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Complete Patio Potato Kit NO Digging! NO Effort! NO Garden Required! Harvest in JUST 10 WEEKS From Planting! YOUR COMPLETE KIT INCLUDES:

SAVE £20!

• 18 Seed Potato ‘Turbo Tubers’ (6 x 3 varieties) Normally £5.99 each


Rocket (Early)

Fast cropper – just 10 weeks from planting. Abundant, gorgeous, soft new potatoes.

STEP 1 Half fill your 30L pot with compost and place your Turbo Tubers about 4” deep

Desiree (Maincrop)

Red skin, yellow flesh. Great for boiling, mashing or as jackets with lovely crisp skin.

Charlotte (Salad)

All-time-favourite variety! Perfect as a new potato in salads or for boiling.

STEP 2 As your potato plants establish and grow, just keep topping up the compost

• 3 Heavy Duty 30L Pots Normally £14.99 • 1kg Organic Potato Fertiliser Normally £4.99

STEP 3 Feed and water (don’t soak) for a heavy crop of delicious, tasty new potatoes





SAVE £20.00!

Harvest over 30lbs of simply delicious potatoes within weeks of planting! SAVE £20.00 when you buy the Complete Kit for just £17.95! Imagine growing the freshest, tastiest crops of delicious home-grown potatoes – all from your own patio, with no backbreaking digging whatsoever! Simply add compost and water and enjoy the unbeatable flavour of the freshest new potatoes just 10 weeks from planting! Plant now and pick your first crops as soon as mid June!

The freshest, tastiest, most delicious ‘tates’ you’ve ever tasted! 6 ‘Turbo Tubers’ each of 3 varieties selected for a range of harvest dates 3 durable and reusable 30L pots AND organic fertiliser included! Harvest in succession for 4 months from June to September COMPLETE PATIO POTATO KIT Includes: 6 ‘Turbo Tubers’ each of 3 Seed Potato Varieties, 3 Heavy Duty 30L Pots and 1Kg Organic Potato Fertiliser

NOW ONLY £17.95 SAVE £20.00!


6 jumbo plugs Enormous, incredibly sweet and juicy berries that grow as big as tomatoes – whilst still packing a punch when it comes to that all-important strawberry flavour! Item 320072.

Was £12.99 Now £6.49 HALF PRICE SAVE £6.50! Offer available while stocks last. © YouGarden 2020

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or by post using coupon below to: Offer AG502 YouGarden, PO Box 637, Wetherby Road, York YO26 0DQ PLEASE SEND TO: Offer AG502, YouGarden, PO Box 637, Wetherby Road, YOUR PAYMENT DETAILS I enclose a cheque/Postal Order payable to YouGarden (name & address on back) for £ York YO26 0DQ YOUR ORDER DETAILS Or charge my Visa / Mastercard / Maestro card: ITEM DESCRIPTION PRICE QTY SUBTOTAL Card Issue No. No. Complete Patio Potato Kit SAVE £20.00! Start Exp Security 350007 6 ‘Turbo Tubers’ each of 3 seed potato varieties £17.95 Date Date Code 3 Heavy Duty 30L Pots and 1Kg Potato Fertiliser. DELIVERY DETAILS Strawberry ‘Sweet Colossus’ 320072 6 Jumbo Plugs HALF PRICE! SAVE £6.50! £6.49 Mr/Mrs/Ms/Miss Initial Surname Address Complete Blueberry Growing Kit £12.99 Postcode 310022 3 Established Plants in 9cm Pots Email BUY 2 FOR £19.98 SAVE £6.00! £19.98 If you do not wish to receive catalogues & offers from us, please tick here [ ]. JOIN THE YOUGARDEN CLUB - Get £20.00 FREE vouchers & SAVE 10% on EVERY ITEM you order! Tel We think you’d enjoy some of the latest products and selected offers by post from other trusted 820005 Subscription Membership*: SAVE £15.00! £5.00 My DOUBLE GUARANTEE to you! retailers, charities, finance, travel, FMCG and utility companies. If you do not wish to receive these, please 1 If you’re not totally happy with your order, £10.00 820001 1 Year Membership: SAVE £10.00! tick here [ ]. Full details at YouGarden.com/Privacy. return it within 30 days and we’ll replace or DON’T FORGET: Deduct 10% (10p in every £1) if you joined the YouGarden Club: Add PP&I

*We’ll automatically renew your membership every year, so you can keep saving - AND the price will NEVER go up... GUARANTEED! Full details at YouGarden.com/Club. Offer subject to availability and in the event that this offer is oversubscribed, we reserve the right to send suitable substitutes. Delivery to UK only and a £6.00 surcharge will apply to the following postcode areas: AB, BT, DD8-11, GY, HS, IM, IV, JE, KA27-28, KW, PA20-80, PH19-50, TR21-25 & ZE. See website for full terms & conditions.




refund in full. 2 Should any hardy plants fail to thrive thereafter, we’ll replace free of charge.You just pay the P&P. Peter McDermott, Head Gardener

© YouGarden 2020.




136 years of practical advice

1884 The World’s Oldest Gardening Magazine 2020 Subsc for onribe ly

£1.14* an

– see issue p age 53

Jobs for this week 4 5 6 7 8

Bright bulbs for summer Planting up pots and borders Planting a hazel tree Late-winter soil care Restarting your begonias

Great garden ideas



22 Potatoes for every garden: grow your own — it’s really worth it 26 How to grow petunias: get the best tips from Anne Swithinbank 28 Undiscovered dahlias: here are some real stunners for you to try 32 Blossom in a small garden: plants that will look great in a small space

“Here are some lesser-known dahlias to grow,” says Graham


Gardening wisdom


“I’ll show you the best potatoes to suit your space,” says Kris T&M

“Time to plant bulbs and so here’s four stunners,” says Ruth

10 Peter Seabrook: potatoes from seed that arrive in May 15 Bob Flowerdew: can you re-use potting compost? Yes, says Bob! 17 Val Bourne: why parsnips can be a real challenge to grow 19 Lucy Chamberlain’s Fruit and Veg 36 Ask John Negus your questions 43 A Gardener’s Miscellany: trivia & prizes about dwarf bulb irises 46 How To Do It: this week, Tim looks at ways to fit guttering to a shed 48 All Our Yesterdays: tree heathers can provide colour in winter 51 Anne Swithinbank’s Masterclass 55 Letters to Wendy 58 Toby Buckland: a forgotten plant that overcame hardship to flourish

Subscriptions/Offers 40 It’s time to plan your holiday 53 Get AG every week at a great price “Potatoes from seed (not tubers) are to be sold in 3½in (9cm) pots later this year – see Peter Seabrook on page 10. This is one of several innovations unveiled at the IPM show in Germany. Will it catch on here in the UK? Regulars will know I’m a keen potato grower, and I have got my tubers ready for chitting. However, I will give the new plants a try when they get to the garden centres in May. I’ll let you know how I get on…”


Garry Coward-Williams, Editor


“Want spring blossom but short on space? I’ll show you how,” says Hazel

Contact us: Editorial: 01252 555138 Email: amateurgardening@ti-media.com Subscriptions: 0330 3331120 Advertising: 07817 629935

Cover: Dahlia ‘Teesbrooke Audrey’ (pic: Alamy) 29 FEBRUARY 2020 AMATEUR GARDENING


Step by step

Something for every situation


Make sure last year’s bulbs are still sound

Rehydrate and replant any bulbs from last year that aren’t soft or rotten. They may not flower the first year, but may well perform in later years.

Four of the best bulbs


Versatile alliums, which come in all sizes and many shades, are a colourful bridge between late spring and early summer.

Plant summer bulbs in a sheltered, sunny position in fertile, well-draining soil


Tuberous begonias are always popular and the trailing varieties are perfect for baskets (see page 8).

Bright bulbs for summer



Fire up the centre and back of your borders with Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ (other colours are available).


All photography TI Media unless otherwise credited


HEN you think of a perfect packs and once your perennials are summer garden, what in they should return every year. image does your mind’s Even better, they can be divided eye present you with? when large enough, giving you several For me, it’s a riot of floral colour, plants for the price of one. shapes, heights, scents and textures, However, the easiest way to create all set against a soundscape of singing summer colour is to plant seasonal birds and buzzing bees. bulbs, and that is what I’m looking at And what really catches the eye this week. There are summer-flowering are the borders, packed with a bulbs for every soil, location and Dahlias will bloom combination of plants, both requirement, from borders to well into autumn annuals and perennials, pots, hanging baskets and their colours contrasting windowboxes. and complementing to Yes, more tender varieties such as dahlias create a glorious palette. and gladioli need to be No matter how lifted in autumn and long you have been stored somewhere gardening, the thought frost-free during the of creating such a winter months (unless you spectacle can sometimes have a very sheltered garden seem rather intimidating as with extremely free-draining soil). you wonder how you can create But even this is a relatively quick and this effect in your own garden. The good news is it’s relatively easy easy task, as is getting them going again and doesn’t have to cost the earth. the following year, so there’s really Annual plantings can either be grown nothing stopping you creating the from seed or bought in bargain multisummer garden of your dreams.


It’s time to look forward to summer’s brilliance, says Ruth


Colour doesn’t stop as the days shorten. If planted now, nerines will bring a shot of pink, bright or delicate, to the autumn garden.

Sheds and structures: With the growing season almost here, in next week’s AG I show you how to maintain and fix garden sheds and structures – as well as outside furniture for a well-earned rest!

Dahlias and crocosmia make this stunning fiery border a sight to behold

Pot up dahlia tubers in multi-purpose compost Take dahlia cuttings Bulbs such as Mirabilis jalapa thrive in pots

Starting dahlias Alamy

Plant in fertile, well-drained soil

Planting up pots and borders Bulbs will thrive in many locations with glorious results


UMMER is the high point of the gardening year when we enjoy our open spaces the most, so when planting up our gardens we need to make sure there is seamless colour from late spring to the first frosts. When choosing bulbs for your garden, buy a selection that will give you a succession of colour, I have chosen a selection of alliums that will flower in early summer, some Hymenocallis x festalis (also known as spider lilies and Peruvian daffodils), which will put on a show in July and August, a pink ‘Pretty Woman’ dahlia with bronze foliage for summer-long colour and some nerines for the autumn. Most of the bulbs will go straight into a bed or containers, but I am potting up the dahlia first, until it shoots, and then either take cuttings or plant it out when the threat of frost is over.

Summer bulbs are no different to those that perform at other times of the year when it comes to their growing needs. They generally like a sunny site with fertile free-draining soil, so add lots of well-rotted organic matter first. If you are growing your bulbs in containers, use John Innes No3 compost if they will be in place for more than one season, or a mix of John Innes No 2 and multi-purpose or container compost for just one year. Wherever you are planting, set the bulbs at two or three times their own depth, one bulb’s width apart and group them in odd numbers to avoid an overregulated display. Cover with a mix of soil and compost, firm it down and water after planting. The soil or compost should be kept damp but not sodden, and the plants need feeding fortnightly with a liquid

Potential problems to watch for ALTHOUGH summer-flowering bulbs are pretty trouble-free, there are a couple of potential hiccups to be aware of. Bulbs don’t like heavy clay soil as they are prone to rotting. If that fits your garden’s profile, you can improve the situation by digging in some grit and well-rotted compost or manure in the weeks before planting. This will lighten the soil, improve drainage and give it a rich boost of nutrients. Incorporating well-rotted organic material also helps thin soils because it improves their water-retaining ability and replaces nutrients that

have leached away over time. Like all plants, those grown from bulbs suffer from pest damage. Watch out for scarlet lily beetles that devastate crown imperials, fritillaries and lilies. Because we experienced a mild winter, they haven’t been killed off by frosts. Pick them off and squash them and their larvae, which charmingly protect themselves with a covering of their own excrement. Alternatively, use a deterrent such as Grazers 4 from the minute plants start to shoot – I tried this last year and it worked a treat. The main threat to container-grown bulbs is vine weevil grubs – small, cream

If you stored dahlia tubers over winter or have bought new ones this year, they should be restarted into growth over the next few weeks. Check them over first and discard any that have rotted or softened over winter. Wizened and dried-out ones may recover if soaked in water for an hour or two before planting. Part-fill a pot with multi-purpose compost , settle the dahlia tuber on it so all its roots and tubers are comfortably contained, and cover with more compost. Water and wait a few weeks, and this year’s shoots will start to emerge. When they are 3in (8cm) long, cut them free, dip in rooting compound and pot them up in cuttings compost. Alternatively, plant the whole dahlia in an outside container or border when the weather has warmed up.

tomato fertiliser once they are budding and in flower. Afterwards, deadhead and leave the foliage to die down naturally and replenish the bulbs.

Lily beetles will do serious damage to your lilies

Grazers G4 is a good lily beetle deterrent

maggots with brown heads that kill plants by eating their roots. Their brown parents chew notches in the foliage. Treat the compost with a chemical or nematode drench and pick off the adults at night. 29 FEBRUARY 2020 AMATEUR GARDENING


Hazel or willow hurdles make attractive barriers

If planting in clay, scrape the sides of the hole with a fork so it doesn’t act as a ‘bucket’, trapping the roots and water.

Tease out roots so they will spread Coppicing creates lots of stems

Give your tree or shrub a good water after planting, even if rain is forecast

Hazel catkins are an early sign of spring

Planting a hazel tree They are good for wildlife and have many uses, says Ruth


PART from those that fruit, two of the most useful trees in the garden are hazel and willow. They are beautiful and their wood can be cut time and again for a range of uses without killing the tree. Several years ago we planted a native hedge using little bare-root whips, including a number of hazels. One was left surplus to requirement and we were obviously loath to ditch it so we planted it up in a large pot where it flourished. We didn’t want this to be its ‘forever home’, so when an ancient viburnum died in the front garden,

Step by step

leaving room for something new in another area of hedge, we decided it was the ideal spot for the hazel. It has adequate space to grow, though it was quite a job to clear the planting area of roots and ivy in order to give the relocated tree its best chance. The plan is to let it grow for several years and then start coppicing it and use the wood for canes and supports around the garden (see panel, right). It will also provide shelter and a feeding station for garden birds, a habitat for insects and other wildlife, and attractive catkins as well as tasty nuts in season.

The uses of coppiced wood Hazel and willow wood has been used in forestry, farming and horticulture for centuries. The wood is harvested, or coppiced, between leaf fall and regrowth in spring. Coppicing encourages the trees to throw up lots of new stems from the base, and is a good way of renovating an old plant. Other trees that can be coppiced include ash, beech, elder, cornus, hornbeam, lime and yew. Trees should be coppiced every five-10 years, though it varies between varieties. The cut wood can be used to make woven hurdles, brooms, hedging stakes and plant supports. Willow cuttings are often planted to make ‘living’ sculptures, seats ad even rooms!

