It’s the time of year when I really have to force myself to prioritise. It seems that everything needs doing from weeding to planting, sowing, and filling the remaining hanging baskets that have been unearthed from the back of someone’s shed at the last minute. It’s very interesting listening to people’s likes and dislikes on hanging baskets and tubs (many detesting them altogether). Some like all one colour but loads of different plants and some like multi-coloured and loud because that’s what you can do only in this season. Many people specify no yellow and I can only presume that yellow is seen as a spring colour not a summer colour. Although the weather has been mixed there have been exceptionally high temperatures in the tunnels during the day time and really quite low temperatures during May at night. This leads to apparent confusion for young plants and some of the growth is quite severely checked by cold nights with the plants seemingly standing still, not sure whether to grow or not.
I mentioned in February that I put begonia tubers into seed trays barely covered withcompost keeping them warm and moist. Begonias seem to take forever to get going hence my early start. This year their growth has been particularly erratic, they are all growing but not at the same pace. As I have said, not being a begonia expert but merely an enthusiast, I mentioned my dilemma to a local Nurseryman who grows hundreds of begonias for the National Trust. In the middle of May he took me into his glasshouse and showed me two rows of begonias. All were the same variety and all grown in the same way. One row was distinctly smaller than the other but such deep green large leaves. The other row was twice the size but a slightly paler green but very healthy. He has a theory now about growing begonias which I think has hit on the issues affecting my erratic specimens. The begonias grown for the National Trust were of course in peat free compost as they specify for all their plants, the others were in a peat mixture and he posed the question to me as to which were which. ‘Obvious’ I said, ‘the ones that are smaller are in peat free and the bigger ones in peat.’ ‘Wrong’ he replied. ‘It’s the other way round.’
What he has deduced is that begonias do not like food when they are first planted. Peat composts have nutrient added and the nutrients were delaying the growth, the peat free with no nutrient additive had got away quicker and stronger and were responding to food only when the first leaves had fully emerged. He therefore suggested that if you plant, as I do, just getting a couple of handfuls of peat based compost in a seed tray, the nutrient will not be properly mixed from the top, middle or bottom of the bag, therefore my strongest begonias are probably those that had little or no nutrient at their earliest stages. Interesting? Well I think so but perhaps I should get out more!
At the risk of you assuming that I spend my life chatting rather than working, I am going to recount another conversation I had, this time with a very eminently qualified horticulturalist that I see most weeks when I am tending to glasshouses whilst he is gardening in the same place. He says you should not plant tomatoes into their final place before the first flowers are blooming on the plant. My father never mentioned this one so I have gone on regardless, planting when I thought they were big enough and frankly when it was convenient to me. However my knowledgeable friend assures me that I will achieve an even greater fruit yield and less leaves if I follow his advice. I have done half in half this year and will see what difference it makes.
Not being an expert on wildflowers I asked my eminent friend what the excessively long stemmed rather bluebell like flower was in the hedgerows that has appeared in a stunning clump in my garden. That’s the triangular leek he replied, and its leaves certainly taste like leeks. Not wanting to waste a minute of this opportunity to gather knowledge I took him to a clump of bluebells and asked him why the English and Spanish are so difficult to differentiate. The books and TV experts tell you to avoid the Hispanic variety like the plague, it is decimating our woodlands, but are you sure you can identify it? We looked closely at the clump. The short flat basal leaves and bending head with flowers on one side of the stem is the native blue bell. The bigger leaved upright flower with flowers on all sides is the Hispanic invader. But what we had here were native bluebells and bendy headed ones with flowers on both sides of the stem. The latter is the result of the hybridisation between the two and frankly not unattractive. Apparently the only way to stop the Spanish and the hybrids from taking over is to crush them underfoot every year until they give up.
Britain contains nearly 50% of the world’s bluebells and although they exist in mainland Europe a recent German visitor told me she had never seen them until she came to Cornwall. My learned friend has a theory on this. We eradicated the wild boar in Britain but it was and still is free to roam Europe and he reckons it has rooted up all the bluebells. So if we have effectively re-introduced the boar and they escape all over the place will we lose our bluebell woods and how quickly?
I suppose the moral of this month’s diatribe can only be that listening to people with more knowledge than oneself is stimulating, there is always something to learn and never be afraid to ask.