At this time of the year, most of the blogs I follow are full of stories about planting out the chitted potatoes, protecting chillies from late frosts, netting over the emerging brassicas. All the excitement of veg growing.
Me, I don’t grow veg any more. A couple of dwarf apple trees valiantly keep going as a relic of my fruit-growing days which, now, are limited to a couple of currant bushes and a few raspberries. No more allotment. But I grow bedding plants in abundance. I’ve got a pip over 1,700 of them coming on nicely in the greenhouse and plant houses (which are little greenhouses, screwed to the side of the house and glazed with polycarbonate rather than flimsy plastic so are called “plant houses” rather than “mini greenhouses”).
Can’t plant them out just yet as there’s a slim chance of a frost. You can’t tell this year; it’s been a bit weird. In fact things have been weird since late last year when my spring-flowering heathers burst into flower in October, though they have valiantly maintained some flower even now to keep the bees happy. Historically, the latest frost round here has been in the first week of April, though I’ve traditionally consigned my bedding plants to the great outdoors around the middle of May. This year, I’ve got flowers opening on a fair number of plants. Some, in the greenhouse have been cosseted by a minimum temperature of 8C, thanks to heating. Those in the plant houses have no heat other than that which passes through my uninsulated house walls (I won’t insulate the cavities as I have bats living in there and whilst I could at the right time, I won’t because I love the bats) or hits them from up above as they’re on the south side. The plants in the car (which is doubling up as a greenhouse when not being itself) are also doing ok.
But dare I risk it? Just yet? Better safe than sorry.
So I read of others’ progress but here it’s a case of looking at the bare earth and empty containers for a week or two more. Water butts are still delivering the 20-30 litres of water I need daily to keep my babies happy and there’s just enough rain, now and then, to top the big one up – this benefits from the house guttering. The small one, fed only by the greenhouse and shed gutters, is struggling a bit and having to carry cans of water from the big butt adds to the time watering takes me. I long for the time when the watering hour will be replaced by the occasional squirt of the hose if it doesn’t rain and when my automatic irrigation system that feeds the wall planters, baskets and containers can take over. But at least the time spent watering is also an opportunity to give my plants a daily checkup.
I always grow more than I know I’ll need. There are always those who don’t make it. But the uncertainty of the year has extended under cover. I’ve so far lost only 5 little plants to whatever little plants succumb to. Usually there’d be anything up to 100 of them that wouldn’t make it – either giving up the ghost completely or deciding to do little more than poke a few leaves out of the compost before going to sleep. This year has bucked the trend.
And I should be direct-sowing seeds into the ground now. But I just don’t know. Will what I’ve already got growing in pots be more than enough to fill the available space? At least that’s not worrying in the least. Nature’s like that. I know that if I sow seeds in May rather than late March-into-April, they’ll catch up. I don’t know about you, but I’ve found that plants I raise myself may not come into full flower until June but they’ll carry on flowering into November (last year, when the first frost didn’t hit until mid-December I had lovely displays almost to the end of the year). But if I’m tempted to pop to a garden centre for a six-pack, in full bloom now, the plants will be a sorry sight by late August. They’re forced on far too soon to make that display that the punters want and they’re probably getting past it by the time you’ve bought them.
This, for me, is the problem with garden centres. People only seem to want to buy what’s in flower. Wahey! It’s early September. Helenium season. Whack ’em in. Nah, if I want heleniums I’ll buy them at the right time, in spring (I’m not a fan of autumn planting) from a nursery and bring them on through the summer. Having to water them a bit more often keeps me on my toes and fills the time gap resulting from not having to spend an hour or so carting cans from butt to greenhouse or whatever. Keeps me a bit fitter too. The time to buy plants is anytime they are NOT in flower. So the upheaval which WILL result from being yanked from their cosy pots and being shoved into a totally different environment doesn’t knock them for six. When people advise removing any existing flowers from your bedding plants as you plant them out, in most cases, they’re giving very sound advice. Deflowering gives them a little help to adapt, diverting their energies into settling into their new home.
And to those online/TV places that are still selling bare-root roses, IT’S TOO LATE! Order today and it’ll be May before they arrive. If the promises that they WILL flower this year are fulfilled, they won’t flower well. Their internal body-clocks have been turned upside-down. They won’t flower as well next year either. If you want to plant a rose now, get a container grown one. And make sure it’s container grown, not a bare root shoved in a pot to look good. Gardening is never “quick”. The best results are achieved by patience.
So whilst I may get a bit jealous of all that allotment and veg patch activity as I carry yet another can of water from A to B, the jealousy is limited. I’ve made my choice to be a flower gardener. No more will I experience that thrill of emptying the chest freezer ready to take the next harvest from the allotment, always far more than I could eat immediately. Then heating up the giant saucepan, getting out the blanching basket, packing everything up and, too late, realising that when my parents came to visit the week before, Mum had looked in the freezer, seen it was empty, assumed I didn’t have enough money to fill it and dragged Dad out to the local freezer centre to fill up as a surprise while I was at work (which she didn’t mention). I mean, I knew the freezer was empty so I didn’t look inside it. I had enough in the little fridge-freezer in the kitchen.
Being patient isn’t easy! Whatever you grow, you’ll know that. But it’s part of the enjoyment of whatever gardening means to you.
Though anticipation is wonderful! And next week will be the start of hardening-off time. I wonder why! If I start at 8am I’ll probably have everything laid out on the lawn by about 11. Then at 6pm I start putting everything back. Actually, I’ve only done that once. Now I just open all the doors and roof vents in the morning and close them at night.
Works for me.