Planting a container-grown tree or shrub

Dig a hole as deep as the plant’s container and slightly wider so all the roots are accommodated.


Add lots of compost to the planting hole to give the tree a good start, especially if your soil is thin and poor.


Ease the tree from its pot, tease out the roots and remove any crocks that are caught up in them.


Cut away any dead, damaged or spindly wood to make room for healthy new growth.


Water and mulch to deter slugs and retain water. I used a mulch mat from Chimney Sheep.

Place the tree in the hole and backfill with soil and compost, firming it to remove air pockets. 6 AMATEUR GARDENING 29 FEBRUARY 2020



Dark and handsome: A mulched and weeded bed gives an attractive background and shows off your plants, including those with fine foliage, to their best advantage.

Weeds are easier to lift from a layer of mulch

All photographs TI Media

Green manure sown in the autumn will be ready to cut down and dig in now. Let it rot down for several weeks before doing any new sowing and planting.

Hoeing in small weeds and letting them rot down tidies and feeds the soil

Keep your hoe sharp!

Late-winter soil care

How to prepare soil for growing Healthy soil gives better plants


Use a cloche to help warm the soil, then sow or plant and replace the cloche to protect the young plants underneath.

Feed beds to get the best from your plants, says Ruth


LTHOUGH large expanses of our garden soil have been lying fallow for the past few months, that doesn’t mean it has been neglected. At the start of autumn we removed the past-it annuals, weeded and added a thick layer of compost to condition and supplement the soil through the winter. It was hard graft, but it has paid off now. Hardly any new weeds have come through among the spring bulbs and shooting perennials despite the mild winter, and those that have appeared are easy to remove as their roots are poorly anchored in the loose compost. All we need do is run a hoe through the small weeds and leave them to rot down on the surface. Larger perennials weeds such as teasels, dandelions and creeping buttercups should be

completely removed with a fork or trowel, as they will regenerate from even the tiniest bit of plant material left behind. If you didn’t mulch your borders in autumn, do so now after weeding. Use well-rotted compost and lay it a couple of inches (5cm) thick. There is still enough time for it to break down, or be drawn down by worms, and enrich the soil. Never mulch on frosty days as it will hold the cold against the soil. If you don’t have access to lots of compost, fork in well-rotted farmyard manure or a general-purpose fertiliser such as chicken manure pellets. Warm the soil using tunnel cloches made of plastic or fleece. Alternatively, anchor old compost bags or cardboard to the soil. These will warm it as well as blocking weeds, though they will come through when the cover is removed.

Why testing soil is important Testing soil is important if you are going to get the best from your plants. This is especially so in a new garden or one with a newly built house as these have notoriously poor soil. There are two main types of test – one for pH and one for nutrients present or absent in your soil. They are stocked in most garden centres and online, and are relatively cheap and easy to use. Don’t just test one area of your plot, as nutrients and pH values can vary over even a small area.

Nutrient and pH tests are easy to use


Dig in green manure. Let it rot down completely before sowing or planting, otherwise it can impede growth.


Recycled black plastic bags or old compost sacks make excellent soil warmers. Anchor them with stones.


A mulch of manure on top of an early spring feed keeps it in the soil and holds in moisture. 29 FEBRUARY 2020 AMATEUR GARDENING


Rest tubers on dampened compost

Tuberous begonias are perfect for containers, baskets and borders

Shoots soon appear in light and warmth

Restarting your begonias Tuberous varieties should be potted up soon, says Ruth


UBEROUS perennial begonias are the stars of summer baskets, containers and borders. Although they should be overwintered somewhere frost-free, they are not particularly fussy and in a sheltered, sunny spot will flower from summer right through to the first frosts.

What’s on

Things to do near you

All photography TI Media

Pesticides will be discussed at Ewell Horticultural Society (10 March)

Until 1 Mar The Giant Houseplant Take Over: RHS Wisley, Wisley Lane, Woking, Surrey GU23 6QB. 0203 176 5830,  rhs.org.uk/gardens/wisley 29 Houseplant Clinic: RHS Wisley 29 Feb-4 Apr Designing for a Large Garden (two day): RHS Wisley 1 Mar Family Terrarium Workshop, RHS Wisley 8 AMATEUR GARDENING 29 FEBRUARY 2020

These are the big, blowsy begonias that produce a wealth of blooms in shades from deep pink to the palest apricot and yellow. Some varieties are trailing, which makes them perfect for hanging baskets, window boxes and tall containers, while others are more upright, thus providing mounds of

2 Garden Talk and Lunch with Chelsea Medal Award-Winner Michelle Brown: Athelhampton House, Athelhampton Road, Puddletown, Dorchester, Dorset DT2 7LG. 01305 848363,  athelhampton.com 4 An Evening with Chelsea AwardWinning Garden Designer Adam Frost: The Blake Theatre, Almshouse Street, Monmouth, Monmouthshire NP25 3XP. 01600 719401,  theblaketheatre.org 4 What Now in Spring: RHS Garden Rosemoor, Great Torrington, Rosemoor, Torrington, Devon EX38 8PH. 0203 176 5830,  rhs.org.uk/gardens/ rosemoor 6 Starting from Scratch – A Beginner’s Guide to Growing Veg: RHS Harlow Carr, Crag Lane, Harrogate, North Yorks HG3 1QB. 0203 176 5830,  rhs.org.uk/ gardens/harlow-carr 7 Grow to Eat Workshop: Bowery Visual Arts, Ottley Road, Leeds LS6 2AL. 0113 224 2284,  thebowery.org

colour for borders and containers. In the autumn, they are left to die back before the tubers are lifted, dried and stored in trays of barely damp sand in a frost-free (and pest-free) greenhouse, porch or shed. We had a couple of large pots of beautiful pink and apricot begonias last summer. They were trailing varieties and flowered prolifically for months, before dying back in autumn. Sadly, when I went to lift them in autumn, the tubers had vanished – and the compost was infested with vine weevil grubs. These were added to the bird table and I made a note to be more diligent with my vine weevil nematode treatments this year. If you did manage to lift and store your tubers successfully, or are thinking of buying more for this summer, it is time to think about restarting them into growth. During March and early April, simply fill pots with dampened multi-purpose compost and nestle the tubers into the top, their hollow sides facing upwards. Place them somewhere light and warm – a windowsill is ideal – and keep the compost damp. Leaf shoots will soon start to appear and the tubers can then be planted up into individual 4-5in (10-12½cm) pots of John Innes No2 or multi-purpose compost. The plants can be moved on again into larger containers or hanging baskets after they have been hardened off and the threat of frost has passed.

7 Starting from Scratch – A Beginner’s Guide to Growing Veg: RHS Harlow Carr 7-15 Science Week: RHS Wisley 8 Botanical Watercolours Workshop with Laura Silburn: Truro Arts Company, 26 River Street, Truro, Cornwall TR1 2SJ. 01872 240567,  truroartscompany.co.uk 10 Pesticides – Are They Safe? Ewell Horticultural Association, Bourne Hall, Spring Street, Ewell, Surrey KT17 1UF. 020 8393 9571  ewellhortassn.co.uk 10 Introduction To Whip and Tongue Grafting, RHS Harlow Carr 11 RHS Partnership Talk – Early Spring Flowering Perennial Plants with Rosy Hardy: Hardy’s Cottage Garden Plants, Priory Lane, Freefolk, Whitchurch, Hampshire RG28 7FA. 01256 896533,  hardysplants.co.uk Send details and images of events to ruth.hayes@ti-media.com Q Details are subject to change without our knowledge, so check that the event is still going ahead before leaving home.

30 Garden Ready Penstemon plants from

ONLY £14.95…

The Victorian favourite that’ll brighten your borders for years!


Penstemons have long been an indispensable star of the cottage garden. Their elegant, tapering spires of bellshaped blooms, if deadheaded regularly, will provide long lasting colour from July until the first frosts. Drought tolerant and as tough as old boots, they’ll thrive in hot and dry summers and with a little care and attention, can survive the coldest winters. Penstemon Arabesque F1 Mix represents the very best in new breeding. Well branched and uniform in habit it’s particularly suited to mass planting in borders and containers, flowering in a glorious array of traditional colours all summer and into late autumn. The nectar rich flowers are a magnet for bees and beneficial insects, providing a valuable food source up to the first frosts. They make excellent cut-flowers too. B S  upplied as Garden Ready Plants individually grown in modular trays of 30 plants, measuring approx. 10-12cm/4-5in B V  ery long flowering from July until the first frosts, deadhead regularly to encourage more and more flowers B D  rought and weather resistant. Easy to grow, plant in full sun or partial shade. Height to 60cm/24in B H  alf-hardy Perennial. They’ll flower year after year given some protection against the coldest winters B D  elivered from mid-June ready for immediate planting out

Special Offer Save £8! Buy two or more trays for Only £14.95 each

That’s less than 50p per plant!

Garden Ready Penstemon Plants from less than 50p each!

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Listen to Peter’s free podcast every Thursday. Search for ‘This Week In The Garden with Peter Seabrook’ on iTunes

with Peter Seabrook, AG’s classic gardening expert Peter displays ‘greenhouse’ dahlias – from a cutting to flowering in 70 days

Peter’s tips

Moth orchids now come in a very wide colour range, and some are also scented. They should be available in the UK this year.


New Cyclamen Metalis, from French specialist Morel, with attractive silver leaves

New plants on the way!


New free-blooming, smallflowered garden Gerbera ‘Cheeky’ will also be available this year for AG readers.

There’s a lot to interest AG readers at a trade fair, says Peter

All photography Peter Seabrook / TI Media, unless otherwise credited


HAT a difference a day makes! One fine Saturday this month, with a fresh breeze, a sizeable patch of my vegetable patch was dug, ready for sowing and planting next month. I needed that spell of fresh air and healthy exercise, having spent two long days at International Plant Fair in Essen, Germany, working through eight halls of the latest plants, horticultural equipment and, of course, thousands of visitors from all around the world. I saw a seed-raised ‘Adessa’ potato from Germany, which goes on sale as a 3½in (9cm) pot plant here in the UK in May. Several companies have been working on this – just think of all the transport costs and fossil fuel that would be saved if in future we did not have to

“Potatoes from seed not tubers will help avoid disease” 10 AMATEUR GARDENING 29 FEBRUARY 2020

transport tubers. Growing from seed will also remove the chance of introducing soil-borne pests and diseases. A French company is introducing three new tomatoes: large beefsteak ‘Buffalo Sun’, golden coloured with red veins to make salads more attractive; apple-shaped, pink-tinted, standard-size ‘Honey Moon’ tomato (Kings Seeds), with an explosion of flavour when you bite into it; and red cherry ‘Crokini’, which I have grown and which has an excellent flavour. All three are F1 hybrids, and have blight resistance. French cyclamen specialist Morel is celebrating its centenary with a new series of small-flowered cyclamen called Metalis, with attractive silver leaves. They told me that hardening off the large-flowered kinds to outdoor conditions and protecting overhead, they will thrive down to -5˚C (23˚F). A leading UK orchid grower (Waitrose Garden) has introduced fragrant moth orchids to its selection, with such names as ‘Scention’, ‘Odorian’ and ‘Sunny Smell’. They are more difficult to grow and are seldom named at point of sale, so we will have to sniff them out…


The new interspecific hybrid Pelargonium Two in One Series 'White Splash’ will also be on sale this spring.


Another new pelargonium, the very free-flowering Angeleyes Pink, could be a hit for UK amateurs.


rare | unusual | exciting


Gogh's Gold




Apricot Twist

All the beauty of the annual wallflower without replanting Constant Cheer

Thousands of blooms held in clusters from late winter to late summer, these easy to grow perennials are loved by bees and butterflies. Incredibly long flowering, good for cutting and rabbit resistant. Prefer well-drained soil in sun or part shade. Height 30-50cm (12-20"), spread 40-50cm (16-20"). Fully hardy perennials. Your order is covered by our No Quibble Guarantee and will be confirmed together with a copy of our latest catalogue. Your young plants will be delivered from April onwards.

Early Sunrise

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Step by step

Pricking out Give seedlings more growing room

Sow indoors as an insurance policy

Mr Fothergill’s


Use twigs to protect seeds from pests

Water seedlings well before moving them, using a fine spray of water. Let them drain.

A trumpet call of glory Vibrant lavatera are a must for every garden, says Ruth


AM really excited about this week’s free seeds from Mr Fothergill’s because lavatera is one of my favourite summer plants. ‘Parade Mixed’ is a hardy annual member of the tree mallow family and grows to be an excellent border-filler around 2ft (60cm) tall. It produces a profusion of silky, trumpet-shaped flowers in shades of pink that do best in full sun and will attract pollinators. The seeds can be sown outside now in sunny soil that has been cleared of weeds and debris, and raked to a fine tilth the consistency of crumble topping.

Protect your seedbed from birds and rodents and from cats that see it as a convenient toilet. There are several chemical deterrents to spray on the soil, or you can lay a few twigs on the soil. It’s always worth sowing a few extra seeds indoors as an insurance policy, using fresh seed compost and tap water. As well as sowing lavatera, I’m potting on the aquilegia sown at the end of January. The seedlings are quite thin and weak – a result of not getting enough warmth or winter light – so I am pricking them out in batches. Hopefully, they will grow on strongly.


Fill 3in (7cm) pots with fresh multipurpose or John Innes No2 compost, water and drain.


Carefully scoop up a cluster of the little seedlings using an old spoon, taking care to dig deep enough to keep the roots intact.



All photographs TI Media unless otherwise credited

Clear the sowing area of stones, Scatter seeds as thinly as possible weeds, roots and debris, and rake it so seedlings have plenty of room. this way and that until the soil is crumbly. You can thin them later if necessary.


Carefully cover the seeds with a thin layer of soil, water with a can fitted with a fine rose, and add a label. 12 AMATEUR GARDENING 29 FEBRUARY 2020


Deter birds, cats and other pests with either a chemical spray or a crosshatch of twigs.


Settle the seeds onto the compost and gently firm them in. Place somewhere warm and light for strong growth.

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with Bob Flowerdew, AG’s organic gardening expert

Bob’s top tips for the week

Top inset: Alamy

Re-using tubs is also OK if you rotate year on year – just remember after growing carrots to switch to ornamentals, which are less prone to trouble

Make sure all edged tools such as shears, secateurs, spades and, most importantly, hoes are sharp, oiled and ready.

