IT takes lots of will power, or more appropriately, won’t power, to resist all the plant offers popping up in newspapers and magazines at present.
With the sap beginning to rise on another gardening season and nursery benches groaning under the strain of plants for sale, the hard sell has just begun.
At a local level there are hosts of young plants intended for spring bedding and container displays, standing in pots. With time running out for clearance, there has to be a strategy to move them on. It generally comes in the form of signs: ‘Three for the price of two’, ‘Buy 20 and get 10 free’ and one that never fails to appeal, Bogof.
This can be a bonanza time for the savvy gardener. Look beyond the present season when eyeing-up these offers.
Anything of a perennial nature, polyanthus for example, can be divided up after flowering year-on-year.
All gardeners are prone to buying on impulse occasionally but for me this is one time to stick with plants that fit the garden plan and whose performance is familiar.
That does not rule out trying new varieties of a particular favourite, which is, after all, on offer.
A recent example was the collection of erysimum I could not resist, that appeared in a national newspaper.
This is the wallflower family, always welcome on this plot and a perennial which, carefully tended will last several years. We have the popular Bowles Mauve, whose presence began with a single plant, but so easily is it raised from stem cuttings that there is now a group of them. It blooms all summer and well into winter. Indeed, there is still colour on the tips of old flowering stems but emerging buds down below say now is the time to remove them.
The blurb flagging up a collection of five varieties (10 plants for £17) claims that they bloom from February to September and we know that to be true. Apart from Bowles Mauve, the group includes Jenny Brook, Apricot Twist, Sunburst and Spice Island.
I look forward to growing them on for a year then perpetuating the stock via regular propagation.
For more information visit www.hayloft-plants.co.uk or order on 0844 335 1088.
These are not the only wallflowers in our garden. The old original cheiranthus cheiri was long ago introduced from seed to the dry-stone walls where it thrives in the crevices.
I used the traditional medieval method of mixing seed with mud, picking up a handful and throwing it at the gaps.
It worked, as the continuing healthy growth attests, and either seed saving or rooting of cuttings ensures continuity when the parent plants begin to age.
But see how well they flourish in the roadside walls on Holy Island and at Hulne Priory, without human assistance even after hundreds of years.
Then there are the traditional bedding wallflowers we also grow in this garden – old hat, far from it! The vibrant colours and heavenly scent are a Godsend from March to May when incidentally lots of people throw them out, not realising that with pruning and transplanting onto spare land, we can coax another performance from them.
It’s more than sentiment that makes me want to have Fire King and Monarch Mixed in the garden, even though they are a direct link to youthful days, November planting and freezing fingers. They easily hold their own against modern varieties in terms of fragrance and performance.
Our second daring purchase of a new year was also seen as a bargain because, after years of giant butterfly bush presence in the garden, the recently introduced dwarf trio strike a chord of agreement.
They will continue the important function of sustaining butterflies and bees without taking over the place.
The three-plant collection on offer is in the patio buddleja Buzz series comprising Ivory, Sky Blue and Magenta. Given that these deciduous shrubs are easily propagated from hard wood stem cuttings pushed into the autumn soil, the price of £15 seems a good investment.
Having the same-sized flowers as regular buddleja, yet demanding much less space, is certainly a plus point. They looked good at Chelsea Flower Show and are claimed to have a long flowering period. Reason enough to buy and try, I think. Further information can be found online by visiting www.thompson-morgan.com.
My third temptation lies in one of several Thompson & Morgan publications that follow the main catalogue. In Rewarding Gardens 2012, which covers flowers, vegetables and some fruit, they have a four page patio allotment section that appeals.
Here you will find a potato-growing opportunity similar to a Marshall’s offer I tried last year. It comprises three polypropylene bags, each with a capacity of 40 litres, plus three potato varieties (five tubers of each), and the cost is £14.99. The potatoes are: Charlotte, Rocket and Vivaldi. I look forward to trying my choice of spuds this year in these seemingly indestructible bags.
In keeping with friend Jim, the high-hills walker, I have a soft spot for potatoes Kestrel and Osprey, both of which perform well. And on the same feathered note, fancy trying a new sweet corn, Lapwing.
It is early-maturing, so important in the north, and a result of the noted Tendersweet breeding programme.
The main focus of my interest in this catalogue though is an asparagus patio kit – two 60 litre patio bags and six crowns of Pacific Challenger for £20. This is an ideal starter pack for asparagus lovers without a garden.
The same catalogue offers 10 or 25 crowns at a price, but the alternative is to grow your own plants from seed, something that is not as difficult as you might think. From a spring sowing, let them develop the first year and have a first modest taste the second.
Occasionally, there is an offer that seems so good you cannot resist. Reference the so-called tree lilies bought last year.
They allegedly would grow over six feet in the first year, were double flowered and made an excellent fragrant screen or hedge.
We are so taken by the existing hybrid lilies that surround the house in containers and stand up to frost so well, that we decided to try the three-bulbs-of-each offer. How could you not allow Monet, Picasso and Cezanne access to your patio!
They were potted up early and strong shoots showing by the end of May when they went outside. But reality kicked in when September arrived and a mere 60 centimetres growth had been made.
Furthermore, they flowered so late that the first frost caught up with them. Then came the phone call from friend John, who’d also bought these amazing tree lilies from the same source and was sharing the same disappointing experience.
Had they sent the wrong bulbs to both of us? I doubt it. Did we plant them too late? No. Will they turn into giant tree lilies given time? Possibly! At present they’re overwintering in pots outside and will be given another chance. John agrees.