Using Plug Plants to Create a Beautiful Hanging Basket

When spring comes around, you should be thinking about preparing your hanging baskets for some summer colour. Plug Plants are perfect for this, as they work out cheaper to buy than traditional summer bedding plants, and you have a much wider choice of colours and varieties.

Geranium Plug Plant Display

Geranium Plug Plant Display

If you want to create the perfect mixed hanging basket, it is important to choose a selection of upright, and trailing plug plants, to create a full basket with plenty of colour, and no spaces.

My favourite combination of plug plants for a hanging basket, are an Upright Fuchsia (preferably hardy), and a selection of one or two trailing verbena, and geraniums. This creates the perfect size combinations, to make your hanging basket look fantastic in full bloom. You could also add some million bells to create an even larger trailing edge.

Million Bells Trailing Blue

Million Bells Trailing Blue

Where to Buy Your Plug Plants Online

Now you can always check if your local garden centre sells plug plants, however if you would rather purchase online, then there are a few companies I will recommend. There are some mixed reviews of a few companies (mentioning no names), with comments about poor quality packaging, with plugs found upside down and broken. However speaking from experience, I can advise you to go with Babyplants.co.uk, as they seem to care a lot more about the packaging of the plug plants than others, and are very reasonably priced.

Physic-al Beauties

The pink blossom of Cercis siliquastrum against a blue skyThe Chelsea Physic Garden is looking glorious right now and visiting on a day of cloudless sunshine confirmed – yet again – what an amazing place this is. And it is getting better and better – in the past it was little used and was a rather worthy place where botanists could see interesting plants, but the layout and planting (like many botanical gardens) was rather tired and uninspiring. The new hard landscaping of both the Edible Plants and Medicinal Plants area combine good design with general and botanical interest and show that a place of study can be a place of beauty too . This week it was busy, but not crowded, with people wandering around, sitting on the grass, joining one of the guided walks or eating delicious food in the Tangerine Dream Café. Amongst the star performers in the garden was the Davidia involucrata, commonly known as the Pocket Handkerchief tree, in full handkerchief (this won’t last long, so get there quickly if you want to see it at its perfect best), the Cercis siliquastrum (Judas tree) in pink perfection against the blue sky and an Azara that was cascading with yellow pompom flowers.Fresh green leaves of Davidia involucrata and flowers tooAzara  with cascading  yellow pompom flowers

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Tulips on Parade

The tulips are in their prime right now and this gallery is a reminder that all the effort involved in planting them is worthwhile.

The dark bloom of tulip Black HeroThe dark bloom of tulip Black Hero
Yellow petals with a splash of red of Tulip ClusianaYellow petals with a splash of red of Tulip Clusiana
Green, yellow and red provide a flame like effect on tulip flaming Spring GreenGreen, yellow and red provide a flame like effect on tulip flaming Spring Green
luxuriuos deep purple of Tulip Jan Reusluxuriuos deep purple of Tulip Jan Reus
Another deep purple tulip - this time Negrita, I thinkAnother deep purple tulip - this time Negrita, I think
Pure white tulip PurissmaPure white tulip Purissma
The Weird and wonderful tulip roccoco, it reminds me of a triffidThe Weird and wonderful tulip roccoco, it reminds me of a triffid
Fresh Green and cream leaves of Tulip Spring GreenFresh Green and cream leaves of Tulip Spring Green
Hints of purple and yellow on the Orange leaves of WhittalliiHints of purple and yellow on the Orange leaves of Whittallii
Tulip Albert Heyn, birds eye viewTulip Albert Heyn, birds eye view
Tulip Ballerina in the sunTulip Ballerina in the sun
Tulip Jaqueline standing out against dark green hedgeTulip Jaqueline standing out against dark green hedge