1 Ornamentals such as the daisy bush (Olearia x haastii) can do well in containers filled with re-used potting compost

As long as you take care, you can get plenty of mileage from potting compost

Mind over matter

All photography TI Media, unless otherwise credited


NE question that keeps coming pests or diseases such as vine weevils up at talks and recordings is or root rots. If you are growing mostly whether or not we can re-use ornamentals, then, assuming your plants potting compost. With gardens have been healthy, their potting compost getting smaller, more gardeners are can be refreshed and re-used almost growing more in containers – and the indefinitely. This is especially true if you rotate – much like you would a bed problem is not just the cost of new in the garden – and endeavour compost but also what to do to use the same tub for with the old if you have no different sorts of plants beds to spread it on. So can you re-use compost? each successive year. The experts and old You have to be more books all seem to agree careful with crops, as that you should not – these potentially suffer the counsel is always more pests and diseases. to replace old with new. I have used the same tubs However, I have been for many years, starting with Just remember to add fish, blood and such as sweet or chilli peppers, experimenting for decades, bone meal then French beans or sugar snap and I have determined that you peas, carrots, melons, aubergines, sweet can get away with it if you take potatoes, spring onions and salads, then some precautions. tomatoes and potatoes. Because of the The most obvious is not to do so problems associated with tomatoes and when you have noticed any soil-borne potatoes, after growing these, I move the tubs to ornamentals, as these are inherently less prone to trouble. Compost needs annual fertility additions with fish, blood and bone meal, or similar. It also benefits from adding lime and/or wood ash for each of the vegetable crops. Still, the answer is that yes: with care, you can use your potting compost again!

“With precautions, you can get away with this”


Split clumps of chive into many, and use these to line a path or bed; they’ll multiply quickly into a grand display.


Can you re-use potting compost? Bob considers the wisdom of trying to get more from this precious resource


Lay old carpet on bare soil or turf – then, after a week, take it away to reveal food for the birds.


Now that the coldest part of winter is over, it’s a good time to prune your roses, buddlejas, bamboos and most hollowstemmed shrubs. 29 FEBRUARY 2020 AMATEUR GARDENING






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Gardening Week with Val Bourne, AG’s organic wildlife expert Parsnips take 30 days to germinate – but only if the temperature remains at about 50°F/10°C

You may have to make two or three sowings if you want a decent crop of parsnips later this year

The great parsnip challenge Parsnips aren’t that easy to grow, says Val, as she explains some of the difficulties involved with this winter root crop


LIKE to grow my own food, because there are no food miles, but parsnips aren’t easy! For one thing, they take a full 30 days to germinate – and only then if the weather provides ambient temperatures of about 50°F/10°C. Cold Aston doesn’t deliver consistent spring-time temperatures like that very often, and recent springs have produced ultra-warm, cloudless days followed by chilly nights. If there’s one thing seeds hate, it’s temperature extremes. A warmer Arctic Circle, caused by global warming, is likely to push cold winds our way, so springs may get even more unpredictable in years to come. In recent years I’ve had to sow parsnips at least two or three times in order to get a row sufficiently good enough to go through a winter of Sunday roasts. I’m not alone, though. Lots of gardeners struggle because the small print on the back of seed packets tells gardeners to sow seeds in February. This may be all right in the south of the country, but in most areas it’s not warm enough in February to promote germination.

“Lots of gardeners struggle when sowing parsnips”

Parsnip seeds are papery and easily blow away in the wind, so you need a still day to sow them. I tend to make a drill roughly 3-4in (7-10cm) wide and water it well before sprinkling the seeds across thinly. I have to cover them with wire here because this garden is full of pigeons, pheasants and partridges that are only too eager to scrabble up the seeds. After that, it’s a waiting game of will they or won’t they. It’s important to write down the sowing date. Growing parsnips is easier than it used to be, though, because we have F1 varieties now. These are hybrids and they have more vigour at every stage, including germination. The first hybrid parsnip was ‘Gladiator’, which was raised in 1982 by Tozer Seeds – a Surrey-based seed company that develops new varieties for commercial British growers and gardeners. Plant breeding becomes far easier if you have a mechanism for stopping pollen production, because it reduces the risk of cross-contamination. With this in mind, Peter Dawson, whose family owns Tozer Seeds, was determined to find a sterile parsnip in local wild populations. I interviewed Peter many years ago and he explained that, “Seeds produced from male steriles are guaranteed to be F1, or first generation, hybrids. It’s possible to see male sterile plants with the naked eye, if you know what you’re looking for. Some have no anthers at all and others have small

petals that have replaced the anthers.” For many years Peter sat on the RHS Vegetable Committee responsible for judging trials at RHS Garden Wisley in Surrey. Wild parsnips grew in profusion along the A3, a road Peter drove along on his journey between Cobham and Wisley. He finally managed to track down a male sterile parsnip along this stretch of road in the early 1970s and the discovery of that one plant led to the first-ever hybrid parsnip, ‘Gladiator’. ‘Gladiator’ remains the best parsnip variety for home gardeners wanting a winter crop because it can be lifted until late March. Parsnips will only develop a nutty flavour in cool temperatures, and the chef and restaurateur Rick Stein, while recording a cookery programme in the depths of southern France, expressed surprise that the French didn’t eat them. Yet they’d be slimy and horrible to eat without cold days to turn the starches into sugar. I can’t wait for the parsnip challenge to commence!

A packet of Kings’ parsnip ‘Tender and True’ contains 800 seeds

Kings Seeds

‘Gladiator’ was the first F1 hybrid parsnip, which was launched in 1982


Val Bourne

Inset: Mr Fothergill’s

Inset: TI Media

The frost turns the parsnips’ starches into sugars


Always look for good value because the number of seeds in a packet varies widely and prices also differ. Kings Seeds offers more seeds for less money on this one! 29 FEBRUARY 2020 AMATEUR GARDENING



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with Lucy Chamberlain, AG’s fruit and veg expert Purple sprouting broccoli varieties such as ‘Purple Sprouting Early’ and ‘Bordeaux’ are an asset in your vegetable garden

Seedlings such as ‘Claret’ should be thinned out to one per pot when they are large enough to handle

Main image and bottom-right side inset: Alamy

Interplanting with salads works wonders while your broccoli is still bulking up

Sow sprouting broccoli under glass, ideally two per cell in modules

Focus on... Sprouting broccoli

As well as its high vitamin content, anti-cancer agents and pretty colouring, this fast-growing crop is delightfully easy to grow, as Lucy Chamberlain explains


T’S something that gets us in an excitable frenzy when it’s in season, and yet few of us remember to sow this delicious vegetable in spring. A long-term commitment it may be, but why not sow some purple (or white) sprouting now? It’s sure to satisfy your inner cook in 12 months time…

Conventional types are sown now, yet they won’t produce their harvest of delicious, tender spears until March or April – no wonder many of us forget to grow them! But advances in breeding mean that summer-maturing varieties are now available (see page 20), and you can cleverly interplant with short

All photography TI Media, unless otherwise credited

Breeding improvements There are two key things you need to remember when you are growing sprouting broccoli: it takes a long time to mature, and the plants can be huge.

“Summer-maturing varieties are now available”

Remember to water well through summer and early autumn

drills of quick-to-mature crops such as radishes and salad leaves while your sprouting is bulking up. Sowing and planting I sow into modules under glass, two per cell, thinning out to leave the strongest seedling later. Seedlings are either potted up to grow on or, if the weather is mild, transplanted out into their final spacings (open, sunny spots preferred). Improve soil with garden compost, or add highnitrogen chicken pellets, before planting; space plants at least 3ft (1m) apart. Netting and root fly collars easily protect against pests, and regular hoeing and watering in dry spells allows plants to grow quickly. Remove any lower yellow leaves as they age, and ensure adequate irrigation and feeding throughout summer and early autumn (a fortnightly liquid feed of Growmore is perfect) to ensure plants bulk up sufficiently. 29 FEBRUARY 2020 AMATEUR GARDENING


with Lucy Chamberlain, AG’s fruit and veg expert

Lucy’s top tips Dodge the perils of sprouting broccoli! Caterpillars: Grow plants in a cage of butterfly netting. If any leaves touch the netting, remove them. Pigeons: Covering plants with netting or mesh fleece will help protect against pigeons. Be sure to check regularly for tears or holes.

5 quick jobs


‘Santee’: An F1 hybrid that has been given an RHS AGM for its speed of cropping. Sow this sprouting broccoli now, and you’ll be picking spears in June! An improvement on other summer croppers.


‘Burbank’: This F1 hybrid variety boasts white rather than purple spears. It’s British-bred and has an RHS AGM. Sown now, it will yield tender pale spears in flushes from February throughout early spring.

Peas love the moderately warm, moist conditions that spring brings, as it allows them to develop a root system. Gardeners on light soils can sow directly into the earth now, covering rows with rigid cloches if nights dip below 6°C (42°F). Wet, heavy cold soils can cause rots; sow into modules and transplant out later to bypass this. Try ‘Early Onward’, ‘Kelvedon Wonder’ and ‘Feltham First’.

Place forcing pots (or an upturned dustbin) over established clumps of rhubarb to encourage tender, hot pink stems. Sowing old seeds? Chit some on a damp saucer in a warm spot to check viability, before sowing the whole batch. Any late-keeping apples and pears such as ‘D’Arcy Spice’ and ‘Olivier de Serres’ that are still in storage should be used up before quality declines. t If you have not already done so, tes le, ilab ava your soil pH. Kits are readily and you can then adjust to deliver the appropriate nutrition. or If your citrus have produced leggy e tim od go a wayward shoots, now is ng to prune them back into shape usi sharp secateurs.


DT Brown

DT Brown


‘Cardinal’: The classic early springmaturing form of purple sprouting broccoli. This RHS AGM winner will reliably produce delicious, good-sized spears of sprouting during March and April.


Protect with mesh fleece or pigeons will shred crops (inset)

Sprouting picks for all seasons and tastes!

Mr Fothergill’s

Lucy’s choice

Inset: Alamy

Freezing damage: If spears turn to mush in a frost, check your variety. Some (such as summer types) are less hardy. Club root: Lime your bed to raise it to pH8. Transplant out large plants in 5in (13cm) pots, rather than small plug plants. Wind-rock: These lofty plants can dislodge in gales. Stake individual plants with stout canes or beanpoles. Root fly: Rotate crops each year, and place brassica collars around transplants. A biocontrol nematode is available.





Sow some early peas now!


Next week: Planning what to grow where, how to be water-wise this summer, feeding fruit in pots, getting on top of weeds, why not try oxalis?

Don’t leave overwintered veg to bolt

Step by step

seed and then die. These spikes make them pretty much inedible, so jump in there quick and make lashings of soup, pies, casseroles, bubble and squeak – whatever takes your tastebuds’ fancy. Consider it a delicious tribute to these winter stalwarts.

Bolting spikes make overwintered caulis inedible

“The spike makes them pretty much inedible”

These curly green and Cavolo nero kales will soon run to seed as spring arrives

Why not try..?

Sow early carrots in containers Who can resist the delights of pulling sweet homegrown, finger-sized carrots? Sow a box now to enjoy tasty roots through May and June:

Inset: Alamy

HAVE you been an all-season gardener by growing winter leeks, Swiss chard, perpetual spinach, carrots, parsnips, cauliflowers, kale, cabbages and Brussels sprouts? First of all, congrats for being committed to self-sufficiency! And second, it’s time for you to hone your homegrown appetite. These crops, which are so useful for getting us through the cold season, will sadly soon begin to spoil. As temperatures gently warm and day length extends, this more springlike weather triggers overwintered crops to throw up flower spikes in their biennial quest to flower, set

Trailing abutilon

Two-toned edible treats of Abutilon megapotamicum ‘Kentish Belle’


Choose a quick-tomature variety (I’m sowing ‘Amsterdam Forcing 3’, but look also for ‘Adelaide’, ‘Nairobi’, ‘Romance’ or ‘Yukon’). Source a 10in (25cm)deep pot, or line a wine box with polythene.


Start to fill the container using multi-purpose compost (rub out any lumps). Fill this to within 3in (8cm) of the brim, then top up the container using seed compost. Water well and allow to drain.


Thinly sow your carrots and then top with a thin layer of seed compost. Water lightly and place somewhere warm (at least 14°C/57°F) and well lit, watering if dry. Roots should be harvestable by mid-May.

Hand-pollinate peaches now Bees will sometimes need a helping hand!

Dibble your paintbrush in the middle of every open flower

in the centre of every open flower. Work over the tree systematically, three or four times, while it’s in bloom. Come summer, you’ll thank me!

Inset: Alamy

CAST your mind to summer when, with the sun on your back, you’ll stroll into the garden to pick a peach heavy with juice and scent. Have you locked that thought in? Good! Now dash out into the chilly air and pollinate those flowers! Peaches, nectarines and apricots bloom very early in the year, which makes them excellent nectar sources for emerging bees. But if the weather is windy or wet, pollinators may not feel inclined to forage, and no pollination means no harvest. Add to this that many of us cloak our trees in polythene to protect them from peach leaf curl, or move potted trees under cover for the same reason. Bees can’t access these blooms. Hand-pollinating the flowers is quite therapeutic: simply dibble a paintbrush

EDIBLE flowers are very ‘on trend’ so why not impress your foodie friends with some that are deliciously sweet yet aren’t regularly mentioned? Abutilon megapotamicum, while native to South America, will survive outside in sheltered gardens on well-drained soil. If you can’t offer it that, it’s also happy pot-grown in a conservatory or porch. Its lax habit makes it ideal for wall-training and, if it gets too dominant, it responds well to treatment with the secateurs. The flowers, generally hanging downwards, are often two-toned. Oranges, yellows and reds are the usual colour scheme – you’ll frequently find hybrid ‘Kentish Belle’ offered. Given a warm, sheltered spot, you can then enjoy its edible flowers all year round. 29 FEBRUARY 2020 AMATEUR GARDENING


Growing your own potatoes is satisfying and easy. Start planting around the middle of next month for harvesting as early as May

Potatoes for every


Don’t cross spuds off your ‘grow your own’ list just because you are concerned about space. Kris Collins looks at the best options for both plots and pots…


HEY may originate from South America, but we Brits have claimed potatoes for our own, and these days they are one of our favourite crops to grow – as well as to eat. It helps that they are pretty easy. Choose high-yielding modern varieties with strong pest and blight resistance and you’ll have very few problems. Best results are had on soils that have been dug and improved with manure or compost in autumn; but potatoes grow well in a range of soils types and conditions. Depending on the space available – and how self-sufficient in spuds you want to be – you can either grow tubers in the ground or in bags; or, like me, you can opt for a mix of both. Whatever you decide, you’ll first need to select from the different cropping 22 AMATEUR GARDENING 29 FEBRUARY 2020

groups: first early, second early and maincrop (see our guide, overleaf). By growing varieties from all three you’ll ensure an extended harvest and have potatoes to suit all culinary uses. All potatoes have flowers, but those of Maris Peer are particularly attractive – and they’re scented!

