Monthly Archives: January 2016

Feel the burn


If you’re itching to alleviate the winter gloom by opening the odd seed packet this month, then we’ve got good news for you. While the likes of sweetcorn and pumpkins need to stay wrapped up in their foil envelopes till April or May, chilli pepper seeds can be unleashed in January and February. Many varieties, especially the hotter types like habaneros and nagas, revel in an early sowing due to their long maturity times. Just ensure that you can provide them with enough heat and light, and you’ll be rewarded with productive, good sized plants long before later sowings are even thinking about flowering.

Spoilt for choice
The array of chilli varieties available is flabbergasting – especially if you source a specialist chilli seed supplier (there are plenty online). If you’re a novice, the best advice is to familiarise yourself with Scoville units – it’s the heat scale that different chillies are measured against. A sweet bell pepper has a rating of 0 as it has no heat. Step up a gear with Pimento (100-500), Anaheim (500-2,500) and Ancho (1,000-2,000) peppers, or go straight to the heavyweights with Bird’s Eye, Scotch Bonnet and Habanero varieties, all of which range between 100,000-300,000 Scoville units. When you reach the Naga-Bih Joloka chilli, with a rating over over 1 million units, you may need to reach for a (very large) glass of milk…

Taking root

Propagating your own garden plants gives an immense sense of satisfaction and it also provides you, plus your friends and family, with a free supply of stock. You could be forgiven for assuming that it’s a complex process, but one method of propagation is astoundingly simple. Root cuttings are incredibly easy to take, and the time to do so is now. This technique is ideal for fleshy-rooted plants such as oriental poppies, sea hollies, phlox, seakale (pictured), anemones and verbascums. Here’s how to go about it:

Taking Crambe cordifolia root cuttings. Cutting root into sections - © Jonathan Buckley/GAP Photos

Taking Crambe cordifolia root cuttings. Cutting root into sections – © Jonathan Buckley/GAP Photos

Either lift your chosen stock plant carefully, or fork around its perimeter to extract some roots. Only take four or five lengths from any one plant, and ideally choose those that were produced last year. Cut them into 5cm lengths, with a flat top cut and sloping bottom cut.

Taking Crambe cordifolia root cuttings. Inserting sections into module seed tray - © Jonathan Buckley/GAP Photos

Taking Crambe cordifolia root cuttings. Inserting sections into module seed tray – © Jonathan Buckley/GAP Photos

Cutting the root sections in this way ensures that you know which is the correct way up. Fill a tray of large modules or a collection of pots with some seed and cuttings compost to which you’ve added 30 percent by volume fine grit.

Potting on Crambe cordifolia root cuttings. Close up of sprouted root in modular seed tray - © Jonathan Buckley/GAP Photos

Potting on Crambe cordifolia root cuttings. Close up of sprouted root in modular seed tray – © Jonathan Buckley/GAP Photos

Water the compost well, then insert the cuttings to their full depth with the flat cut uppermost. Position the completed pots or modules in a frost-free, well-lit spot – ideally on a gently heated bench if you have one. Keep the compost just moist.

Potting on Crambe cordifolia root cuttings. Plugs ready to pot on - © Jonathan Buckley/GAP Photos

Potting on Crambe cordifolia root cuttings. Plugs ready to pot on – © Jonathan Buckley/GAP Photos

By mid spring young shoots will have appeared, and fine fibrous roots will also develop. Once these hold the compost together you can pot up your cuttings, ready to distribute to gardening neighbours and friends.

Feline charms


While big, showy petals may well catch our eye during the summer months, don’t overlook the equally impressive array of catkins that begin their pendulous displays in the winter period. These filamentous flowers persist well into spring, and although they may not bring bold blocks of pink, blue or orange, their trump card is their ability to appear on bare branches, while hot-house flowers are still slumbering in their beds.

The key species
Catkins are, in fact, the male flowering structures of certain plants. For once in life, the females take a back seat when it comes to putting on a colourful and spectacular display. The fluffy flowers are so-shaped because they are packed with pollen-bearing filaments. Instead of relying on insects, catkin-bearing plants are wind-pollinated. The flowers are designed to dangle so that the lightest breeze will shake them to release their precious pollen. Birch, hazel, hornbeam and willow commonly produce showy catkins. The native silver birch, Betula pendula, produces abundant male blooms, but for something that bit special, why not seek out Betula luminifera with pendulous catkins to 3 inches long? You’re spoilt for choice with willows – Salix caprea, S. hastata and S. x tsugualensis will all give you a great show, but for something a little different, consider planting S. gracilistyla ‘Melanostachys’ with its jet black flowers. The male selection of Garrya elliptica wins hand-down on length, with tassles easily 6 inches long, while you can’t beat the hop hornbeam, Ostrya virginiana for full-on plumpness.