Monday, 14 February 2011

A cheapo planting amid the green shoots of recovery

Here Come the Girls
Spring is coming! If you listen closely you can hear it rumbling. Bulbs are popping up everywhere: Iris 'Harmony' is first out in the pots this year, I. 'Katherine Hodgkin' is hot on her heels, Crocus 'Gypsy Girl' is beginning to unfurl,  C. 'Blue Pearl' and 'Cream Beauty' are still getting dressed but will be out soon.

Iris 'Harmony'
It always seems a shame to leave things flowering in the depths of a wintry garden, you may only see them once a week. If you have spares of any little bulbs it may be worth experimenting with hoicking a few out and putting them in a pot by the door.
Snowdrops are ideal for this - if planted as dormant bulbs in the autumn they struggle to establish as they don't like to be dried out; they are happier being moved 'in the green', ie while the leaves are up. Normal procedure is to move snowdrops after they have flowered but I find they don't mind being moved in flower or bud. A few may get damaged and flop over, but if you dig up a small clump carefully and treat it as a single plant they should be fine.

Snowdropping hints
He won't notice...
If you are not lucky enough to have spare clumps of snowdrops it is worth inviting yourself round to a friend's house for coffee (try taking a cake) and admiring his or her snowdrops wistfully. If they don't take the hint just go right ahead and ask for a clump - genuine gardeners are usually happy to share plants. But don't even think about taking them from the wild or without the landowner's permission. Thursday's mild but slightly rainy weather provided the perfect conditions for moving plants about, so I decided to make a group of plantings using snowdrops pilfered from Jim's garden. Yes, all right, I know what I just said about permission.

I told you they'd come in handy one day
I decided to do  a vaguely naturalistic planting reminiscent of woodland margins. Does that sound pretentious enough? Actually I just thought I could do something quite pretty without spending ANY money on plants. This is possible because I belong to the Untidy Hoarder school of gardening and always pot up little seedlings and odds and ends and leave them cluttering up the area by the polytunnel.

So here's the recipe for a snowdrop arrangement for a shady doorway:
1280 Geranium Pot: Hazel seedling or similar little deciduous tree, 2 clumps snowdrops, Sarcoccoca confusa, Helleborus niger, Vinca minor, Corydalis cheilanthifolia.
Marigold Pot: Ribes sanguineum, 2 Corydalis cheilanthifolia, Helleborus niger, 1 clump snowdrops, small Hart's tongue fern (Asplenium scolopendrium)
1205 Small plain pot: 1 clump snowdrops, 3 little fern seedlings (Athyrium filix-femina? I'm not good at naming ferns)

Waste not, want not
The hazel, hellebore, ferns and corydalis were all stray seedlings. The corydalis will produce little pale yellow flowers from now until May and the ferny foliage will puff up to make a nice dome. My sarcococca is a bit yellow and straggly because it has been stuck in a little plastic pot for too long but it'll soon recover - this evergreen shrub (also known as Christmas Box) has little white flowers in Jan/Feb with a lovely fragrance followed by berries which turn red then black. The vinca was living in a pot with the hellebore - I think it's a white one. The Ribes is a white form struck from cuttings, it will get too big for this pot but will be easy to transplant when it does. The snowdrops and ferns from the smallest pot should be transplanted or potted on after the snowdrops have flowered next year.

All of these plants enjoy a relatively shady location. They will be fine in the largest two pots for at least one year, probably for two or three years. If they start to get overcrowded (the vinca will root about and the corydalis will have babies) just take something out and fill the gaps with fresh compost. I added some slow release fertiliser to the compost - a little more can be added each year. Eventually the plants can be recycled into other plantings, released into the garden or potted up into a bigger pot.

Adding some moss
The natural look
To make the plantings look more natural and established I added some moss which I scraped off some old planks near the compost heap - another good reason not to tidy up too much! Like other plants, moss should not be collected from the wild. At home I find that the blackbirds knock plenty off my roof in early spring and I add it to many semi-permanent plantings because I prefer it to bare compost.

Normally I would plant the pots in their final location to avoid lifting them when full but as it was raining I stayed in the polytunnel then wheeled them to the doorway of the staff room and watered everything in. The backdrop (messy ivy) isn't ideal but hopefully as the leaves expand and white and yellow flowers wax and wane, the seasonal variety will provide interest to people passing through the door. I chose fairly plain and simple pots of similar shapes so that there was not too much distraction from the detail of the plantings. In summer the plantings will be very quiet and green - but this is no bad thing amongst the riotous colours
Jeanette's birthday - cake and snowdrops in the staff room

Small pots of snowdrops can be brought indoors for a while - they have a surprisingly strong honey fragrance. The bulbs can  be planted out after flowering. At break time I came in out of the rain with one clump and gave it a temporary home on the tea table to help celebrate Jeanette's birthday - if you ask me all good days should include cake!


  1. Thanks Harriet for the idea of the moss in the pots.....I hate the look of bare earth, and this seems such a lovely idea. I'm always finding little green "hedgehogs" on the patio that the birds have thrown of the I'm just going to put them in my pots!!!

  2. Or you could make a tiny Japanese moss garden using your hedgehogs.