When growing in the ground, the traditional advice is to mark a row, dig a long planting drill, apply feed, set tubers in the soil and back-fill. This is still the best method for heavy soils and large areas. However, on well-dug, workable soils I find it easier (and quicker) to get on my hands and knees with a trowel and plant my tubers individually, like spring flower bulbs. Simply drop tubers into 6in (15cm) deep holes and close the soil over them. Either way, rows should be covered with a 4in (10cm) ridge of soil. I mix in 50g of organic potato fertiliser over each tuber while doing this. If rain doesn’t bed things in within a couple of days, you’ll need to water the rows. Then, as soon as 4in (10cm) of foliage growth is showing, the rows should be earthed up – drawing soil up around them will

All photos Alamy, unless otherwise credited




6 top ’tatoes for containers

‘Abbot’ One of the earliest to crop at just 10 weeks, ‘Abbott’ is a rival to the popular ‘Rocket’, bringing full flavour to your first crop of the season. First early.

‘Jazzy’ AGM Plant for particularly heavy crops of small, full-flavoured salad potatoes. It’s possible to grow up to 80 spuds from a single tuber. Second early.

‘Maris Peer’ More than 50 years old but still holding its own in the flavour stakes. Has the bonus of pretty, slightly scented purple flowers. Second early.

‘Pink Fir Apple’ AGM An attractive variety with slender, knobbly tubers, their skins tinted pink. Cook whole – each tuber will make a single tasty fat chip. Early maincrop.

‘Sharpe’s Express’ AGM The best potatoes I’ve grown in 40-litre growing bags. A high dry matter content makes them good for chips and for baked spuds. First early.

‘Swift’ As the name suggests, this a superspeedy cropper – tubers can be lifted within seven weeks of sowing! Compact, with short, bushy foliage. First early.

encourage longer, tuber-producing stems. It’s a good idea to earth up sooner if frosts are forecast, in order to protect the tender foliage growth.

Earthing up should be done once or twice more, at two-three-week intervals. If that sounds too much like hard work, there is a more low-maintenance option – although it does involve a little more work at planting time. Growing potatoes under black polythene blocks out sunlight so weeds can’t grow but tubers can still thrive. The extra warmth boosts early growth and crops can grow on for longer at the end of the season, protected from the first autumn frosts. Slugs can be a problem beneath the polythene, but the method does

Prep pays off If you did your soil prep in autumn/winter you will reap the benefits now as wellcultivated soils are looser and easier to draw up around the plants. Hoeing between rows once a week throughout the season will also help make the task less onerous – it will loosen the soil, as well as keeping it weed-free.

Where space is tight, growing in bags is the answer and gives decent yields. A sunny patio is ideal 29 FEBRUARY 2020 AMATEUR GARDENING


Small bags, big returns Alternatively, you could follow the example of exhibition growers, who produce some of their ‘prettiest’ unblemished potatoes by setting one tuber in a 14-litre black polythene bag filled with compost. Experimenting with even smaller bags, a trial carried out by Thompson & Morgan found a vast improvement in yield with one potato plunged into an 8-litre bag, compared to five tubers in a 40-litre bag – despite the same compost-to-tuber ratio. Potato ‘Jazzy’ showed a whopping 186 per cent increase in yield – a few of the Jazzy bags had more than 80 tubers on harvest! I have also seen 17.5lb of Maris Peer harvested from just three 8-litre bags. The black polythene absorbs the sun’s warmth, keeping the small amount of compost consistently warmer than the 40 litres contained in the larger bags. This leads to earlier, faster growth and bigger yields, so you can grow a worthwhile crop even without a garden – you really only need a back step or a deep window ledge. What’s more, the potatoes are set 5-6in (12½-15cm) deep in a filled bag, so no need for earthing up – simple, low effort and space saving! Whatever way you do it, growing potatoes really is worth doing. It does, however, leave us with one pressing question: roasties or mash? 24 AMATEUR GARDENING 29 FEBRUARY 2020

4 to grow in the ground


produce good yields for minimum effort. When growth pushes against the polythene, slit the cover with a sharp knife to enable shoots to grow up into the light. Simply pull back the polythene at harvest time to reveal your crop. You’ll rarely need to water; the cover should retain enough moisture to support the plants. However, in long, dry spells watch out for wilting foliage. If you don’t have space for growing in the ground, containers are the obvious solution – but that’s not the only reason to cultivate your spuds this way. Doing so also means you can avoid the frosts and grow extra-early or late container crops under cover. Plus, it’s a good way of resting your soil for a season or two – which is vital if potato-related pests and diseases have built up. One option is 40-litre woven potato growing bags. Five tubers are placed over a few inches of compost at the bottom of the bag, and covered with 6in (15cm) of compost. Foliage is earthed up with compost several times as it grows, until the bag is full. This method is popular, but many are disappointed by the relatively small crops it produces.

‘Charlotte’ A very popular salad variety for quick boiling and eating hot or cold. ‘Charlotte’ potatoes fetch a premium price in the supermarket, so it makes sense to grow your own for less. Second early.

‘Carolus’ Smooth-skinned yellow tubers. A winner thanks to the combination of fine flavour and a floury texture that makes them great for roasting, baking and chipping. The best I’ve grown. Early maincrop.

‘Ratte’ AGM Popular in France, where they are prized for their nutty flavour, waxy skins and flesh that keeps its firmness when cooked. A good choice for a potato salad, or boiled or mashed. Maincrop.

‘Sarpo Mira’ The variety to choose if your late maincrops have been hit by blight in recent years. Cut the foliage down in early September, and leave for three weeks before harvesting. Maincrop.

Growing guidelines for containers Choose a sheltered, sunny location Add 6in (15cm) compost to the base of a bag; mix in 2oz/50g potato fertiliser. Set five tubers per bag and cover with more compost. Apply an additional 1oz/25g fertiliser every week or so.

Do not allow the compost to dry much more than an inch (2½cm) below the surface before watering. Earth up the foliage several times as it grows, until the bag is full of compost. You’ll be harvesting your spuds 10-13 weeks from planting.

4 spud alternatives

Sweet potatoes No earthing up required with these nutrition-rich substitutes. Grow in large containers or under black weed control fabric in the soil – the extra warmth will boost yields.

Andean Yacon Root Has a firm water chestnut texture and high liquid content. Use fresh, store or juice to extract a sweet syrup for use as an alternative to sugar.

New Zealand Yam These red-skinned tubers have a lemony flavour that turns nuttier when cooked. The cream-coloured flesh can be used raw in salads, or boiled, baked or fried.

Celeriac A low-carb potato substitute with a celery favour. Grown from seed – sow this month in a propagator – for harvesting through autumn/winter. Good for roasting and mash.

Know your potatoes First & second earlies: These are ‘new’ potatoes and are ideal for growing in bags or containers. In the ground, set rows 2ft (60cm) apart. They can be harvested 10-16 weeks after planting. Maincrop: The potatoes produced are ideal for roasting and baking. Maincrops are best grown in the ground, but they can also be grown in containers. Set rows 3ft (90cm) apart and harvest 20 weeks from planting.

A mix of maincrop and early varieties will extend your harvest

Planting time: All types of potatoes can be planted from midMarch through to late May, but the earlier the better to minimise the risk of late blight.

Where to buy seed potatoes DT Brown dtbrownseeds.co.uk 0333 003 0869 Suttons suttons.co.uk 0344 326 2200 Thompson & Morgan Thompson-morgan.com 0333 400 0033 29 FEBRUARY 2020 AMATEUR GARDENING


How to grow... Profuse, fast-growing and bursting with colour, this mainstay of baskets and borders is a surprisingly versatile choice, says Anne

Petunias This white-flowered petunia has come as part of a colour-themed mixture. All will be potted up and, during mild weather, grown on in our unheated greenhouse. If a cold snap threatens, they’ll be ferried indoors to a cool, bright windowsill


Choose petunias carefully to get the right plant shape for their position. There are spreading, bushy types for borders; gently trailing kinds for pots; and those with long trailing stems for high hanging baskets and troughs.

Petunia ‘Easy Wave Rose Dawn’ is a mound-forming, spreading plant that produces an eruption of coral-pink flowers from late spring to first frosts

The range we have now began with hybrids of P. integrifolia (pictured) and P. axillaris



All photography Swithinbank / TI Media, unless otherwise credited

Keep ’em coming! Tend petunias well and provide them with plenty of food to renew their display after the first impressive performance. Make sure soil is fertile or use a container plant compost with adequate controlledrelease fertiliser added, top up with more or remember to liquid feed at least fortnightly. A high-potash fertiliser brings plenty of blooms, but when plants need to put on fresh growth to form new buds, a few general-purpose feeds do the trick.



ETUNIA is an unusual girl’s name, and in the language of flowers can deliver a mixed message. Present a pot of red or purple petunias to someone with whom you have argued, and they convey anger and resentment. Yet in calmer tones, they say ‘being with you is soothing’, so they are the ideal gift for the comforting friend. These are South American members of the potato family, related to tomatoes, physalis and the tobacco genus Nicotiana. Tribal names for tobacco gave rise to the French ‘petun’, eventually used for petunia. The impressive range of flower colours and shapes now available began with hybrids created between P. integrifolia and fragrant P. axillaris. Many petunias still carry a sweet perfume, intensifying when many are grown together. These are sun-worshipping plants, producing the best floral displays from a warm, bright and sheltered position in the garden. The slightly sticky stems and leaves, spreading over hanging baskets and troughs, bud up and erupt into so many flowers you can hardly set a pin between them. In warmer countries, the petunia is a short-lived perennial but as they are not frost-hardy, we tend to treat them as annuals. Seed is sown (or young plants bought in) during early spring for planting out towards the end of May, and flowering from June to autumn. The range is bewildering, and while I’m not keen on doubles, choosing between the starry spots of ‘Night Sky’, warm shades of the ‘Crazytunia’ bunch, candy stripes and giant blooms in plummy colours is quite a challenge.

Petunias are perfect in baskets with creeping golden Jenny and pelargoniums

How to care for petunias There’s still time to sow the tiny seeds. Scatter thinly and barely cover with compost or vermiculite. Then keep them warm at 65-70ºF Plant out in (18-21ºC) in a ventilated polybag late May to preserve moisture. Remove the polybag and cool the seedlings down after germination. Transplant one per pot or module. Buying young plants will bypass the fiddly seedling stage. Unpack promptly, let them acclimatise to their space for a few days (kept moist), then pot them on to 3-3½in (8-9cm) pots of multi-purpose compost. In late May – in most areas – you then harden off (accustom to outdoor temperatures) gradually and plant out in a sunny, sheltered position in well-draining soil, pots or baskets of container plant compost or 50:50 John Innes No2 and soilless peat-free compost. Keep plants moist, but avoid squirting water over the foliage and flowers.



Four cascading plants to brighten your baskets

Bidens ferulifolia A bright, golden yellow Mexican daisy of informal trailing habit. Produces a succession of blooms over divided, fern-like foliage.



Calibrachoa Apricot Shades These smaller-flowered petunia relatives are perfect for wall planters and baskets. Expect warm shades of peach, apricot and yellow.

Petunia Peppy Blueberry Muffin A compact mound of greygreen foliage is joined by eye-catching white blooms with yellow throats and purple stripes.

Pelargonium ‘Rouletta’ Admired for producing very long trailing stems, these white flowers are edged with carmine so they stand out well against ivy-leaved foliage. 29 FEBRUARY 2020 AMATEUR GARDENING


From dark-leaved delights like Mystic Illusion (inset) to the towering (but tender) species dahlia D. imperialis, few plant groups offer as much choice

Find a new favourite with

Undiscovered dahlias Why just stick to what you know when there are so many dahlias to choose from? Graham Rice unearths some tempting tubers you may not have grown before…


IX and a half thousand different dahlias are listed in the Royal Horticultural Society’s plant database. That’s a lot of dahlias. And while many of us are familiar with the most famous of them all, ‘Bishop of Llandaff’, an awful lot of the remainder are just not on our radar. But here’s the thing: the vast majority of these dahlias are great plants. It’s all really a matter of taste. Some of us only grow varieties with flowers the size of dinner plates; others won’t have them in the garden. A florist friend of mine has banned yellow dahlias from her shop, but I love their vivid brightness. The point is that there are a wealth of different dahlia varieties, with more new ones being released every year, so it’s easy to miss some genuine beauties. Real gems in gorgeous colours, unusual colour combinations or intriguing flower forms are just waiting to be discovered. In recent years, we’ve seen a number of dahlia trends emerging: demand for varieties with bronzed or almost black foliage is increasing; we’re growing more varieties with flowers that attract 28 AMATEUR GARDENING 29 FEBRUARY 2020

pollinators; we’re also seeking out shorter varieties suited to patio pots and small borders. As a result, a number of older, previously neglected varieties have enjoyed a welcome return to favour, while new introductions have been developed. New series Many dahlias are now available in series – collections of similar varieties such as the Happy Single series and the Mystic series. Both of those tick all three ‘trend’ boxes by mixing dark foliage with single, bee-friendly flowers and short stature. A growing selection of invaluable

older varieties are also now available – from specialist suppliers – and even the wild original species dahlias from South America are developing a following. The unusually bushy Dahlia merckii, with its single lilac flowers, is hardy in many parts of the UK, and at over 8ft (2½m) tall, D. imperialis is nothing if not dramatic. Both are well worth investigating. So check out the extensive ranges on offer. You might not manage to grow all 6,500, but you’ll certainly find captivating dahlias you never knew existed – and they’re just as easy to grow as the more familiar options.

Where to buy Crocus crocus.co.uk 01344 578111 Halls of Heddon hallsofheddon.com 01661 852445 de Jager dejager.co.uk 01622 840229 J. Parker’s jparkers.co.uk 0161 848 1100 National Dahlia Collection nationaldahliacollection.co.uk 01736 339276 Rose Cottage Plants rosecottageplants.co.uk 01992 573775 Pheasant Acre pheasantacreplants.co.uk 01656 664086 Sarah Raven sarahraven.com 0345 092 0283

9 dahlias to discover

‘Aurora’s Kiss’ Neatly rounded 3-4in (8-10cm) flowers are packed with deep crimson cupped petals. Rolled into a tube when they first open, they flatten as they mature, developing cerise edges to create an attractive two-tone effect. H: 39in (1m).

