February may be a bleak month for many gardeners, but for Richard Orton it is a window of time to dream and plan. Here he reports on his hopes for this year and preparations for opening the Lewis Cottage garden to the public, which include building a viewing platform for a new pond. And in his top tips for February, he includes a simple growing project for little ones - to make a cress egg head.
February is the time dream; of how much better the veg patch will perform this year, that the dahlias will be bigger, that it will only rain at night and by just the right amount, that the 20 year old bird of paradise plant we’ve been nurturing will finally flower and of new projects to be planned and executed.
A new viewing platform
The main projects here at the cottage will be to get the garden “NGS” ready. Here are our opening dates for this year. Most excitingly to put in place a viewing platform from which to look out at the huge new pond that our farmer neighbours installed last year. Surrounded already by wildflowers, it is being allowed to fill and mature naturally over time so it will be interesting to see what wildlife and birds will be attracted to it. Even in these bleak days of winter the view changes daily and is a source of great pleasure.
Plans for our planters
In the polytunnels we have all of our large planters, keeping them frost free and stored until mid-spring when we will repot or top dress them, prune and feed them ready for putting outside again once all chance of frost has passed.
We have daturas, ginger lilies, scented pelargoniums, abutilons and agapanthus, many of which are very old, happy and reliable in their itinerant lives, wondering each year whether they will return to their usual spot or if they will be placed more prominently (or not) this season. This sometimes depends on what is in fashion but more likely whether the plant did well in last year’s spot.
Some of the plants have special places that they always occupy. The agapanthus for instance always sit in the full glare of the sun, up by the vegetable garden because they bloom so well there, whereas the datura needs the shelter of the cottage so that its leaves don’t burn nor the trumpet like flowers get blown away by the wind.
Some of the planters, though, are used to bring on new plants until they are of a size that allows them to be put in the garden permanently. The ginger lilies are a good example of this. We bought a handful of tubers some years ago and have patiently been putting them in and out for several years, but this time I think we’ll see them in the garden proper and hopefully flower alongside the others already there.
Scented pelargoniums always reward us
Of course, however careful you are, there will always be casualties and thus spare planters to play with at the start of the season. We take many, many cuttings of the scented pelargoniums, just in case, but these do seem to be pretty tough and of course, in spring we’ll um and ah about how hard to prune them. But they always reward us with such fabulous scent.
For many years we surrounded the pergola terrace with them, revelling in the heavy heavenly scent of lemon, rose, musk and peppermint as the sun released the oils from their leaves. I fear that we will need to find a new place for them though this year as the combination of wisteria, grape vine and golden hops has turned the terrace into a shadier space (and it has to be said a much more pleasant one to eat lunch). Maybe the new viewing platform overlooking the pond will be just the place they need.
Single specimen planter or floriferous design?
The next question of course will be whether to keep to a single specimen planter or a more floriferous design. I like to show off the larger plants singularly so as not to distract attention, whereas Penny loves the blousy combinations, particularly when underplanting with the oh so reliable Mexican fleabane (Erigeron karvinskianus) or daisy as many disparagingly call it. But don’t dismiss it, unless of course you are a bit of a neat freak as it will self-seed everywhere, which at the cottage is welcome. To see it grow in the cracks and crevices of broken paths and walls is a simple but incredible joy all of its own.
And so you see, there will be much to do in the next couple of months. But for now, this brief window of time in the gardening year allows us to well yes dream and put off those decisions for a few weeks more. As Hamlet would say - Perchance to dream, aye there’s the rub!
Top tips for February
- Time to remove the leaves from hellebores and epimediums to fully enjoy these winter/early spring flowering plants.
- Sharpen your secateurs using an oilstone and oil working parts to ensure another season of good use.
- Clean your pots and seed trays so they are ready for you to start sowing. Use a mild disinfectant to kill off bacteria.
- Recycle old plant labels – either use an eraser if you’ve marked them in pencil or use nail varnish remover if, like me you use a permanent marker pen
- If you haven’t already – order new rhubarb crowns for spring planting
- Don’t forget to plan your veg crop rotations to avoid planting veg in the same place as last year!
Cress egg heads - a lockdown project for little ones
Encouraging little ones to grow their own vegetables doesn't get any easier than growing fun cress egg heads ( thanks to my friends at Plants of Distinction for this).
All you need are empty eggshells, marker pens, cotton wool, cress seeds and an empty egg box for the eggs to sit on.
- Wash and dry the eggshells, draw on crazy faces with the marker pens then sit them in the egg box to keep them steady.
- Put some dampened cotton wool inside the shells and sprinkle cress seeds all over the surface.
- Pop them on a sunny windowsill and wait for the hair to sprout.
- Make sure that the cotton wool doesn't dry out. In just a few days your cress will have grown and be perfect for snipping with scissors and enjoying in egg & cress sandwiches!