Gardening – May 2017 – Sarah Daniel and Helen Robins

Has Anyone Got a Hat We Can Eat?

Last month, we talked about pruning and chopping with abandon, hoping the worst of the late winter cold was behind us. The last couple of days and nights have been a salutary lesson that even in the latest of late April in Cornwall, there is no certainty, and it has been FREEZING. Sales of horticultural fleece shot up, and not without reason.

Who expects frosts at this late time down here? One of us was busy fleecing tomato plants and all her little seedlings in the unheated greenhouse, thinking that most of her herbaceous perennials with new top growth would remain untouched. Not so. There is a distinct wilted look to some of it this morning, and even her potato top growth looks decidedly floppy and miserable.

So what to do about it? The herbaceous perennials can be cut back a bit, so the floppy growth is removed and the plants can shoot afresh. It is plenty early enough for recovery. The spuds, however, will have to take their chances. They are only just poking their heads above ground so there is barely anything to remove, and we are confident they will grow through it. Wait until we have warmer nights before re-chopping the perennials though, otherwise you could inflict further and more terminal damage. The gurus at weather central tell us next week will see much higher day and night time temperatures, so wait for those, with crossed fingers. And buy some fleece or obtain some bubble wrap, just in case.

Anyway, on to a more positive note. The still, dry and warmer days we have had this month have brought us down here an absolute bonanza of blossom – apple, crab apple, cherry, plum, ornamental Japanese cherry, magnolia, rhododendrons and azaleas (have you been to Caerhays recently? Unprecedented colour and scent).

And as the bees have been relatively active, we think we could be looking at bumper crops of tree fruit later this year. Perez Prado wasn’t far wrong when he played Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White, although he must have been musing about the ornamental cherry and a different apple variety from the little fellas shown here! We have Apple Pink and Cherry Blossom White.

It’s not too late to plant a potted fruit tree of any kind if you are missing that crop in your garden. Many of the fruit tree varieties we can buy these days are self-fertile, but check the label and if not, and plant another tree of a compatible pollinating group to ensure a good crop. This applies more particularly to apples and pears. It is far too long a subject to go into detail here, but be aware of it when buying for yourself or for a gift. The RHS has a very good guide on its website.

It’s at this time of year, as shrub-buying accelerates at pace, that we reflect on some of the requests we get from customers. It always saddens us slightly when a customer is adamant that every plant they buy must be evergreen. When it’s for screening, or blocking the view into or out of your garden, we understand that completely.

However, when it is not for that purpose, we vehemently encourage folk to consider deciduous shrubs as well. There are all sorts of reasons, not least the fact that this time of year they are bursting into leaf in a myriad of brilliant colours, and hold so much promise of lovely things to come. A wall of dark green from the evergreens just can’t do that.

No group illustrates that better than the Japanese acers. These work very well in Cornwall because they like an acid soil, which we, by and large, have. They are happy to remain in pots too (provided they have acid/ericaceous compost), although this will of course restrict their size – no bad thing if you have a smaller garden.

In terms of the conditions they tolerate, they have slightly different requirements depending on their colour and leaf type. The finer and darker the leaf, the less they will tolerate bright sunlight and wind. We have so many customers who tell us that the leaves on their purple acers crisp up, and then we find out they are in full sun and are caught by the wind.

Acers are an “edge of woodland” plant in their native habitat and like the dappled sunlight filtered through and windbreak provided by the taller trees. This is one advantage of keeping them in pots – you can move them to suit the time of year and the weather conditions. As the year goes on, their colour deepens, they may even flower and then they go through whatever colour change is governed by their variety, before dropping their leaves, and revealing often very colourful bare stems for the winter. A joyful and serene plant. Have one if you can.

Acers dissectum, Garnet and Orange Dream

Finally, you have probably already noticed all the veg plants and bedding appearing in garden centres. Buy away, but be circumspect about the weather conditions. It is better to be a bit late than regretful and having to cough up for a second lot when early purchases are arrested or worse, killed, by unexpectedly cold weather conditions. Pre-made hanging baskets will be appearing before too much longer if you don’t fancy trying to do your own – give it a go though, it’s easy and you get exactly what you want and not that orange begonia you didn’t.

Well, we are hoping to be able to write next month’s column without fingerless gloves and fleeces on – fingers crossed – if you can still feel them, that is. And just enjoy this wee Omphalodes Cherry Ingram – just because this blast of colour is what Spring is all about, chilly or not.

Sarah Daniel and Helen Robins, Pengelly Garden Centre

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