‘Eveline’ Pure white flowers measuring 4in/10cm across are tinted with lavender pink in the centre. As the blooms mature and their petals open, the colour fades to gentle hints of lavender pink in the outer petals. Beautiful. H: 39in (1m).

‘Jodie Wilkinson’ AGM Neat, spherical flowers are tightly packed with petals, creating a small globe about 21⁄2in (6cm) across – an effect rather like a honeycomb. The blooms are apricot yellow with purple tints in the centres, fading as they mature. H: 39in (1m).

‘Pooh – Swan Island’ AGM Vermilion petals, each rather variably tipped in primrose yellow, encircle a slightly untidy ring of yellow around a central golden eye. Prolific and striking, the blooms are complemented by bright green foliage. H: 39in (1m).

‘Teesbrooke Audrey’ Blending lavender pink with white and primrose yellow, the sparky flower form and subtle tones combine harmoniously and partner well with ‘Eveline’ in a vase. Pastels may not be fashionable, but this is too lovely to overlook. H: 32in (80cm).

‘Swan Lake’ Resembles a single dahlia, but has extra rows of petals for a longer display. Dark purple-flushed foliage provides the perfect backdrop to the 4in (10cm) creamy flowers, which are more lemony in tone in the centre. H: 5ft (1½m).

Happy Single Series A delightful series of nine dahlias, each with dark bronze-purple foliage that sets off single, sometimes upward-facing flowers in a variety of bright colours and bicolours. Three have AGMs, including Happy Single Flame (above). H: 2ft-28in (60-70cm).


‘Kelsey Annie Joy’ A central golden eye is surrounded by eight peachy orange-yellow petals, each neatly pointed. In between, there’s a feathered crown of deeper pinkish orange petals, fading to orange at the base. Vivid and stylish. H: 32in (80cm).

d Dark-leave

Mark Twyning

All photography Alamy and TI Media, unless otherwise credited

Ball and pompom

‘Tally Ho’ AGM Like an improved version of ‘Bishop of Llandaff’, this variety offers the same rich, dark, dissected foliage and vivid, single 3-4in (8-10cm) flowers, but plants are shorter and their blooms more vermilion than scarlet. H: 20in (50cm).



3 picks for pollinators

‘Honka Fragile’ A star dahlia that manages to be both subtle and dramatic. Each white petal shades to gold, and features slender purple streaks at the centre. The edges of the petals are also finely trimmed in purple. H: 32in (80cm).

‘Verrone’s Obsidian’ With almost black petals, rolled at the tips and shading to hints of fiery red around a golden eye, this is a truly astonishing star dahlia. Plant with ‘Aurora’s Kiss’ for a harmonious colour combination with a contrast in shape. H: 2ft (60cm).


4 undiscovered dwarfs


‘Peachette’ The upward-facing flowers of this very pretty compact variety sit on low, rather stiff foliage. Each small, single 2in/5cm bloom features two or three rows of petals that are apricot towards the tips and a peachy shade of red around the golden eye. H: 16in (40cm).

‘Gallery Pablo’ AGM One of the prettiest of the Gallery Series, all of which make good patio dahlias. ‘Pablo’s fully double flowers are sharp yellow in the centre, maturing to salmon pink at the edges. Held on short, sturdy stems, they tend to look upwards rather than outwards. H: 14in (35cm).

Topmix Series Small, single, goldeneyed flowers in a choice of 11 bright and vivid colours (including red; right) look upwards from above dense, neat, fresh green foliage. Ideal in containers and patio borders, it’s one of the few dahlias with the ability to smother weeds effectively. H: 20in (50cm).

‘Toto’ Neat and bushy plants are covered with a long succession of exceptionally prolific, small (2in/5cm) white anemone-type blooms, the prominent honeyed centres of which fade to golden lemon at the edges. Good for cutting, they look very pretty (and will last well) in posies. H: 16in (40cm).

Let us know

We’d love to hear about your dahlia discoveries. If you have a new favourite that you’d like to share, write to or email us (with photos) at the usual AG address.

‘Twyning’s After Eight’ AGM Not just a winner with bees and butterflies, the elusive combination of white single flowers and almost-black foliage makes this hard to resist. Rolled back at the tips, petals have faint pink tints on the backs and towards the bases. H: 5ft (1½cm).

Essential March dahlia care Protect tubers left in the ground over winter from slugs and frost. Buying by mail order? Order tubers and rooted cuttinging early, before your varieties sell out. Pot up tubers (whether stored over winter or bought in) for growing on in frost-free conditions. Take cuttings when the new shoots are 3-4in (8-10cm) long. Prepare the sites for this year’s dahlias, adding well-rotted compost. Make sure your dahlia stakes are in good condition; order more if they have started to rot. If you plan Dahlia seed should be to sow dahlia sown at the end of March seed, then do so at the end of the month.

Good candidates for cutting

‘Arabian Night’ Another in the smoky crimson colourway that is so popular at the moment – this one featuring sharp scarlet that brings sparks to the outer petals. Ideal for a mixed flower arrangement, team ‘Arabian Night’ with silver foliage and other dahlias in similar red tones. H: 39in (1m).

Strawberry Ice AGM A sumptuous blend of colours – like rich and creamy vanilla ice cream and dripping fruit – the huge (8in/20cm) flowers hold themselves well on strong stems. The hotter the weather, the more heavily pink will feature on the petals. Also known as ‘Kidd’s Climax’. H: 39in (1m). 29 FEBRUARY 2020 AMATEUR GARDENING


The beautiful blossom of early flowerers like Prunus cerasifera ‘Spring Glow’ will herald the start of spring

What to plant for

Blossom in a small garden Think you need loads of ground in order to experience one of the joys of spring? Think again! Hazel Sillver rounds up some charming space-saving solutions for blossom fans


HE best thing about springtime ‘Shogetsu’, which may only reach 61⁄2-13ft (2-4m) high but will widen into a spacehas to be the blossom – those gobbling cloud shape. A better bet is an snowy white and pink blooms upright, columnar tree that takes up less that cling to the bare branches room. Worth trying are the plum Crimson of apple, plum and cherry trees like Pointe (which has striking purple fleece. And happily, you don’t leaves), white-flowered need an orchard to enjoy it. Amelanchier ‘Obelisk’ or The trick to squeezing Rainbow Pillar; or cherries blossom into even the ‘Spire’ (blush) and ‘Snow tiniest garden is to select Goose’ (white). the right (and by that I When choosing your mean compact) plants. tree, make sure it will If you want a flowering work doubly hard to cherry, pick a small one. earn its place. In addition Consider a variety of to providing blossom, the compact Fuji cherry Late bloomer: it should supply nectar for (Prunus incisa) such as ‘KojoCrab Apple ‘Tina’ bees or berries for birds, for no-mai’ (white) or ’Okamé’, a instance, or have fiery autumn colour. single pink cross between a Of course, many blossom trees also Fuji and a Formosan cherry. produce fruit; and specimens that have Avoid spreading cherries such as 32 AMATEUR GARDENING 29 FEBRUARY 2020

been grafted onto dwarfing rootstock (such as Quince C for pears and M27 for apples) can be grown in containers. Grow against a wall Alternatively, fruiting trees can be grown against sunny walls in various guises: from an elegant pear espalier to a plum fan. Apples can be bought ready-trained as ‘stepovers’ – low fences that are used to edge borders or paths, and are as pretty as they are productive. If you need to update your boundary, consider planting a mixed hedge that contains hawthorn, blackthorn, wild plum and crab apple. In spring, it will be a snowy bank of white blossom that provides nectar for wildlife. Grow a range of plants and you will have blossom for months – from February or March (when Cherry

Prunus mume ‘Beni-chidori’ AGM This ornamental Japanese apricot produces beautiful almond-scented carmine-pink flowers on bare branches in February and March. It can be grown in a container in full sun. H&S: 61⁄2ft (2m).

Prunus incisa ‘Mikinori’ Whether grown as a shrub or trained into a small tree, in March this Fuji cherry will be a cloud of pink-white blossom that provides nectar for bees. In autumn, the leaves turn from green to flame shades. Full sun. H&S: 61⁄2ft (2m).

Prunus ‘Kursar’ A pretty ornamental cherry that flowers in March, delighting pollinators with its nectar-rich, deep pink blossom. Bred by the legendary ‘Cherry’ Ingram, it has the added bonus of good autumn leaf colour. Full sun. H&S: 10ft (3m).

Chaenomeles x superba ‘Crimson and Gold’ AGM Striking scarlet flowers with yellow anthers adorn the bare branches of this quince in early spring, while the aromatic fruits that follow can be used in cooking. Happy in sun or partial shade. HxS: 39inx61⁄2ft (1x2m).

Prunus salicina ‘Lizzie’ A Japanese plum that boasts a triple whammy of attractions. In February and March it’s coated in snowy white blossom, before producing a crop of tasty fruit in July. Finally, there’s fiery autumn leaf colour. Grow in sheltered sun. H&S: 10ft (3m).

Prunus persica var. nectarina ‘Nectarella’ A dwarf nectarine that’s ideal for a container in a greenhouse or conservatory, or can be trained against a south-facing wall. The pink flowers arrive in March and there’s tasty fruit in August. H&S: 61⁄2ft (2m).


All photography Alamy, unless otherwise credited

6 beauties for early blossom

‘Collingwood Ingram’ and Plum ‘Spring Glow’ are coated in pink blooms) all the way to the end of May, when crab apples such as ‘Adirondack’ and ‘Tina’ finish the show. Make room for these gems and let the romance of spring blossom charm you year after year.

Where to buy Ashridge Nurseries ashridgetrees.co.uk 01963 359444 Frank P Matthews frankpmatthews.com 01584 812800 Pippin Trees pippintrees.co.uk 01759 392007 29 FEBRUARY 2020 AMATEUR GARDENING


4 mid-late spring blossoms

Malus ‘Laura’ AGM A healthy, dwarf crab apple that grows slowly in an upright shape. In April and May the branches are clothed in white and pink blossom; the maroon fruit that follows can be used to make jelly. Sun. HxS: 8ftx39in (2½x1m).

Crataegus x lavalleei ‘Carrierei’ AGM This hardy blackthorn forms a nicely shaped tree that will deliver nectar-rich blossom in May, followed by berries for the birds and red-bronze autumn leaves. Happy in sun or semi-shade. HxS: 13x10ft (4x3m).

Malus domestica ‘Scotch Dumpling’ Grow for the pretty pink blossom in spring, as well as for the apples, which make great pies. Buy it on M27 (dwarfing) rootstock or ready-trained as a fan, espalier or stepover. Sun or semi-shade. H&S: varies.


Prunus ‘The Bride’ AGM If your garden isn’t roomy enough for the king of cherries (the great white ‘Tai-haku’), this elegant little tree makes an excellent substitute. Blooming in April, the large snowy flowers feature a central blush of red. Sun. H&S: 61⁄2ft (2m).

Best ideas for blossom Walls: Fruiting trees that produce blossom can be grown against walls as cordons, fans or espaliers, all of which are available to buy ready-trained. Containers: Dwarf ornamentals (such as Try bushy ‘Okamé’) and fruiting trees (including Cherry ‘Kojo-no-mai’ apples grafted onto M27 rootstock) – it can even are suitable for well-drained pots. be grown in Shrubs: Choose bushy blossom a container plants to grow as shrubs – both Fuji Cherry ‘Kojo-no-mai’ and flowering Quince ‘Crimson and Gold’ work well. 34 AMATEUR GARDENING 29 FEBRUARY 2020

Planting pointers

Buy bare root crab apples, for planting in the next few weeks

Late-flowering trees such as crab apples can be planted bare root before the end of March. Plant as soon as possible after they arrive, having first soaked the roots in water for an hour. Firm in well to ensure there are no air pockets. Container-grown trees can be planted at any time of year. Secure with a post to guard against wind damage.

An apple tree trained against a wall needs a fraction of the space, and looks lovely when covered in blossom

Replant pot-bound Ficus in ericaceous compost

But I do give a fig!


My Ficus elastica ‘Robusta’ and ‘Tineke’ are both ceiling-height and pot-bound. What do I do? Andrew Marshall, Tiverton, Devon

Money trees can change foliage colour when they need feeding

Why has my money tree changed colour?


My money tree is flowering beautifully but has turned from green succulent to a paler green/yellow with lots of red. Why should this be? I have not fed it through the winter months or watered it much. Richard Simpson, Hastings, E Sussex


What a splendid money tree (Crassula argentea) – you must be thrilled with it. The fact that its foliage was green and is now showing red tints indicates that it is hungry. It may be because it is pot bound and needs repotting into a slightly larger container, or it could simply be that repeat liquid feeds are required to restore its green hue. Initially, tap it gently from its pot,

watering it the night before so that roots don’t stick to the pot sides. If the rootball is solid and congested, carefully tease out spent compost, taking care not to damage roots. Then reset the plant in a loam-based ericaceous mix augmented with a third part, by volume, of coarse grit. There should be a 3in (8cm) gap between the root ball and pot. After six weeks, when the compost’s reserve of nutrients is almost depleted, continue feeding fortnightly, from spring to late summer, with Vitax Liquid Seaweed. It contains all the nutrients a plant needs to thrive. If repotting is not necessary, keep your plant healthy by feeding it with the above fertiliser.


To help them thrive, move them to pots 6in (15cm) larger in diameter in the spring. Water them well first, and after lifting the rootball tease out the spent compost. Replant them in ericaceous compost and top dress with fresh every spring to keep them healthy. You may also need to remove at least half of each plant to trigger robust basal growth and create a rounded shape.

Pinch out sweet pea seedlings and keep them cool

Getting rid of sooty mould

What a tangled web

My lemon tree is healthy and has flowers and fruitlets, but the leaves have turned black, though they are still green on the undersides. What is the problem? Yvonne carter, via email

My sweet pea seedlings have grown straggly and tangled. What can I do? P Pearce, via email


Q Use a damp cloth to

The leaves are infested with scale insects and remove sooty mould infected by sooty mould. Unfortunately, these tiny creatures, characterised by pronounced white lozenges, exude honeydew (a kind of syrup) that attracts the sooty mould. This then blackens and weakens the leaves. You can start by carefully wiping the leaves, top and underside, with a soft, damp cloth to remove the scale insects and sooty mould. They can be hard to remove so it may be worth spraying with Bio Provanto Ultimate Bug Killer. When the scale are dealt with and therefore not releasing honeydew, the sooty mould will cease infecting your plant. 36 AMATEUR GARDENING 29 FEBRUARY 2020

Move your seedlings to a cooler spot in good light and shorten shoots to within two pairs of leaves from the base. Stronger stems will appear from below the compost surface. When the weather warms up, gradually harden-off the plants by placing them outdoors in a sheltered spot during the day, bringing them in at night. Alternatively, leave them outdoors and cover them with cloches. In April, transplant them outside.



