January is Past and Gone

 In George Irvine

Isn’t it just amazing how the time flies when you are least expecting it to do so. January has simply flown in it’s the beginning of February.

The weather this month has been rather mild with very little rain which is rather unusual for Inverclyde, although last week-end saw the temperatures plummet to near zero and on Sunday we woke to find the hills around the towns covered in a light dusting of snow.

February will great us with the emergence of the snowdrops which in the words of the poet tells us that winter is nearly over and spring will soon be here. What the weather will be in the month that lies ahead is anybody’s guess. Already some bulbs are doing well, and I had a call from an old friend living in Brisbane Street to tell me that he has a host of golden daffodils in full flower gracing his garden.

Grass has not really stopped growing and your lawns will probably need a few light trims earlier than usual this year, so make sure your lawn mowers are ready for use. Have them checked over and serviced ready for use.

Good gardeners must be ready for the unexpected.


Camellias for Glossy Foliage and Showy Flowers.

Camellias are certain to brighten up any garden in the early spring with their large awe-inspiring flowers and lovely shiny foliage. However, they need an acid soil and not all garden soils are suitable for growing these fantastic flowers, and so the best solution is to grow them in large pots or tubs.

By growing in a container, we can easily control the type of soil. Camellias thrive in ericaceous soil or compost which you can obtain from Cardwell garden centre. These plants will not tolerate lime or any alkaline soil.

If planting a Camellia in a container, firstly ensure that you have sufficient drainage holes in the base of the container, before adding free-draining ericaceous compost and some slow release     controlled ericaceous granules. It is important that you keep the plant well watered throughout the year preferably with rain water.

If you have Camellias already grown in large pots you can re-pot them every couple of years increasing the pot size gradually allowing no more than a 2inch gap around the root ball. Fill the gap with fresh ericaceous compost. In the interim years when you do not need to repot, simply top dress by scraping away the top couple of inches of compost and replenishing that with fresh compost..

Never let the Camellias dry out, especially on the late summer and early autumn as this is when the plant is developing new buds for the next year’s flowers.

Check that the compost remains moist – even in winter. After flowering, stop feeding after July and raise the pot up off the ground using pot feet to prevent the pot getting water-logged by heavy rain during winter.

Bud drop may occur in early spring if the buds are exposed to cold easterly winds in early morning.


Choosing Your Seed Potatoes.

Now is the time to go along to Cardwell and purchase your seed potatoes for planting out in a month or so.

There are over thirty varieties of seed potatoes to choose from at Cardwell and I would advise you to get along early to pick your favourite varieties. In years gone buy I have seen some gardeners leaving   buying their favourite seed potatoes until late March or early April only to be disappointed when they find they are all gone.

When you are buying seed potatoes do take a look at the information on the packets or bags, as to the type of potatoes you are buying. Some potatoes can be great for boiling while other are suitable for baking or for making good chips. Other varieties are ideal as salad potatoes.

Look out for information about the flesh of each type. Some may yield floury flesh while others are    quite waxy in texture. Indeed, the choice is yours

Seed potatoes are categorised as being either First Earlies, Second Earlies, or thirdly Main Crop.

First earlies are usually planted out around the beginning of April and will mature about ten weeks later. Second earlies are planted a few weeks later – around mid April and will be ready to harvest in early July. Main cropping types are usually planted out late April or early May and take a few weeks longer before they are ready to harvest – usually late August or early September. Seed potatoes can be ‘chitted’ before planting out, but I will explain more about this next week.


Where Would Our Gardens Bee Without Them?

Bees are much needed in our gardens and in the environment around us. Indeed, these and other insects are required to pollinate our flowers, fruit bushes and trees and to a certain extent our vegetable crops.

A lot has been written and said about the demise of many bees over the years due to disease  affecting the hive – or honey bees as they are often called and some environmentalists also blame  the indiscriminate use of certain herbicides and pesticides.

Bumble Bees are different from the cultivated hive bees which are kept by beekeepers for their honey. Bumble bees are wild bees and many gardens provide a valuable habitat for bumble bees.

Only mated queen bumblebees over winter and they often seek sheltered places such as well drained north facing embankments, compost heaps or even plant pots.

Bumblebees are cold tolerant and can be active on sunny days in late winter and early spring looking for nectar from plants such as Mahonia, Virburnum and Helleborus along with some spring flowering bulbs. Indeed, without the bees we would have no flowers or fruit in our gardens, so let us help them and they will reward us.

Snowdrop Walk Gets a Miss This Year.

