Winter beauty!

One of the wonderful things about gardening is there’s always something of interest to see in the garden, even in the middle of winter. Believe it or not, despite the cold and snowy weather we’ve recently experienced several plants have continued to put on a winter display. Winter flowering shrubs are always good value because they tend to flower for several months and in many cases are scented. One of my favourite winter flowering shrubs is Viburnum x bodnantense Dawn. For much of the year, especially in summer you probably wouldn’t notice the tall growing shrub in a border, but come early winter the bare branches come to life as clusters of flowers develop on the tips of the branches. These open deep pink in colour and gradually fade to white and have a lovely scent. Flowering starts around November and will continue through the winter and into spring, and even in very cold weather the flower carry on opening. It’s a really good garden shrub that grows in most soils with an ultimate height of 3m (10ft) and a spread of around 1.2m (4ft). If you are looking for winter flowering shrubs for your garden this is one I’d strongly recommend.

Seed Potatoes

Potato planting seems a long way off, but it is time to start buying seed potatoes. Seed catalogues are advertising them and they are now on display in garden centres. The main reason for buying your seed potatoes early is partly to make sure you are able to buy the varieties that you want, but also so that you can start the tubers into growth. This is particularly important for the early types that are planted at the end of March or early April. The process of starting them into growth is known as Chitting and is done by standing the tubers in trays in a cool, light position just as a windowsill. Being in the light starts the dormant bud in the eyes of the potato into growth and these develop into short, green shoots, so that when the potatoes are planted into the ground they start into growth much faster, ensuring you get an early crop. It’s very simple to chit potatoes, but if the position is dark and too warm, long pales shoots will develop which isn’t what we want.

Readers’ Questions

Alison Sunley has emailed me to ask if I can recommend a good potting compost and hanging basket compost.

Finding good potting compost can be difficult these days as so many composts contain a mixture of recycled ingredients as a result of compost manufacturers having to reduce usage of peat. Having trialled many different composts over the years I’m still a great believer that most plants grow best in a peat-based compost. In a recent Which? Gardening trial on compost for raising plants the best compost were those containing peat, with J Arthur Bowers Seed & Cutting Compost and Verve Multipurpose compost scoring well in the trials. The former is ideal for raising young plants and the later would be fine for hanging baskets and containers. You could also ask your local garden centre or nursery what compost they use to grow in as you can be sure that it will be a good one. In the past you could buy a brand name and be assured it was good compost, but nowadays there seems to be less consistency in the compost mixes, so you do need to ask around for recommendations.

If you have a gardening question for Martin Fish please email him at martin@flowershow.org.uk and we’ll print a selection of questions and answers for readers to share. Or, write to Ackrill Media Group, 1 Cardale Park, Harrogate and we’ll pass on your question