All photography TI Media unless otherwise credited

Ask John Negus

John has been answering reader queries for 50 years

Write to us: Ask John, Amateur Gardening magazine, Pinehurst 2, Pinehurst Road, Farnborough Business Park, Farnborough, Hants GU14 7BF. Email us: amateurgardening@ti-media.com

Quick questions & answers


Is there a best time of day to use chemicals? Tracy Smith, High Wycombe, Bucks


Will my echiums survive a cold snap? My Echium candicans has been affected by frost. The leaves are shrivelled, but the sap is still green in the stems. What should I do? Jack Parsons, Trafford, Manchester


Echium candicans is a half-hardy shrub that may survive outside in milder areas, and the green underneath the bark is a good sign. You won’t see more signs of growth until warmer weather arrives, and so I wouldn’t do anything yet. Just keep an eye on the stem tips, as this is where the growth buds are that will elongate into flowering stems. Make sure these buds are not

covered in soggy material that will cause them to rot. If we get more frosty weather, cover the plant with horticultural fleece – or even a couple of sheets of dry newspaper – to keep the frost off. Once there are signs of new growth, you could cut back the tip of the stems to where the new shoots are appearing, but leave this until you are sure can see the growth.

What do I do with my amaryllis now?


My amaryllis (Hippeastrum) flowered brilliantly but produced no leaves. Should I compost them? Adrian Archer, Cumbria Your plants will have used up energy flowering without leaves, but this is not unusual and the leaves will soon appear and be used by the plant to replenish the bulbs for next year. Once you have removed the flower stems, top-dress the pots with fresh compost, to encourage strong leaves. Keep watering, but not too much. Pot amaryllis in the autumn, and keep the compost moist during flowering and growth (autumn through to early/midsummer). They will benefit from liquid feeding while the leaves are growing. Once the leaves have started to yellow in the summer, they should be allowed to dry off and be kept


somewhere cool. However, there is no need to worry if the leaves do not go yellow at this point. You can Amaryllis can often follow either force a their own path! dormant season by withholding water, or continue to water and accept that the flowering season may go astray – and it can be easy do that with these plants! If the bulbs do go dormant, they can be returned to growth in the autumn by renewing watering. Hippeastrums often flower better when pot-bound and shouldn’t be repotted every year, although top-dress with a little new compost in the autumn.


I saw a red admiral butterfly on my windowsill – isn’t it a bit early? E Tyler, Harrow, Greater London


Red admirals can be seen from March to November, so although this is early, it isn’t totally impossible. The species overwinters as an adult and they can survive, so you probably saw an overwintering butterfly. Most are the offspring of adults that migrated over in spring.


What is this? I think it came from a seed dropped by a bird? Jenny Sanderwick, Glastonbury, Somerset


It is a bay (Laurus nobilis), a robust shrub whose leaves add piquancy to stocks, soups and many other dishes. It is normally hardy. If it grows too high, cut it back in late spring. If you wish to relocate it, do so in May. Some people are allergic to it – indeed, you may be, so do check before you cook with it. 29 FEBRUARY 2020

Tim Melling/Butterfly Conservation

Echiums may survive harsh weather, but like some protection

The best time is when the weather is cool and cloudy and there is no risk of scorching the plant leaves. This can happen if you apply it when it is hot and sunny. Pesticides should be used in the early morning or at sunset – always read instructions first.

Ask John Negus Give bare root plants, such as hawthorn, plenty of room to grow when creating a hedge

John has been answering reader queries for 50 years

Mulching bare ground and around plants improves soil condition

To mulch – or not

Q How far apart are bare-root trees grown?


How far apart should bare-root hawthorns for hedging be planted? Can I plant them straight away or do they need soaking in a bucket of water? Colin Radburn, via email


The plants should be put 12-18in (30-45cm) apart for formal hedging, 18-24in (45-60cm) apart to make a more informal-looking hedge. The key to success is to get them in the ground as soon as possible to prevent the roots drying out. They are the cheapest and quickest way to get trees and shrubs, but if the roots dry out you will encounter problems with establishing the plants, if at all. If they have been in their packaging for a few days they may have started to dry out so I would soak them in a bucket of water to aid rehydration. However, if you received them today, straight from

the supplier, it may well be fine to put them directly into the ground. If you still need to prepare the planting area then I would heel the plants in somewhere rather than leave them in their packaging. This is temporary planting, bundling the plants together in a hole large enough to take the roots, but without any need to do anything more than back-filling and lightly firming the soil. You could bundle them into a pot of compost if there isn’t a suitable space in the garden. Preparation is minimal, but covering the roots in soil or compost should ensure they don’t dry out.

Is my guava plant still any good?


The leaves of my potted Chilean guava plant have dried out. Can I save it? Martin Spencer, via email


I am sorry that your Chilean guava (Ugni molinae) leaves have withered. I don’t think it’s because of low temperatures for it is considered hardy. Indeed, it will withstand Check the cause of -10ºC/14ºF without coming to any harm. shrivelled leaves Its wilted state may be due to the compost drying out, or an attack of vine weevil, whose grubs destroy roots. If the compost has dried out, which I doubt, a good watering should rectify the situation. If vine weevil has infiltrated the root system, check by tapping the plant gently from its pot and look for tiny, dirty-white and curved grubs. If found, wash soil from the roots to remove grubs and eggs. Then reset the plant in fresh potting compost, such as John Innes No3. 38 AMATEUR GARDENING 29 FEBRUARY 2020

Should I mulch poor bare soil or plant it up now? Gary Sampson, Colwyn Bay, N Wales


Even if you do not wish to plant until the spring, I would not leave the soil completely bare as the winter weather and heavy rains may well destroy the crumb structure. Cover the entire area with a good mulch of either well-rotted compost or manure, and allow the worms to take this into the soil until you are ready to plant.

Added fertiliser will help potted plants perform better

What extra food?


Is there a fertiliser I should add to compost when repotting my precious cannas? Tom Lister, via email


Vitax Q4 has an N:P:K (nitrogen: phosphorus: potassium) ratio of 5.3:7.5:10, which means that it has more potassium so is useful for promoting flowering and fruiting. Blood, fish and bone has an N:P:K rating of 5:5:6, so it is balanced. Chicken pellet manures come in a range of ratios for different uses. The ratio should be listed on the packaging so I would opt for a balanced product.

Write to us: Ask John, Amateur Gardening magazine, Pinehurst 2, Pinehurst Road, Farnborough Business Park, Farnborough, Hants GU14 7BF. Email us: amateurgardening@ti-media.com

Shorten new shoots to create robust, bushy plants

Polianthes tuberosa can be moved outside once the threat of frost has passed

Spring shoots

Q Alamy

The geraniums I overwintered are starting to shoot away. What should I do now? Mrs P Hooper, Bristol

How do I grow Polianthes outside? I want to grow Polianthes tuberosa in pots but have read conflicting advice. How should I grow them? Nigel Barnes, Yeovil, Somerset


The plants can either be grown in a cool greenhouse, or put outside in a warm sheltered place for the growing season. Either way the rhizomes should be lifted and dried off once the leaves have faded, and stored in sand in a frost-free place for the winter. In late winter the rhizomes should be

potted up putting one per 5in or 6in pot using John Innes No1 compost. They do best if kept warm at this point and temperatures of 60-65ºF (15-18ºC) are ideal. Plant the rhizomes 10cm (4in) and grow them on until large enough to move outdoors when frosts are done. Keep compost damp, not sodden, and feed at fortnightly intervals. I would recommend alternating between a balanced liquid feed and one with a high potassium ratio such as Tomorite, which is designed to promote flowering.


Ideally, position them in a good light to ensure stocky growth. If the shoots become leggy, cut them back by half their growth. Water sparingly for the moment, and ultimately, harden off the plants and set them outside in late May or early June when there is little risk of frost.

Saffron crocuses are easy to grow

How can I keep my daisy thriving?


I am delighted that your Moroccan daisy (Rhodanthemum hosmariense) has been blooming over winter and is thickly studded with flower buds that will soon make it a dashing focal point. Pleasingly, it is hardy so able to resist prolonged low winter temperatures. If you wish to propagate it, peg down shoots into gritty soil and sever them when roots form. Alternatively, take 3in (7cm) shoot-tip cuttings in spring and summer. Remove lower leaves that might be buried and make a cut just beneath a stem joint. Insert cuttings to half their length in proprietary cutting compost and water them in. New growth will indicate that roots have formed. Finally, set your plants into 4in (10cm) pots of John Innes


Our Rhodanthemums flowered well in summer, came back last autumn and have been flowering all winter! What is the best way to look after them? Edward Davis, Chipping Sodbury, Gloucestershire

Sourcing saffron Where can I buy saffron crocus bulbs and how should I grow them? John Brooks, Diss, Norfolk


Rhodanthemums are easygoing plants that can flower all year

loam-based potting compost No1 and move them to their flowering positions when roots have filled the pot.

The saffron crocus is, botanically, Crocus sativus. Flowering in October, it is just as easy to grow as other crocus. Simply set the bulbs at three times their own depth and 4in (10cm) apart in sunny, free-draining soil enriched with blood, fish and bone meal or Vitax Q4, plus well-rotted manure or garden compost. You can also buy organic manure from garden centres. The bulbs are normally planted in late summer. 29 FEBRUARY 2020 AMATEUR GARDENING


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Gardening’s king of trivia and brain-teasers, Graham Clarke

Dwarf bulb irises They may be small, but dwarf irises still pack a colourful punch in late winter or early spring

DURING my student days with the RHS, one of my jobs was to look after the Alpine House at Wisley in Surrey. In those days it was an old-style unheated greenhouse, with benches of sand into which alpine plants were plunged, still in their pots, when they came into flower. It meant that there was always something colourful to admire. It was here that I first

discovered dwarf irises. I knew the large border irises, but the diminutive bulb versions were a revelation and have been firm favourites ever since. Let’s look at some of the stories surrounding them. Nearly all the irises included here are the so-called ‘Reticulata’ irises (see below), with single, fragrant purple, yellow or blue flowers in early spring. Falls and beard of Iris germanica

IN general, iris flowers have three outer petals, three inner petals and three stamens (the male pollenbearing organs). While in bud, the outer petals protect the inner ones and, as the flower opens, the outer petals bend back on themselves, often hanging downwards. These are called the ‘falls’, and they usually have a distinctive colourful ridge or ‘beard’ in their centre (the purpose of which is to direct insects towards the pollen). The three inner petals are called the ‘standards’, and they usually stand erect in the centre of the flower. With Iris danfordiae, the standards are reduced to tiny spikes; some say it makes them less interesting. However, they have a beauty of their own and are still tempting as there are few other dwarf bulb irises that are completely yellow.

Reticulated irises THESE types of dwarf irises have fibrous, netted (reticulate) skins surrounding their bulbs, and have just one or two narrow leaves, almost square in section. They require a sunny, welldrained soil. There are eight commonly found species, the most commonly seen of which are I. reticulata, I. histrioides, I. danfordiae, I. bakeriana and I. winogradowii, although these species are less commonly grown than the several dozen beautiful cultivars (see right). I. reticulata is arguably the easiest dwarf bulb iris to grow outside, and it seems to flourish in a limy soil. It will also grow well on heavy clay, provided it is not too wet in winter. These reticulated irises like to be planted around 6-8in (15-20cm) deep.


And talking of which... IRIS danfordiae, which has the common name of Danford’s iris, is a low-growing bulbous iris that’s in bloom now. Sweetly fragrant, bright primrose-yellow flowers with tiny brown or black spots on the falls appear alongside narrow grass-like leaves (which get longer when the flowers fade). These leaves do, however, disappear completely by late spring, as the plants go dormant. Note, these irises sometimes miss a year of flowering – as if they just need a bit of a rest! This iris was introduced from Turkey in 1876 by Scottish-born plant hunter Antoinette Danford (who is listed almost Iris danfordiae everywhere, rather impersonally, as Mrs C.G. Danford). She specialised in collecting wild plant specimens from Greece, Turkey and Asia Minor.

differently coloured reticulata irises

Royal blue, yellow: Iris ‘Harmony’

Deep purple, white: Iris ‘Pauline’



Iris flower anatomy

Early bloomers: Dwarf bulb irises

All photographs Alamy unless otherwise credited

This week it’s:

Pale blue, cream, yellow: Iris ‘Sea Breeze’

Violet-purple, yellow: Iris ‘George’

Dark blue, white: Iris ‘Blue Note’

Iris bakeriana



Gardening’s king of trivia and brain-teasers, Graham Clarke

Histrioides history

Prize draw

Miracle-Gro is giving AG readers the chance to win one of two gardening bundles, each worth £16.57. This is the perfect bundle for gardeners looking for quick and easy solutions for any gardening style, as it includes new Miracle-Gro products designed to make caring for plants simple – indoors or out. The two winners will each receive a 6-litre bag of Miracle-Gro Plant & Grow Compost, which is light in weight but not in quality, that will feed plants for up to six months. Also included is a 200ml Miracle-Gro Pump & Feed – simply pump directly onto the soil to feed your plant for a week. Orchid-loving gardeners will also be excited to win both the three-pack Miracle-Gro Drip & Feed for orchids and the 300ml Miracle-Gro Spray & Spritz for orchids, helping you get glorious results with no effort! How to enter Send your name and address on the back of a postcard to Miracle-Gro Bundle Draw (29 February), Amateur Gardening, Pinehurst 2, Pinehurst Road, Farnborough, Hampshire GU14 7BF. Or you can email your details to ag_giveaway@ti-media.com, heading the email Miracle-Gro Bundle Draw (29 February). The closing date is 6 March 2020.

