Hurray! That’s dreary old January out the way. By the time we get to the end of February there will little signs of approaching spring everywhere, even if there are still some cold blasts to come.
So let’s welcome in February by doing some cheering jobs like potting up primroses, sowing broad beans and beautifying tree-bark, amongst other things…
Pretty, pretty primroses
Ah primroses! One of the iconic signs that winter has been conquered again. I like the wild pale yellow primroses (Primula vulgaris) the best, with their unique fresh scent and their enchanting ability to colonise a damp sunny bank in early spring. But actually I like them all, even the rather garish polyanthus kinds (can you feel Laura shudder?!🤣) because they inject such joyous colour after all the grey days.
The problem is that, certainly in my garden beds, early-foraging slugs and snails nibble the flowers and foliage and make the plants look messy. So at about this time of year, just as they have started to come into growth, I like to pot up lots of my primroses to keep them out of the way of the munchers, and to enjoy their beauty a little closer-up.
If you haven’t got primulas in your garden, they are easy to find in garden centres etc. at the moment, but make sure that they have come from a sustainable source, and never, ever dig them up from the wild (it’s illegal, and rightly so).
Terracotta pots or pans are good for this, and they don’t need special compost – an ordinary peat-free multi-purpose mix is fine, if you haven’t got your own potting mixture.
Dig each plant up carefully with a trowel (we have some super Burgon & Ball tools for the purpose in our online shop) and tuck it into the pot – they can be quite close together because you’ll be removing them back into the garden when the display is finished.
Once you’ve planted them into the container, fill in with more compost around the roots and water the pot. Then I usually finish with a dressing of vermiculite or grit on the surface of the compost (to deter varmints). But what also looks very attractive is a covering of moss (after all the rain we’ve had, you’ve probably got plenty in the lawn!!) and that will keep the roots moist and cool which is just what they need.
Put your pots and pans of pretty perfect primroses (sorry, I suddenly got swept away by an alliteration opportunity – I’ll try not to let it happen again) in a cool, even cold, position, where you can easily see them and let them brighten your day. Keep them watered and dead-headed. A lightly-shaded spot is fine – they much prefer that to bright sun and heat.
Go out and do it now. Laura does the same with her snowdrops too.
Sowing broad beans
Broad beans are almost unique in their ability to tolerate being sown at any time of the year.
Some folks always plant them in autumn to give them a lovely early crop the following May, and I’ve done that in the past. Unfortunately very strong winter winds or snaps of extreme cold have occasionally played fast and loose with my broad bean plants. So I now prefer to sow them at about this time in a cold place indoors ready to plant out into the garden about six weeks later.
I recently made a short video about how I do this, so do check out the link at the bottom.
And if you’ve got children or grandchildren, do let them have a go at growing a broad bean seed – just like we three sisters did, a million years ago. Wash out a clean jamjar, leave it wet and line it with kitchen roll pressed up against the sides. Tuck a broad bean seed between the kitchen roll and the glass and keep the jar on a windowsill. Keep the seed moist with a spoonful of water each day but no more – it shouldn’t be waterlogged. After a few days, your youngster will see their seed sprouting, and in a couple of weeks, they can carefully take their seedling out to be planted in a biggish pot or in the ground outside.
They may not get an ENORMOUS harvest from one plant (!), but it’s fun, interesting, and may spark their interest for growing things and gardening in general, and that would be an excellent thing, in my opinion!
- Oooh we’ve had some fun with our blog last week, which was about plants we love to hate! One of the subjects was snowdrops which severely divided opinion. Now, if you are in the school of folk who love ‘em (‘galanthophiles’ to use the posh word), and you want to increase your stock, order them now because they are generally sold ‘in the green’. In other words, not as dry bulbs which can be hard to start into growth, but while they still have foliage above ground. This is also true of winter aconites (Eranthis).
- There are some really lovely climbing annuals that you can grow from seed, but as a rule, they do take a while to get going, so it’s a good idea to sow them in February rather than March or April if you can. Plants like Ipomoea purpurea (morning glory), Cobaea scandens (cup-and-saucer vine), Lablab purpureus (Australian pea) or Thunbergia alata (black-eyed Susan) will then have a lovely long season of flower before the frosts of late autumn kick in. Sown into pots of seed compost and kept in a propagator at room temperature, they should germinate quite readily, and soon be mature enough to pot on and kept in a frost-free place until they are planted outside in spring. Later sowings will give you a later flowering season.
- Some trees have fabulous bark – we are excited to have planted three little Tibetan cherry trees this winter which have glowing stripy red trunks! – but if the weather has been damp and mild as it has been been for much of this winter, they can become awfully discoloured with green algae. Rubbing them down with a damp cloth will reveal their bright colours again.
Here is the link to the video about sowing broad beans.
Easy to grow, this winter iris is happy at the base of a dry sunny wall and in poor, stony soil. You can read more here about Louise Sims’ Great Plant this Month
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