Monthly Archives: January 2015

Early starters

Is there anything to be gained by being an eager beaver on the veg patch? Well, if you can supply your crops with the right growing conditions, then the answer is a definite yes. They key here is to focus solely on the crops that revel in an early start: first early potatoes, super-hot chillies and hardy peas and broad beans. Leave the likes of courgettes, sweetcorn and runner beans in their seed packets for a few weeks more at least. Ample light is also crucial – even the hardiest of crops will become lanky, weak and disease-prone if they’re grown in dimly lit conditions. There’s never been a better reason to scrub greenhouse, conservatory and cold frame glass with warm, soapy water.

Young girl holding llek seeds before sowing them in seed trays in a greenhouse in early Spring - © Fiona Lea/GAP Photos

Young girl holding llek seeds before sowing them in seed trays in a greenhouse in early Spring – © Fiona Lea/GAP Photos

Show stoppers
Fans of exhibition onions should know one secret: sow early for the biggest bulbs. Choose an appropriate variety such as ‘Kelsae’ and sow one seed per large module. You’ll need a heated propagator to start them off.

Sowing Tomato seeds into pots - sprinkle seed thinly and evenly over flat moist compost - © John Swithinbank/GAP Photos

Sowing Tomato seeds into pots – sprinkle seed thinly and evenly over flat moist compost – © John Swithinbank/GAP Photos

Things are warming up
A heated propagator is also essential if you want to grow the hottest chillies. Habaneros, Scotch bonnets and Nagas benefit from a long growing season. Start them off in pots or modules now, with at least 25ºC of heat.

Broad Bean seedlings in recycled loo rolls - © Jonathan Buckley/GAP Photos

Broad Bean seedlings in recycled loo rolls – © Jonathan Buckley/GAP Photos

The very best beans
Shop-bought broad beans aren’t a patch on home-grown ones. These hardy, deep-rooted veg can be sown in early spring. Either create rows outdoors, 40cm apart, or sow seeds into root-trainers or toilet rolls.

Pea 'Tall Sugar Snap' grown under a perspex cloche - © Jonathan Buckley/GAP Photos

Pea ‘Tall Sugar Snap’ grown under a perspex cloche – © Jonathan Buckley/GAP Photos

Mind your peas
Autumn sowings of winter-hardy peas should resume growth as the soil warms. Cover rows with cloches to encourage a speedy start, or sow spring varieties to play catch-up.

Young tomato plants in 9cm pots on greenhouse staging - © Gary Smith/GAP Photos

Young tomato plants in 9cm pots on greenhouse staging – © Gary Smith/GAP Photos

Green tomatoes
If you plan to grow this crop in a greenhouse, you can begin sowing them in February. Being a tender crop, ample heat is essential, so fire up the heated propagator. Good light is crucial too, if you’re to avoid leggy seedlings.

Winter combinations

Who said that everything shuts down outside during the chillier months? Encourage friends and family to don scarves, hats and boots to take a turn in your garden during winter by matching up some winning plant partnerships. Savvy selections of flowers, foliage and structure can easily add visual drama and excitement. There are other senses to stimulate, too. Fragrance is of paramount importance to plants at this time of year, to lure pollinating insects out on the wing. Exploit this reliance on heady scents to create some olfactory treats in your borders.

Galanthus nivalis and Iris reticulata - © Friedrich Strauss/GAP Photos

Galanthus nivalis and Iris reticulata – © Friedrich Strauss/GAP Photos

Pretty pint-sized
No taller than 20cm, these delicate snowdrops and reticulata irises couldn’t provide more of a contrast colour-wise. Plant en masse under deciduous trees or shrubs for an elegant statement.

Helleborus x hybridus with Scilla sibirica -Siberian Squill in early Spring - © Richard Bloom/GAP Photos

Helleborus x hybridus with Scilla sibirica -Siberian Squill in early Spring – © Richard Bloom/GAP Photos

Heads up!
These upright burgundy hellebores would look good on their own, but they’ve been taken to another level by being cleverly combined with a dense carpet of sky-blue scillas.

Galanthus nivalis with Eranthis hyemalis - © Martin Staffler/GAP Photos

Galanthus nivalis with Eranthis hyemalis – © Martin Staffler/GAP Photos

Cosy carpets
Diminutive in height they may be, but the golden yellow cup-shaped blooms of winter aconites gaze up at you on sunny days. Adding snowdrops creates a mini-landscape of differing heights and shapes.

Large container planted up with Galanthus 'Atkinsii' and Cyclamen coum - © Jonathan Buckley/GAP Photos

Large container planted up with Galanthus ‘Atkinsii’ and Cyclamen coum – © Jonathan Buckley/GAP Photos

Nice to meet you
This huge galvanised planter effortlessly brings your beds up to eye height. The partnership of bold, brazen Cyclamen coum and graceful, pure white snowdrops is beautifully balanced.

