, and leaving all cameras and mobile phones behind we set foot in the gardens. We were amazed by the sea of blue in one of the meadows and not one of us knew what the plant was. Now Camassias are everywhere and what a lovely blue/violet show they provided at Malvern especially as many of the displays were paired with the orange of Geum “Totally Tangerine” on the opposite side of the colour spectrum – no wonder they looked so good. Geums have been having a resurgence for the last couple of years and the frilled varieties like “Pink Petticoat”, which I am growing this year, are just lovely. But back to Camassias – they are in the same family as asparagus and are native to North America. Plant out the bulbs in the Autumn roughly double the depth of the size of the bulb and they will produce their lovely flower spikes from mid April to mid June. They do need a moisture retentive soil, so if your soil is light some compost into the planting hole will help them. After flowering cut down the whole of the flowering stem and let the foliage die back as you would do for any other bulbous perennial. The good news is that slugs and snails do not touch Camassia!
Talking of slugs and snails – have you tried a garlic wash to deter them? My friend on the Isle of Wight suggested to me that I boiled a cut up garlic bulb until it was soft, strained the cooled liquid into a spray bottle and used that as a deterrent. I couldn’t face the smell of garlic throughout the house so I have just cut up a garlic bulb and put it into my spray bottle with the water. I am currently using it on my hostas – I will keep you posted as to how it works. Thankfully I am having extra help with keeping the snail population down. I have a beautiful thrush who visits my garden on a daily basis. Any snails I find I just throw them into a particular area of the garden where he has a favoured stone for bashing them and I hear him tap tapping on a regular basis – a very pleasing sound I have to say. Actually I quite like slugs and snails and I am more than happy for them to chomp away around by my compost bin and woodland area – just please keep off the plants I have specially nurtured in my plant house!
June – what a fabulous month in the gardens and the countryside – the hawthorn is so lovely at this time of the year and good for Autumn berries to feed the birds – I think we should all grow more of it in our gardens. The year is progressing so fast. Already, although I am writing this at the beginning of May, my rose bushes are budding up even though they have had very little care and attention. Out and about some early roses are already in flower. Some years ago I was lucky enough to visit David Austin’s nursery. As well as the plant centre the site has five wonderful themed gardens where over seven hundred rose varieties are shown in garden settings. There is also a lovely restaurant for lunch. It is so worth a visit at this time of the year when the roses are at their peak. It is a little way off at Albrighton in Shropshire but well worth a detour if one is travelling in that direction. At his time of the year, when the spring bulbs are over and before the summer plants come into flower alliums provide an excellent source of colour, The first alliums to appear tend to be Purple Sensation – and as their leaves die back back before the flowers are fully open it is a good idea to plant them amongst something else – say forget-me-nots so that their shabby foliage is hidden. A backdrop of lime green euphorbias is a good combination. Making an appearance a bit later will be Allium Cristophii and then Allium Schubertii – with its huge fire work display – quite a short stem so plant it towards the front of the border. Last of all comes Allium Sphaerocephalon with its small egg shaped, claret coloured flowers on tall stems. It flowers between July and August so it is possible to have alliums in the garden over a long period. Some of my alliums grow alongside my grasses. If you have grasses now is a good time to divide them. If done too soon before the plants have started to shoot they will be a long time taking off again.
Biennials can be sown at this time of the year so that they can form a good root system and foliage base before flowering the following Spring. Sow them in seed trays and place outside in a sheltered spot over the Summer. They can be pricked out and potted on before planting into their final positions in the garden in Autumn. Most biennials set seed freely so once established they will continue self-seeding from year to year. Many gardens in Biddenham will have been a sea of blue with forget-me-nots in April and May; they provide a lovely foil for narcissus and tulips. As the forget-me-nots go over and are taken up just give the faded plants a shake to release the seeds. They will produce new plants freely (if we ever get any rain) and in the Autumn just pull up the plants you don’t want and leave small clumps to provide a beautiful display next Spring – it is easy gardening. Good biennials to sow at this time of the year are hollyhocks (Alcea rosea) and foxgloves (Digitalis). The Halo series is a group of selected hollyhocks that have single flowers with darker throats. Single flowers are always better for the pollinators. Colours range from apricot and maroon – Halo Apricot, to white and green – Halo White. For foxgloves I really like Sutton’s Apricot with its soft pinky- apricot flowers. Hollyhocks and foxgloves once planted out in the Autumn won’t need protection over winter as they are fully hardy. When pricking out seedlings handle only the seed leaves – never the stem of the plant as this bruises very easily. Get a pencil or stiff plant label right under each plant and tease out as much root and soil as possible. Hollyhocks love the sun and if you plant them beside a fence or wall this will give them protection and reduce the chance of them blowing over in a strong wind. Foxgloves love shady positions.
My tulips have been a great source of joy to me this year and I have included some photos of them on the BGA website. For the last few years I have grown Tulip Ballerina. An orange, lily-flowered tulip that was recommended by Nick Bailey, on Gardeners’ World, and it is certainly worth considering – I have grown it in pots and in the ground and it seems to do well in either. It has an Award of Garden Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society – always a good sign that one is on to something special. In case you are interested Nick Bailey will be in Biddenham in the Autumn. He will be our speaker at the BGA on 18th October and everyone is very welcome to attend that and, of course, any other meetings. Just a further reminder that the Biddenham Show will take place on Sunday 11th September. So whether you are growing flowers or vegetables do have a think about what you might enter in the Show. A dahlia or tomato plant given a little extra TLC from now onwards could be a winner!