The anemone-like, little blooms of hepaticas emerge quietly and colourfully, adding nectar and pollen for bees and sought after appeal to tucked away shady spots. Fast becoming collectors’ items, they’re hardy, semi-evergreen jewels of the season, marvelled at for the way they can cope with harsh weather, and known for poking their dainty-looking flowers even through heavy snow. They grow a few inches high and like to form little clumps under trees, but they also grow beautifully in pots.
Hepaticas’ delicate beauty is well worth adding to your clumps of early spring bulbs in the garden, and there’s nowhere better for them than in a little woodland dell under deciduous trees and shrubs. They like a bit of sunshine to flower well, so need specific conditions – shade for most of the year under the newly-grown, leafy canopy of a tree, and then dappled spring sunshine under bare branches before they re-leaf. For outdoor cultivation in this country, it’s best to grow the European species such as Hepatica nobilis and H. transsilvanica, as they’re naturally best suited to our climate.
Plant potted plants now from suppliers such as Ashwood Nurseries (www.ashwoodnurseries.com) and Edrom Nurseries (www.edrom-nurseries.co.uk). Plant them in a very well-drained, fertile spot that gets good sun in early spring only. Add leaf mould or compost to the planting hole and water in well through their first season. Too much water will cause rotting, however. Feed in autumn with leaf mould and add a general fertiliser in late winter to help them flower in the new season. Sow fresh seed in late spring or summer in wide pots placed in a shady position outside. Use two parts of John Innes No 2 compost, one part Perlite and one part of multi-purpose. Water well, and once they have germinated, bring indoors. A year later, prick out, pot on, then plant out. Ashwood Nurseries are hepatica specialists and sell fresh seed.
TIP: Always plant where they can be seen! Plant visible clumps to appreciate them on their own, or plant among other woodland spring bulbs such as snowdrops, trilliums or erythroniums. Anything accompanying them that’s too vigorous will take over.
What better way to start a summer’s day than stepping out of your back door and picking a delicious, tangy blueberry or fragrant strawberry? Fresh and cool in the morning dew and perfectly ripe, too! Growing your own fruit and veg is always hugely satisfying, and to my mind, it’s even better when it’s easy and there’s no digging involved! I always bring a bit of my allotment into the garden and grow some mini fruit on my small patio in pots. Now’s the perfect time to get going. If you buy potted plants much later, you risk damaging the flowers or developing fruit and sacrificing your home-grown harvests. Spring’s also the ideal time to pot plants on into a larger container. If you want to save money, there are bargains to be had as bare-root plants are still just available from specialist nurseries and mail order.
The range of peaches an nectarines available today shows you the skill of the nurseryman and plant breeder. Gone are the days when you need a huge greenhouse to cultivate them. Now you can grow these fruits at home, on the tiniest patio, as long as it’s sheltered and sunny. Dwarf peaches really are tiny. You can buy them as ready-grown pot plants just a couple of feet tall, ready to fruit away this year. They’ve long, glossy leaves and attractive pink blossom early in the year so put them in the best container you can afford as you won’t want to hide them away! As they flower so early, frost can damage flowers and reduce your crop. If a freeze is forecast during the flowering period, wrap the plants in fleece overnight. Alternatively, keep your potted peach and nectarine trees in an unheated greenhouse from November until mid-May. This can also help prevent peach leaf curl, a fungal disease that can harm both peaches and nectarines. Early flowering means they can miss out on the services of bees, so it’s worth pollinating them by hand. Wait for a sunny day and gently dab the centre of each flower with a soft paintbrush. Try peach ‘Crimson Bonfire’ from www.pomonafruits.co.uk or nectarine ‘Nectarella’ from www.chrisbowers.co.uk.
There’s no getting awayfrom it… supermarket cherries are expensive and they’re never as good asthose you can grow yourself. Cherries are so rewarding – not only do you get pretty, white blossom in the spring and lots of juicy fruit in the summer, but often they’ll give you good autumn colour, too. I’ve been amazed by the crops on my dwarf cherry trees – even when they’re quite small and spindly-looking they can still produce lots of tasty fruit. There are various dwarf cherries available. If you’re unsure, look for the rootstock ‘Gisela’ or ‘Colt’. Give them a sunny spot and a generous-size container (60cm/24in or more), and don’t forget to net them against greedy birds who love them as much as we do! Put the net over as soon as the fruits start to change from green to red. Many old cherry varieties need a pollination partner, so make sure when you buy your plant that it’s a self-fertile variety, such as ‘Celeste’, ‘Compact Stella’ or ‘Sunburst’. It’s also worth noting that different varieties are different colours when they’re ripe – some will be yellow blushed with red, some almost scarlet, and some are near black, so don’t pick them under-ripe or they won’t taste as good! Available from www. pomonafruits.co.uk and www.ashridgetrees.co.uk.
Suitable for even the tiniest patio, this has to be seen to be believed. Bred in Europe and sold under the name ‘Lilibarber’, this new, tiny rhubarb grows to just 30cm (12in) high! Luckily it doesn’t stop producing new stalks in the summer, like most traditional varieties of rhubarb, so you can harvest from spring right through to autumn. Don’t reach for the custard just yet though! The stalks are so tiny they need to be considered more of a garnish than a main ingredient. Apparently they’re delicious simply dipped in sugar and eaten raw. Available from www.lubera.co.uk.