WIN £30

Word search

This word search comprises words associated with dwarf bulb irises. They are listed below; in the grid they may be read across, backwards, up, down or diagonally. Letters may be shared between words. Erroneous or duplicate words may appear in the grid, but there is only one correct solution. After the listed words are found, there are 10 letters remaining; arrange these to make this week’s KEYWORD. DWARF IRISES ALPINES BEARD BLUE BULBS DANFORD FALLS FRAGRANT HARD HYBRIDS PURPLE RETICULATA SPATHE STANDARDS YELLOW







No: 507





HOW TO ENTER: Enter this week’s keyword on the entry form,

and send it to AG Word Search No 507, Amateur Gardening, Pinehurst 2, Pinehurst Road, Farnborough, Hampshire GU14 7BF, to arrive by Wednesday 11 March 2020. The first correct entry chosen at random will win our £30 cash prize. This week’s keyword is .......................................................................................... Name ........................................................................................................................ Address .................................................................................................................... ................................................................................................................................... Postcode .................................................................................................................. Email ......................................................................................................................... Tel no ........................................................................................................................ TI Media Ltd, publisher of Amateur Gardening, will collect your personal information solely to process your competition entry.


IRIS histrioides is a dwarf bulbous iris, native to Turkey, and which sports scented flowers in shades from bright blue to violet. They are at their best from late Iris histrioides ‘Major’ January to early March. The plant also goes by the common names of Orchis iris, winter iris and Harput iris (after the city of Harput, in Turkey, near to where it was originally discovered). It’s a beautiful iris, and the label of ‘dwarf’ iris is completely accurate: the flowering stem is short, at just 2.4-2.8in (6-7cm) tall. The species name of histrioides refers to the fact that the plant is very similar to another iris – called Iris histrio.

Historical gardening event of the week: 29 February

LEAP day (29 February) occurs every four years (although there are some exceptions), and it falls on a Saturday this year – in fact, this week! Leap day on a Saturday happens just once in every 28 years except, in some beautiful mathematical conundrum, when a year evenly divisible by 100 is not a leap year. Pah! The last leap year with leap day on a Saturday was in 1992. Just five currently available plants have ‘Leap’ in their names, the most widely available of which is a cultivar of cape figwort: Phygelius x rectus ‘Salmon Leap’ (pictured above). You might expect many more plants to have ‘Year’ in their cultivar names, but I was surprised to find just three, and two of these were vegetables: cauliflower ‘All The Year Round’ and lettuce ‘All Year Round’.

How to use tools Best techniques to get the job right with Tim Rumball Fitting guttering to a shed Correctly fitted guttering will ensure rainwater is channelled off your shed roof, says Tim


UTTERING and downpipes perform an essential function, channelling rainwater from the roof to a drain, soakaway or into a water butt. Without them shed walls – especially the popular larchlap type – can let water in, while water can also pool along the bottom edge when guttering is missing, increasing the risk of wood rotting and the ground flooding. Fitting guttering is quite straightforward. Some roofs on big sheds have a deep overhang and will need standard household guttering, but most small sheds like mine need something smaller. Widely available is FloPlast Miniflo guttering (Wilko, B&Q and Screwfix), which has 76mm-wide gutters, 50mm downpipes and fittings to match. You can check the size you need by offering up a fascia clip under the shed roof overhang. If the edge of the roof is in the centre of the clip, it’s the right size. Fascia clips Some sheds already have a fascia board to mount gutter clips. Mine didn’t, so I screwed a plank of treated timber under the eves on both sides of the shed. Decide which end your downpipe is going. Screw on a fascia clip at the opposite end, a couple of inches inside the vertical edge and tucked up near the roof lip. Now, using a spirit level and a pencil or string line, mark a line from the clip screwhole, dropping away to the downpipe end. A very slight slope is sufficient. Fit more fascia clips roughly the same distance apart, screwing them in along your marked line/string on the fascia board. They should be about 32in (80cm) apart. I used four on each side. Gutter stop Fit a gutter stop end outlet to a length of guttering and offer it up to the clips. The

Guttering stops rainwater cascading over the side of the shed, which can cause leaks and problems with damp and rotting

edge of the end outlet should be lined up with the edge of the roof at the lower end of the line of clips. There’s no need to clip the gutter in place, just rest it in the clips. On long sheds you may need to join in another length of guttering using a half round connecter. If you do this, support the joint either side with fascia clips to give it more strength. Mark the gutter at the opposite end where it reaches the edge of the roof, and cut it using a wood or general-purpose saw. Fit a gutter end stop. Now line up both ends of the guttering carefully, then settle it into the back of each of the fascia clips snapping the front securely into place. Downpipe Measure and then cut a length of downpipe to push onto the gutter stop end outlet. The bottom end should be about 3in (7.5cm) off the ground when fitted. Mark a vertical line from the centre of the outlet at the gutter end down to the ground, fit two or three downpipe clips evenly spaced along the line, then

slide and snap the downpipe into place. Because I had to fit a fascia board for the gutter clips, I also had to fix a length of batten of the same thickness down the edge of the shed to carry the downpipe clips. Some adjustments like this are inevitable as there are many different designs of shed. Final task Finally, slip an angled ‘shoe’ onto the bottom end of the downpipe to direct waste water away from the shed. Make sure that water runs or soaks away from the shed and does not pool under it, which could cause flooding. You could put another downpipe to the ground on the opposite side of pitched-roof sheds (flat-roof sheds only need gutter along one side, the lowest edge), but I installed a rain diverter and water butt, so instead used angled joints to route the second downpipe around the back of the shed and into the butt. That gives me a handy free water supply for perking up thirsty plants over the summer.

On pitched shed roofs you need gutters and downpipes on both sides. I’ve used angled connectors on the second downpipe to route it to my water butt

Gutter and downpipe fittings are either snap-fit with clips at either side (some have a rubber seal on the contact face like this stop end), or a sliding push-fit 46 AMATEUR GARDENING 29 FEBRUARY 2020

With a gutter and butt to catch the water, my shed is not only keeping my tools dry, but it provides water for my plants

Anatomy of shed guttering 1. Gutter stop end outlet.

2. Gutter stop end.

3. Fascia board

Step Fit guttering by step

to a shed

(if required).

9. Rainwater 4. Downpipe



5. Offset 8. Downpipe

bends (if required).



Screw on first fascia clip at highest end (opposite end to outlet), string or mark a line with spirit level dropping away gently. Fix more fascia clips evenly spaced.

7. Fascia clips.

6. Tools for fixing.

The language of shed guttering Stop end: Cap that snaps onto the end of gutter to stop water running away. Stop end outlet: Short section of gutter with a built-in stop end and an outlet pipe in the base that connects to the downpipe. Stop end outlet ‘waist’: The point where the outlet pipe narrows so the

downpipe can slide over it. Fascia clip: Flexible curved clip with a drilled mount at the back and a snap catch at the front to fix guttering in place. Downpipe shoe: Angled tubular fitting that slides onto the bottom of the downpipe to direct water away from the shed.

Do’s and don’ts of guttering Do M  easure up carefully, and work out which fittings you

’ll need

so you don’t waste money on unnece ssary bits. C heck that the guttering you plan to buy wil l fit by offering up a fascia clip – the lip of the roof should reach the middle of the curve. C ut square when sawing gutter and downpipe. Mark line using a setsquare, or use a cleanly cut offcut as a template.

Don’t C ompromise on careful measurement and fitting . If

the gutter does not drop away from the stop end to the stop end outlet, water will puddle in the gutte r and ld overflow. L et water vent straight out of the downpipcou e – at least fit a shoe to direct it away from the bas e of the shed. L et water go to waste – fit a rain diverter and wa ter butt.


Snap the stop end outlet onto the gutter, sit gutter in fascia clips lining up outlet end with edge of shed. Mark and cut opposite end, fit stop end, then snap gutter in place.


Measure carefully so you don’t waste time and money

Mark a vertical line from the centre of the stop end outlet to the ground, screw on downpipe clips centred on the line. Measure from outlet ‘waist’ to ground.

Use a fascia clip to check what guttering you need


Cut a length of downpipe about 3in (7.5cm) shorter than the shed, slip it into place, fasten the clips and push on a shoe to direct water away from the shed. Don’t compromise on measurement or fitting



All our esyesterdays

from the AG archiv

The attraction of tree heathers John N Anderson explains why tree heathers should be grown in more gardens

All photographs Alamy unless otherwise credited

Summer flowering on limy soils Erica terminalis is especially valuable because it is the only summer-flowering species, to my knowledge, that will grow well on limy soils. Although a native of Corsica and western Mediterranean coastal regions, it is hardy in all but the coldest parts of this country. Following on in flowering time, though usually with a gap of several weeks to take us into mid-winter, is E. lusitanica. This is undoubtedly my first choice among tree heathers as it is frequently in flower for up to five months, at a time of year when flowers are most valuable. It is upright and bushy with densely packed dark-green leaflets. The pale-green flower buds begin to emerge in clusters along every branchlet in late autumn, and as they enlarge they turn pink and then open to white. 48 AMATEUR GARDENING 29 FEBRUARY 2020

Erica arborea var. alpina flowers from February until early May

Although flowers of E. lusitanica also on the tender side and for most generally begin in the last few weeks of gardens the hardier and more compact the year, I have noticed that the timing growing E. arborea var. alpina is more bears a marked relationship with the suitable. This is in flower from February kind of summer that went before. to early May. The colour can best be Several years ago we had a particularly described as greyish-white. hot dry summer and one of its effects was to bring E. lusitanica into full flower Rose-red elongated bells by mid-summer. On another occasion, Erica australis has sparser foliage and after a summer notable for weeks of the stems are more fleshy and less wiry dull skies and almost incessant rain, than the other species so far mentioned. the first flowers were not open until It grows into an open-branched shrub the end of January. 5-8ft [1.5-2.4m] high. This also is a trifle This indicates the site it prefers: warm delicate and consequently requires and sunny, and sheltered, if possible, careful siting away from cold or exposed from the north and east. Cold dry areas, but it is worth the care and winds can cause a certain attention. When the flowers amount of foliage scorch if appear, usually from early accompanied by frost. It April to early June, they is among the less hardy take the form of pink to of the tree heathers rose-red elongated and could be at risk if bells clustered at the grown in an exposed tips of short growths or very frosty position made in the previous away from the milder growing season. coastal areas. But I find that E. australis Erica x veitchii ‘Exeter’ has tends to be somewhat lax planted against a south fragrant white flowers or west-facing wall, where and untidy in habit, with long reflected heat helps to ripen new branches that sprawl about, if left growth, it should be safe inland. to its own devices. So it is worthwhile Very similar in habit but with scented pruning back leggy shoots every year. white flowers in spring and more Erica mediterranea [Erica erigena] compact growth is the hybrid E. x is one of the most useful of garden veitchii, the result of a cross between plants, for not only has it given rise E. arborea and E. lusitanica. E. arborea to a number of low and intermediate is of rather more open habit and growing forms, but it is also one of ultimately grows to a greater size. This is the parents of that long-flowering



OW-growing and widespreading hardy heathers are increasing in popularity all the time. And with good reason, for they are long-flowering, undemanding and are rarely attacked by pests or diseases. But to be effective they should be massed; unless on the small scale of a rock garden, one plant by itself looks very lonely. Not so the tree heathers, those that grow to heights of 4-8ft [1.2-2.4m] – sometimes more in mild and wet parts of the country. Individual specimens or small groups can justify a place in the garden as well as any of the better known and more widely planted flowering shrubs. Although listed by most shrub nurserymen, the tree heathers are not seen as often as they might be. All but one are winter or spring flowering. This one exception is Erica terminalis (also known as Corsican heath), an upright, branching shrub reaching 4-5ft [1.2-1.5m] high in most situations, and with a spread of 3-4ft [0.9-1.3m]. The mauve-pink flowers open in clusters at the tips of the new growths, beginning usually towards the end of June or early July and continuing well into autumn. In my Cornish garden the flowers show colour almost up to Christmas, given a mildish autumn, though by then the plant’s value lies in the russet-brown seed heads that top the light-green foliage and show up golden in the winter sunshine.

In this extract from AG 22 November 1969, John N. Anderson extols the benefits of this low-maintenance shrub


136 years of practical advice

1884 The World’s Oldest Gardening Magazine 2020


The pinky-red flowers of Erica Erigena ‘Superba’ are tightly packed on the branches

Erica lusitanica is frequently in flower for up to five months of the year

and tough hybrid E. x darleyensis. To my mind, the best of the taller forms is Erica Erigena ‘Superba’, reaching 5-6ft [1.5-1.8m] in height. This flowers from March-May, with the pinky-red flowers tightly packed on the branches. It is dense growing and will stand up to most things the elements can throw at it. But surprisingly, the branch joints are very brittle and young plants need careful handling when being weeded or planted to prevent large portions being broken off.

Erica terminalis is a summer-flowering species that grows well on limy soils


Tolerates lime in the soil Erica mediterranea [Erica erigena] and its forms tolerate lime in the soil. This, together with their toughness, makes them suitable over a greater range of growing conditions than the other winter and spring-flowing tree heathers. Erica arborea, E. australis and E. lusitanica will put up with a modicum of lime provided there is plenty of humus present, but neutral or slightly acid conditions are best. Midland and northern gardeners would be wise to plant only Erica terminalis, E. arborea var. alpina and E. mediterranea [Erica erigena], leaving the others for those with milder winters. The views, information and opinions expressed during this series of extracts from past issues of AG are solely those of the individuals involved, at the time they were written, and are not necessarily relevant or even legal today. Please treat these pages as a look back at how things were done in the past and not necessarily how they are done today. AG accepts no responsibility if readers follow advice given in these articles from past issues.




Anne Swithinbank’s masterclass on: dealing with ivy problems

Ivy brings more holly blue butteries to a garden; the second brood of caterpillars feed on ivy ower buds

Anne’s top tips

Where ivy is allowed to cloth a wall or fence, watch it does not seed or creep into adjacent borders. Young strands are easy to pull out, but once established they make strong mats.

Caring for your ivy

The clinging roots of ivy exude minute particles helping them bond to their surface. Pulling them away leaves a tracery of marks.

There is usually a place in a garden where ivy can run riot and do no harm. An old tree or this old treehouse are good examples

Birds like robins love to nest in the stems and leaves of ivy



How do I best tend to ivy? Q

We’re not sure what to do with ivy in our mature, medium-sized garden. It pops up and gets going here and there. Some advise against letting it grow up walls and trees, while others tell us to keep it for the wildlife, so what’s the real answer? Joanna Matlock, Witham, Essex

autumnal nectar-bar for hoverflies, bees and butterflies. Many rely on this late energy boost for successful hibernation. Dark berries are winter food for birds. You’ll see more holly blue butterflies in your garden, too – while the first brood of caterpillars feed on holly flower buds, the second feed on those of ivy. Although ivy is not a The climbing, parasite and merely uses juvenile stems of trees as a climbing frame, common ivy (Hedera it will swamp those that are young or slow-growing. helix) make their vertical When it reaches the ascent of trees and walls branching stage in a treetop, by clinging with tiny roots Apple tree clothed the mass of evergreen foliage produced all along the stems. in ivy resists wind and can bring a tree down. The aim is to reach light, so the plant can make ‘arboreal’ (branching or woody) In most gardens, there is a place growth in order to flower and set seed. for ivy, perhaps in the wilder parts of There is no doubt that ivy is great the garden, where it can form arboreal for wildlife in many ways. The cover of growth on old walls, sheds and selected stems and leaves provides roosting and trees. Personally, however, I’d suggest that you remove it from house walls and nesting sites for birds, and shelter for special trees if there is any doubt that it small mammals and insects, while could cause damage. umbels of pale flowers lay out an


Remove ivy from favoured and slow-growing trees, such as this Apple ‘Bramley’s Seedling’, before it swamps growth. Cut through stems at the base and peel them away.