Abies procera Glauca Prostrata (Noble Fir) with Erica carnea Springwood White and Cornus sanguinea Midwinter Fire in background. The Winter Garden, Bressingham Gardens in February - © Richard Bloom/GAP Photos

Abies procera Glauca Prostrata (Noble Fir) with Erica carnea Springwood White and Cornus sanguinea Midwinter Fire in background. The Winter Garden, Bressingham Gardens in February – © Richard Bloom/GAP Photos

Fire and water
Don’t underestimate the importance of foliage and stems. This bed of cool ericas, topped by steely blue abies, is given movement, height and warmth via a brilliant backdrop of burning dogwoods.

Structure in the winter garden

Observing your garden in the dormant period makes for a sound idea. Only then, when you’re not distracted by the abundance of summer vegetation and blooms, can you clearly see the backbone of your plot. Permanent strong lines and curves lead the eye, create optical illusions and frameworks, and add extra depth and dimension to your garden. An excellent example of how best to create winter structure can be seen at Ousden House, which nestles in the outskirts of Newmarket, Suffolk. There, owners Alistair and Lavinia have spent nearly twenty years perfecting the flow, accents and shaping of their rural plot.

The brick clock tower at Ousden House with snow in December - © Zara Napier/GAP Photos

The brick clock tower at Ousden House with snow in December – © Zara Napier/GAP Photos

Ousden House lies in the grounds of Ousden Hall, which was demolished in 1954. The only remnant of the Hall is a lofty red brick clock tower, and this sets the scale and sculpting for subsequent garden structures. Taking inspiration from and echoing the surrounding buildings and landscape is a definite way to lock in the identity of your garden. At Ousden House, hedging, gateways and gazebos all mirror the clock tower.

Rose Arbour with Rosa 'Irene Watts' at the foot of the arbour and Taxus - yew hedges in the Rose Garden with Frost in December - © Zara Napier/GAP Photos

Rose Arbour with Rosa ‘Irene Watts’ at the foot of the arbour and Taxus – yew hedges in the Rose Garden with Frost in December – © Zara Napier/GAP Photos

Looking out from the house, you’ll see a thick rectangular yew hedge. Cleverly scaled to be slightly larger than the dwelling itself, it frames the building beautifully when viewed from the lawn beyond. Formed of high perimeters yet scalloped lower to the front and back, a visitor inside the house can only see tantalising glimpses of the planting that lies within, and is duly enticed outside. A short walk reveals beds packed with English roses. The central focus of this rose garden – a latticework wooden gazebo – is positioned to perfection. It frames a pair of distant oak trees like a picture.

Serpentine Taxus - yew hedges leading to decorative iron gate with frost in December - © Zara Napier/GAP Photos

Serpentine Taxus – yew hedges leading to decorative iron gate with frost in December – © Zara Napier/GAP Photos

Bold curves
Ousden defies the convention that hedges must be straight. A pair of serpentine yew hedges snake their way down to a rural landscape framed by simple metal gates. This way such bold, dramatic lines don’t fight with the adjoining view in the slightest. This is simple, effective, confident structuring.

Taxus - Yew pillars with topiary yew birds and decorative iron gate leading to the Moat Garden with frost in December - © Zara Napier/GAP Photos

Taxus – Yew pillars with topiary yew birds and decorative iron gate leading to the Moat Garden with frost in December – © Zara Napier/GAP Photos

The yew hedges, whether straight or weaving, are a repeated theme throughout the grounds. This unites all areas, yet allows for individual ‘rooms’ to evolve. In one area, low-lying gravel gardens appear, accentuated only by spiral topiary. Specimen trees of malus are planted in others, their bright red crabs glistening in the low-level winter sunlight. Topiary balls and birds add humour and character. Specimen trees, surrounded by low-lying evergreen hedging, create clean crisp lines in winter, yet in summer, there is an opportunity to fill the beds within with annuals, bulbs and perennials.

Fagus - Beech trees with frosted leaves December - © Zara Napier/GAP Photos

Fagus – Beech trees with frosted leaves December – © Zara Napier/GAP Photos

The punctuation of the yew lessens as you move away from the house, giving way to more informal gardens that link to the surrounding landscape. Fewer peripheral manmade structures, whether brickwork, timber or clipped hedging, allow gardens to sit well in their environment. At Ousden House, a beech plantation, set out by previous landowners in regimental rows, is being selectively thinned to create more naturalistic spacings. Water is also being used to define the area, in the form of a moat and lake. Both have required serious dredging over the years, but now offer a clear reflection of the trees and accompanying woodland plantings. In one area close to the lake, the lower canopies of the surrounding beech trees have been lifted to develop a clearing. Here, two horses – a mare and her foal – made entirely from scrap metal by artist Harriet Mead, gaze towards the water’s edge. The subject matter of this bold yet peaceful sculpture sits perfectly in this rural setting.