The annual Snowdrop Walk normally held at Ardgowan House, Inverkip will not be taking place this year. Although the snowdrops will be covering the embankments over the coming weeks as usual, this popular event which raises a lot of money for both local and national charities will not be going ahead due to extensive renovations taking place at Ardgowan House.

However, I am informed that Sir Ludovic Shaw Stewart very much hopes everything to be back to normal for 2018.

Snowdrop Walk Gets a Miss This Year.

The annual Snowdrop Walk normally held at Ardgowan House, Inverkip will not be taking place this year. Although the snowdrops will be covering the embankments over the coming weeks as usual, this popular event which raises a lot of money for both local and national charities will not be going ahead due to extensive renovations taking place at Ardgowan House.

However, I am informed that Sir Ludovic Shaw Stewart very much hopes everything to be back to normal for 2018.

More Tips About Seed Potatoes.

I mentioned above that seed potatoes often require to be ‘chitted’ before they are planted out into the garden and I want to explain this in a bit more detail.

‘Chitting’ is a method which has been used by gardeners for many years and helps to give the seed potato an early start in life and hence serves to yield an earlier harvest.

How do I do this? I can hear you ask, particularly if you have never grown ’tatties’ before.

Once you have purchased your favourite seed potatoes as I mentioned last week you can place the             seed potatoes onto a tray, or better still,  place them into an old egg  box with the ‘eyes’ uppermost. The seed potatoes should then be placed in a light position  in a frost free place and left there for a few weeks after which you will see small shoots appearing from the ‘eyes’ of the seed potatoes.

Once the shoots are about an inch or so long the seed potato can be planted. However, there is plenty of time before you need to start’ chitting’ so I would await a week or two and then begin to start developing the shoots.

Indeed, this process is ideal for first and second earlies.

While on the subject of potatoes, a blog reader asked just a few days ago about blight which has plagued his crop for the past few years. Blight is a disease which is usually spread by the wind and there is not too much you can do about it. There are no known chemicals which can be used to avoid or treat it. Certain varieties are less prone to blight, so try and grow these rather than other types which are more readily attacked by blight.

By advice any gardener who has been plagued by blight is to opt for growing first or second earlies, as these will be almost mature before the blight starts to attack main crops. Bear in mind too, that blight also attacks tomatoes so do not grow both in close proximity to each other.

Dealing With Cats In The Garden.

Many gardeners will bemoan the number of canine visitors that regularly invade their beloved gardens using their flower beds as a welcome toilet. Indeed, there is not too much they can do about these ‘moggies’ as their agility means that fences provide very little protection.

Cats prefer dry loose soil in which to leave their droppings, so densely planting areas and keeping the soil well irrigated can help to discourage them. You can also think about placing prickly plants such as gorse or holly on the ground but some cats will see this as a challenge and still find a way to cause you grief.

The use of repellent substances may give a bit of short term protection sometimes around newly planted crops but the cats can get used to them or the substances may wash away with rain.

One annual plant which is reputed to be effective is Coleus canina which can be obtained from Cardwell in the spring of the year. Unfortunately, being an annual it will only last one season

A useful alternative is one of the electronic devices which emit a high-frequency sound beyond the level of human hearing but you may need to experiment with where is the best location to site these in the garden.

Although these moggies cause you a lot of hassle, the birds will love you for reducing the number of cats in and around the garden.

Patience Pays Off in Gardening.

Many gardeners are really keen to get started growing their plants for late spring and early summer, but remember this is only the beginning of February. Admittedly, you should be buying your seed potatoes and onion sets and getting your seed trays and cell trays for seed sowing and planting plug plants. Take time to decide what you want to grow and map out a plan of action

My advice is to hold off sowing most of your seeds for another month. Although you can sow seeds in small trays at a warm window sill or even in a propagator the seedling will need light as well as gentle heat for them to grow well.  Not enough light will result in the seedlings becoming tall and spindly and the resultant plants will be quite weak.

However, there are some seeds that you might consider sowing now. Parsley, for example takes around fifty days to germinate and old gardening lore used to say that parsley seed went to the devil and back again before any shoots emerged.

There are, however, some ways in which you can speed up the germination of parsley but it needs a bit of patience and dexterity and I will tell you more about this next week.

Some other seeds are quite difficult to sow mainly because they are so fine – almost dust-like – and are often best bought as little plug plants.  Examples are begonia seed and Lobelia and even pricking out the tiny seedlings can be a bit of a chore. The first of the season’s plug plants will be arriving at Cardwell Garden Centre in just a few weeks. Go along then and you can see the plants that you’re are buying – much better than mail order.


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