In the wild area at the bottom of our garden, ivy makes a welcome groundcover, holding the soil together and creating a protective habitat for wildlife.

The wisdom of walls IT is generally held that ivy will not harm sound walls, and a study completed in 2010 by English Heritage and Oxford University found that a cladding of ivy acts as a ‘thermal shield’, keeping walls 15% warmer in winter and 36% cooler in summer. Yet if there are cracks, ivy will exploit them, and it will need controlling to keep it away from gutters and lofts.

4 If there are cracks, ivy will exploit them!


Body image: Alamy. All other photography John Swithinbank / TI Media, unless credited


There are some beautiful ivy cultivars. We grow Hedera helix ‘Halebob’, with small leaves edged in gold, originally from Fibrex Nurseries (fibrex.co.uk). 29 FEBRUARY 2020 AMATEUR GARDENING



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Write to us: Letters, Amateur Gardening magazine, Pinehurst 2, Pinehurst Road, Farnborough Business Park, Farnborough, Hants GU14 7BF (please include your address). Email us: amateurgardening@ti-media.com

‘Grandpa Ott’ is all white

Put a ring on it...


JUST wanted you to know that the Morning Glory ‘Grandpa Ott’ I received free last year were all white. I have another free packet with AG (21 December), so I hope this time they are the gorgeous colour on the packet. I would also like you to know that I help with a plant sale every May/June in aid of the Children’s Hospice South West. I grew lots of free seeds from AG and helped raise money for this great cause. Particularly nice were the cosmos and asters – and many people commented on the strong plants. Molly Follett, via email Wendy says: Great work, Molly, for raising all those plants. We asked the experts at Mr Fothergills about your seeds, and they said, “With this variety, there is a possibility it will mutate to a white flower. This is not common, so please try again.”

Too bad it’s only one ‘carrot’

Long-tailed tits feast on fat balls AFTER reading Val Bourne’s article about long-tailed tits (AG, 1 February), I decided to put out some fat balls to see if I could encourage these birds into my garden. Long-tails used to visit a few years ago, but I haven’t seen them at all this year. I was really pleased when, after a couple of days, eight long-tailed tits found the fat balls. I’m guessing that the birds must have been in the area all along, but I just wasn’t putting out the right food to tempt them! Unfortunately, because they are so quick, I haven’t been able to take a photograph of them, but they have been here for a few days now. So thank you, Val, for a great article about these birds – and I didn’t know they weren’t even members of the tit family! Sally Lowe, Maidenhead, Berkshire

Long-tailed tits favour the fat balls

I WAS very interested in your article about long-tailed tits. I have seen them for the first time in my garden on the fat balls – they are such pretty little birds. I also get lots of goldfinches, blue tits, great tits, a robin or two, blackbirds, nuthatches and even a woodpecker – I think it is the Downy one, as it is black, red and white, with a pinky beige chest. Love watching them. Liz Richardson, via email

WHO needs metal detectors? Sadly, more Ratners gold plate than Roman gold, but still: a fun find! Richard Hiles, via email Wendy says: Lucky you! Good timing with it being 29 February – a leap year…

What’s happened to my orchid?

The double-centred orchid

JUST like to share my strange orchid that decided to produce a double flower! Does this happen regularly, or is it a rare occurrence? Philip Hilary, via email Wendy says: Wow, that’s amazing – so interesting to see this rare mutation. 29 FEBRUARY 2020 AMATEUR GARDENING


Write to us: Letters, Amateur Gardening magazine, Pinehurst 2, Pinehurst Road, Farnborough Business Park, Farnborough, Hants GU14 7BF (please include your address). Email us: amateurgardening@ti-media.com “I am not a baker, but this one came out really well,” says Margery

Coronilla flowers appear from late winter to spring

A feast for the senses Margery’s beetroot and lemon cake ready for the oven

Baked to perfection I WANTED to let you know that I tried your beetroot and lemon cake recipe (AG, 25 January). It looked very interesting, and even though I don’t like beetroot, I tried it. I have to say it was very tasty. I am not a baker – most of my previous baking attempts have failed – but this one came out really well, so I am delighted. I’ll try the

recipe for the pumpkin and chocolate muffins when I get pumpkins. Keep up the good work with the magazine, and loving that the free seeds are back (already). Margery Milligan, Clackmannan Wendy says: Thank you, Margery. So glad the cake was a success!

I THOUGHT you would like to see our amazing Coronilla glauca ‘Citrina’. We bought it a couple of years ago from a car boot sale as a small plant, and it has grown and grown. It has flowered all winter, and smells lovely when you brush against it. It just goes to show that if a plant is happy where it is, there’s no stopping it! Rachel Collins, Lichfield, Staffs Wendy says: It certainly loves the spot in your garden. They prefer a sheltered spot in full sun, with free-draining soil.

Wendy says: Here’s a tasty recipe tried and tested by AG staff

Lift and scrub the tubers clean and use immediately

Prawn & Chinese artichoke stir-fry Chinese artichokes have a mild and nutty flavour, perfect to stir-fry Prep time: 10 minutes Cooking time: 10 mins Serves: 2 Ingredients: 6oz (170g) Chinese artichokes 1 red or orange pepper 2oz (50g) mangetout 4oz (100g) mushrooms 6 spring onions 3 tbsp sesame oil 4oz (100g) bean sprouts 2oz (50g) dried egg noodles 1tbsp sugar 1 tbsp dry sherry 2tbsp soy sauce 4oz (100g) cooked prawns, shelled and cleaned Salt to taste Method 1 Scrub the artichokes clean and cut them into 1in (2½cm) lengths. Wash, de-seed and slice the pepper. 56 AMATEUR GARDENING 29 FEBRUARY 2020

Wash, then cut mangetout in half. Wash, then halve the mushrooms. Chop four of the spring onions into 1in (2½cm) lengths. 2 Heat the sesame oil in the wok. Add the salad onions, artichokes and pepper. Stir-fry on a fairly high heat for three minutes. Meanwhile, boil a pan of water, add the noodles, and cook as per packet instructions. 3 Now add the bean sprouts, mangetout and mushrooms to the wok, and stir-fry for two minutes. Then add the sherry, sugar and salt and continue to cook for a further two minutes. 4 Strain the noodles and add to the wok along with the soy sauce and prawns, and heat through thoroughly. Top and tail the remaining spring onions and starting 1in (2½cm) from the root end, slice in half lengthways and then

Chinese artichokes offered a fresh, nutty taste to this dish

into quarters to make curly strips. Add to a serving dish. Garnish with the onions and serve at once.

SHARE YOUR STORIES TIPS AND PHOTOS and you will receive a fantastic pair of Town & Country’s Master Gardener gloves — the UK’s best-selling gardening glove and a perfect companion to help you in the garden. State small, medium or large with your letter.

Spreading the word about yuccas MY yuccas were magnificent, but at around 6ft (1.8m) high – not including the height of the flowers – they were taking up too much space. At the last count, there were 13 flowering plants and so I decided (with a heavy heart) to have them removed. I did, however, ask for the ‘mother plant’ to remain, and just be cut down in height. Now, 18 months later, I have discovered two dozen baby yuccas coming from the mother plant. The moral to this story? Never underestimate the power of nature! Miss Linda Keen, Sheffield, South Yorks



£1.14 an issue when you subscribe The original yucca plants – before they grew an extra 2ft!

Reader’s Quick Tip IF, for neatness, you tie in this year’s new raspberry cane growth through the season, always tie odd years’ growth to one side of the lowest galvanised wire support with one colour of twine, and even years’ growth to the other side with a different colour of twine.

Then it is a simple job to work along the row, cutting back all the canes which have provided fruit that summer, as they are all on one side of the wire tied with one colour of twine. David Walker, Aberford, Yorkshire

Guess this plant!

– see page 52 for details Editorial: Editor: Garry Coward-Williams Gardening editor: Ruth Hayes Assistant editor: Janey Goulding Art editor: Al Rigger Picture editor and Letters: Wendy Humphries Features: Kathryn Wilson, Lesley Upton

Advertising and management: Ad manager: Laurence Pierce 07971 605143 Managing director: Kirsty Setchell Group managing director: Adrian Hughes

Postal address, telephone, email: Amateur Gardening, TI Media Ltd, Pinehurst 2, Pinehurst Road, Farnborough, Hampshire, GU14 7BF 01252 555138 Email: amateurgardening@ti-media.com Subscriptions: 0330 333 1120 Complaints procedure: We work hard to achieve the highest standards of editorial content, and we are committed to complying with the Editors’ Code of Practice ( ipso.co.uk/IPSO/cop.html) as enforced by IPSO. If you have a complaint about our editorial content, you can email us at complaints@ti-media.com or write to Complaints Manager, TI Media Ltd Legal Department, 161 Marsh Wall, London E14 9AP. Please provide details of the material you are complaining about and explain your complaint by reference to the Editors’ Code. We will endeavour to acknowledge your complaint within five working days and we aim to correct substantial errors as soon as possible. amateurgardening.com

Wendy says: Fall under the spell of Molly the Witch, but we bet you can’t pronounce its tongue-twister of a Latin name...

Subscription rates (51 issues, all prices shown include postage) UK: £107.53; Europe/Eire: ¤195.99; USA: $254.99; All other regions Middle East, Africa, Asia, Far East and ROW £166.99. Cheques payable to TI Media Ltd. Write to: TI Media Ltd, PO BOX 272, Haywards Heath, West Sussex, RH16 3FS (0330) 333 1133. Overseas +44 330 333 1113 (Lines are open 7 days, 8am-9pm, UK time). Published every Tuesday. TI Media Ltd, 161 Marsh Wall, London, England E14 9AP. Conditions of sale: this periodical shall not, without the consent of the publishers first given, be lent, re-sold, hired out or otherwise disposed of by way of trade at more than the recommended selling price shown on the cover (selling price in Eire subject to VAT). Printed and bound in England by the Wyndeham Group. Distributed by Marketforce (UK), 5 Churchill Place, Canary Wharf, London E14 5HU. Registered as a newspaper at the post office. Amateur Gardening (inc. Popular Gardening) AMATEUR GARDENING, TI Media Ltd, Pinehurst 2, Pinehurst Road, Hampshire, GU14 7BF, 01252 555138. Amateur GardeningŽ is a registered trade mark ŠTI Media Ltd. ISSN 0954-8513 TI Media Ltd, 161 Marsh Wall, London, England E14 9AP 0870 444 5000. Website:  ti-media.com/brands



Answer to Guess this Plant: Paeonia daurica subsp. mlokosewitschii

Toby Buckland Magnolia leaves are glossy and green but with tan undersides that are soft to the touch

Toby’s trivia

Cultivated in the worst soil, this sturdy and striking tree is worthy of a spot where one can gaze up at its dreamy canopy

Branches in summer will bear billowing blooms with a delicious zingy perfume

Steel magnolias In a quiet corner, Toby’s tiny magnolia has flourished, overcoming hardship to exemplify strength and splendour


Q Magnolia grandiflora originates in the South-Eastern states of USA and evolved long before bees existed, so the simple flowers are pollinated by beetles like the soldier beetle (above). Q One of the earliest trees, planted in 1726 near Exeter, had scaffolding and pots erected around its canopy so that the branches could be propagated by layering. Q When planting near walls, leave at least 2ft (60cm) between the boundary and the tree for the trunk to swell.

OME botanical names read like out of sight, it slipped from memory… incantations from Harry Potter’s until now. spell book – just try saying Even though rooted in the worst happily move to a more fitting place Anigozanthos manglesii clinker soil and squashed in alongside the battlements of our two-up while waving an imaginary the suburban company of a two-down (see how in the panel below). wand and you’ll see what I bamboo and escallonia, mean. Magnolia grandiflora, You might think planting a tree with it’s alive and well, and the potential to reach 40ft (12m) tall near on the other hand, melts I’m so excited to see a house is a pruning job in waiting. But like Lindt chocolate on the plant again. Like being a slow grower, it’s easily tamed the tongue, capturing the all grandifloras, it has beautiful foliage; glossy and – uniquely among the usually plant’s essence perfectly. and evergreen on the demanding Magnolia clan – it thrives I was standing against top, with tan undersides in the rubble below a brick wall. a castle wall, beneath the that are as soft as Nappa And as if the handsome looks weren’t branches of one of these M.g. ‘Gallissonnière’: coming on strong, leather to touch. Its colouring enough, when mature in a decade or magnanimous and grand so’s time, the branches in summer will trees, when I remembered that even in a tight spot and tactile nature make it well bear gin balloon-sized blooms, scented deserving of a space close at hand, I’d forgotten I owned one… where you can look up into the canopy. with the zingy aroma of a London I’d unearthed it a decade ago, while At just 6ft (1.8m), mine is too short for lemonade cocktail: magnificent and clearing brambles from the back of our (then) new nursery. The previous owners that, but its diminutive size means it’ll grand in equal measure! clearly hadn’t the heart to throw the potted tree away, so they had left it to take its chances amongst the weeds. Although stuck for space, I couldn’t let EVERGREENS including Magnolia grandiflora often have it go either and I bunged it in at the back fibrous roots, which cling to the soil and stay intact even of a border where, slow-growing and when moved. Slice into the soil around the dripline of the plant with a spade, then dig a moat-like trench around the outside of this line. Chop underneath the plant to sever the last roots, and lever to the surface. Dig the new hole, and if the plant is too big to lift, roll the rootball onto a sheet of plastic and drag as if on a sled to its new location. Once planted stake, water Dig a channel around well and keep watered through the first summer. the rootball of the tree

How to move an evergreen

“It thrives in the rubble below a brick wall”


TI Media

All photography Alamy, unless otherwise credited

Soldier beetle feeding on the nectar of a Magnolia grandiflora

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