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Early Spring – tasks outside

Spring is well and truly here according to the calendar, but I can’t say that it really feels like it in my garden.

I have some miniature narcissi in bloom, along with one or two clusters of pulmonaria and a couple of chaenomeles flowers, but that’s pretty much it at the moment:

mini-daffs-and-primula-march-20th

Oh, apart from my primula that I divided into three last year – that seems to have been flowering on and off all winter, much to my delight, and is now shaping up for a proper springtime effort:

primroses-march-20th

It looks like I will be able to divide these two plants again: the one on the left appears to have 3 potential crowns and the one on the right  has at least two, so if that proves to be the case, come next spring I should have made six plants from my original one and will probably start planting a few more in the ground (I’ve already put one in, as seen in the first picture).

So, there may not be a great deal to admire at the moment, but there is certainly lots to do!

Since I last posted I have been busy reorganising my borders, digging up and dividing many of my perennials and using that as an opportunity to incorporate a hearty dose of well-rotted horse manure. My soil is medium-heavy and not particularly well-drained in some places, so whilst I am happy in most years to simply throw a surface mulch around the plants and let the worms do the work of dragging it down, I do feel an occasional deep-ish cultivation and addition of organic matter is necessary to perk things up.

I’ve also been planting out some of the phlox that I bought as small bare-root specimens a while back. At the time they arrived I judged them to be too small to be thrown straight into the ground and allowed to take their chances amongst the established plants, so I potted them up into a 12″ planter of multi-purpose compost and spent last year cosseting them into much beefier fellows that now look eminently robust enough to fight their corner.

It might seem odd to buy perennials bare-root then spend time and money containerising them for a season, but I’ve found over the years that I lose a lot fewer plants that way. In my experience it’s far too easy, even in a small garden, to plant those small pieces of dormant crown typically supplied by post and accidentally leave them to get swallowed up by their neighbours or gobbled by slugs and snails; growing them on in large pots means that I can nurture them in a much better-controlled environment until I feel they’re ready for the rough and tumble of border life.

I’m still in the process of dealing with my plants in pots, namely my patio clematis and hostas, which I like to re-pot into fresh compost every 2 or 3 years, and, in the case of the hostas, divide up and discard the older woodier centres. Both will soon need their tender new growth protecting from slugs and snails, so I shall be ready with the organic slug pellets as soon as I am suspicious of any activity.

One last thing I want to mention is a new acquisition from late last summer, Agastache “Blue Boa”. Not knowing how hardy it might be, I wasn’t entirely sure what to do with it over winter, so I left it in its pot of multi-purpose compost tucked up against my south-facing fence and basically crossed my fingers! Seems I got away with it:

agastache-blue-boa-march-20th

We had quite a few nights this winter where the temperatures went down to -5C (unlike the previous winter when we scarcely even had a frost!) so it’s clearly capable of surviving a bit of a freeze. Being in free-draining compost in a container may have helped too as it probably doesn’t like “wet feet” during cold weather.

All in all, things are moving along nicely and I’m enjoying the feeling of easing my way into the gardening year – time enough to panic when all my plug plants start arriving next month…

The Chelsea Chop: my results

I’ve been meaning to try the “Chelsea Chop” for some time but never quite got around to it until this year.

The Chelsea Chop involves cutting down certain herbaceous perennials by a third to a half in late spring (round about Chelsea Flower Show time, hence the name) in order to improve their habit, and delay or  stagger flowering. It’s particularly recommended for taller specimens that are prone to flopping (phlox, for example) and for late summer flowering plants in general.

I thought it could do no harm, so I tried it on the following:

phlox

nepeta

lysimachia (punctata and ephemerum)

aster frikartii Monch

In a way, it was a difficult year to assess the effect because summer was so late in happening that lots of flowering plants came into bloom much later than normal anyway, but of the species I tried the most notable success was probably the nepeta.

I love nepeta. but usually by early July it is an unruly mess flopping all over the place and generally getting in the way. This year, having hacked it back by half at the end of May, it has grown into a much tidier mound without losing a significant amount of flower power, so I will definitely be giving it a spring haircut from now on!

The lysimachia I treated a little differently, pruning down only half the stems in each clump to see if flowering would go on for longer, but I don’t think it made much difference to be honest.

The aster I chopped to try and produce a less straggly plant, but it doesn’t seem to have worked at all and I’ve still had to put in some canes and string for support.

Most interesting to me was the phlox since that is the example very often given as the perfect subject for Chelsea Chopping.

I tried it on a clump of “Prospero”, pruning half the stems down to half their original height and leaving the other half for comparison. Contrary to my expectation, the stems that were left alone seemed to grow stronger than the chopped ones and had much bigger and better flowers on them. They also flowered at almost the same time, so there wasn’t even the advantage of extending the flowering period.

All in all, rather mixed, though as I say, the lateness of the seasons this year may have played a bigger part than I realise – I might give it a whirl next year just to see if I get the same results.