Saturday, 12 November 2011

Still busy planting pots for winter/spring

It's oddly mild for November and the bees are still busy in the last of the summer plants, as good a reason as any for leaving the tender plants I don't need to save out for as long as possible:
Bees are still slaving away in the Salvia leucantha

Still looking a little sparse, but little purple patches from Pansy 'Can-Can' and
Callicarpa bodinieri var.giraldii 'Profusion' provide interest.
Our (Pre-) Christmas Sale starts next weekend, however, and (especially as the first weekend includes talks from Bunny Guinness and Fiona Perry) I will try to finish the winter plantings before then. The new plantings look a bit stringy but already the way I look at things is changing. Instead of revelling in lushness my eye homes in on small spots of repeated colour and detail in plants.

Pansy Potter
I use a large number of violas and pansies in the winter/spring plantings. Yes they are as common as muck but you can't really beat them for a reliable trickle of colour through the winter followed by a burst of enthusiasm in spring to underpin the daffs and tulips.

Some pansies sulk in winter cold and wet and some are prone to leaf spot infections but I find that thorough dead-heading and the picking off of yellow/spotty leaves usually keeps them going.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: dead-heading is vital. Do it really thoroughly once a week and your displays will look brighter and last longer.

Cyclamen hederifolium and Pansy 'Can-Can'

I often use Pansy 'Can-Can', a mixture which, despite its flouncy appearance, usually sails through the winter. Plainer pansies such as Moonlight Mix (shades of blue and white) are valuable too - this one did brilliantly for us last year.

Et Viola!
Viola 'Sorbet White' and Leucothoe
'Scarletta in a Vine Pot
Violas, with their smaller flowers and generally more spreading habit, are often even tougher; by spring they should be overflowing from the pots and you will be heartily sick of dead-heading them.
To the right is Viola 'Sorbet White' planted with Leucothoe 'Scarletta' in a Vine Pot at the end of September. Below you can see the same viola as it looked last spring (19 May) in a Swag and Acanthus pot on the entrance path. By May the dead-heading is driving me round the twist and I can't wait to rip them out and plant the summer displays.

Viola 'Sorbet White' in a
Swag and Acanthus Pot last May

A 'Jester' Viola in one of our tiny pots last spring

Jester minute
Viola 'Jester Mix' is another favourite for its interesting colour blend and endless supply of cheeky little faces.  Single plants in a variety of little pots look great dotted here and there, perfect for windowsills or tea tables, I also enjoy it massed and mixed with bulbs - practically anything, from alliums to fritillaries, looks good, this year it will be supporting Tulip 'Negrita' and quite a few others.
Cheery Viola 'Jester Mix' in Whichford's courtyard garden last April

One of the new (to me) varieties I am trying this year is Viola 'Tiger Eyes' - I have to say it looks promising. I have used it in the giant Orange Pots at the entrance, with Tulip 'Black Jewel' beneath it and some Scilla siberica to give a few little highlights of blue. We'll see.

Viola 'Tiger Eyes'

Do what I do or do what I say?
Here's a quick step-by-step series of pictures of a Parrot Tulip Pot I planted this week (one of a pair by the entrance path). I know that it is getting a bit late to be planting Narcissus and Iris bulbs but if they are still firm and not mouldy it is worth giving them a go in the hopes that the freezing weather will hold off long enough to allow them to establish. I end up having to take these risks every year simply because I can't plant 200 pots before November when I only work at the Pottery three days a week! Usually it works...

1. Pot filled to tulip planting-level with compost. The "underplanting" (surface plants) all have rootballs small enough to fit above the tulips so I can spread the tulip bulbs (16) evenly through the planting. This one is T. 'Yellow Spring Green'. A little compost then added to cushion the bulbs before more plants added. 

2. Carex 'Curly Whirly' and Salvia officinalis 'Icterina' added, plus another dose of compost to support them. Then two clumps of five Narcissus 'Little Witch' are nestled into the spaces, just above the tulips.

3. The pot is filled to an inch below the rim with compost and then small plants are added. Here we have Lamium maculatum 'Anne Greenway' and six Pansy 'Midnight Glow'. Then I make planting holes (a couple of inches deep) between these plants with a forefinger and gently push in bulbs of Iris 'Lady Beatrix Stanley'. Her Ladyship is only a few inches tall, so the bulbs are near the edge of the pot so that the flowers should not be hidden by other plants.
I wear surgical gloves because at this stage in the season my nails start to get sore from being full of compost! Latex gloves allow you to feel what you are doing so that there is less risk of damaging delicate bulbs or plant roots.

4. I give the pot a good shake and bang its bottom on the ground to settle the compost among the plants. Then more compost is added, making sure to fill between all the plants and top up evenly over the bulbs. Pot is given another shake. The compost now reaches to about 1cm/half an inch below the rim but will settle down when watered in so that the surface of the entire planting lies about 2cm/1inch below the rim. This leaves room for watering/rain to soak in without washing any compost out of the pot.

Now water in gently and evenly with a hose spray or a watering can with a rose fitted on the spout. Inspect the planting again to make sure the compost doesn't need topping up a bit more - you don't want to leave any root-balls or bulbs at all exposed.

Enjoy watching your winter plantings develop and don't forget to dead-head your violas!

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