The dark bloom of tulip Black HeroYellow petals with a splash of red of Tulip ClusianaGreen, yellow and red provide a flame like effect on tulip flaming Spring Greenluxuriuos deep purple of Tulip Jan ReusAnother deep purple tulip - this time Negrita, I thinkPure white tulip PurissmaThe Weird and wonderful tulip roccoco, it reminds me of a triffidFresh Green and cream leaves of Tulip Spring GreenHints of purple and yellow on the Orange leaves of WhittalliiTulip Albert Heyn, birds eye viewTulip Ballerina in the sunTulip Jaqueline standing out against dark green hedge

  1. Black Hero
  2. Clusiana
  3. Flaming Spring Green
  4. Jan Reus
  5. Negrita (I think)
  6. Purissima
  7. Roccoco
  8. Spring Green
  9. Whittallii
  10. Dior(in the background)
  11. Ballerina
  12. Jaqueline

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Why Mess with Perfection?

Green Pearl in flower in the garden

Green Pearl

Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. It is very easy to cross breed narcissus – and daffodil breeders have a lot to answer for. Contrast the simple perfection of Narcissus ‘Green Pearl’ which is in flower in my garden at the moment with two monstrosities that I saw recently at the RHS Spring Show. I think the pink frilly effort is called ‘Vanilla Ice’ but I failed to remember the name of the other.an ugly new variety of daffodildaffodil vanilla ice

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Is Your Garden Gorgeous?

Beautiful English garden
If so, Alan Titchmarsh would like to know. To mark his 50th year in horticulture he is on the lookout for thirty of the nations best private gardens to feature in a programme being made by ITV. This is not about gardens that are grand, or laid out by famous designers – it’s about people with a passion for gardening who have transformed their own space in their own individual way. If you think your garden is a possible contender – or know someone else whose garden you can recommend – email Alan@spungoldtv.com with information about the garden, including its location and size and don’t forget your contact details.

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Woodland Wonders

erythroniumerythronium
hybrid blue bellhybrid blue bell
primrose - for hopeprimrose - for hope
tulipa sylvestristulipa sylvestris
Wood Anemone and Celandine (the prettiest weed in the garden)Wood Anemone and Celandine (the prettiest weed in the garden)

ErythroniumBluebell - I suspect a hybrid between the wild bluebell and its Spanish cousin, both of which are in the gardenPrimroseTulipa Sylvestris - the wild tulipWood Anemone and Celandine (the prettiest weed in the garden)

  1. Erythronium
  2. Bluebell – I suspect a hybrid between the wild bluebell and its Spanish cousin, both of which are in the garden. Spot the difference.
  3. Primose
  4. Tulipa Sylvestris – the wild tulip
  5. Wood Anemone and Celandine (the prettiest weed in the garden)

Although it is something of an exaggeration to call the area beneath the tulip tree a woodland, the dappled shade it creates and the gentle slope make it a perfect habitat for plants that like these conditions. Over the years I have added many layers of shredded bark that have created the damp humus-rich soil they like, so now I find they are self-seeding and spreading around with little intervention from me. I do love spring’s woodland plants.

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A Lovely Pile of Peasticks

a pile of peasticks to use as plant supports
I’ve recently visited the cobnut farm where they generously allow me to cram my car with their prunings. I am using the short twiggy ones for support in the borders while the taller ones will, in due course, be used for beans, peas and sweet peas.

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The Useful Euphorbia

E. myrsinites in full flower

E. myrsinites

This is the time of year when euphorbias really come into their own as a perfect foil for spring bulbs. The larger varieties, including E.mellifera and E.wulfenii provide structure throughout the year, but with their spring topping of flowers, they add that wonderful acid green that works so well with tulips and narcissi. This year’s mild winter means that mellifera is flowering earlier than usual and the garden is already filled with the scent of honey on warm days. E. polychroma is a favourite in the borders where it looks great among the newly emerging herbaceous plants while the scaly-leaved stems of E.myrsinites coil sinuously over walls.

E. wulfenii in flower

E. wulfenii

E. mellifera in flower

E. mellifera

E. polychroma in bloom

E. polychroma

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Tulip Colour Combinations

by Daniel Carruthers

tulips in border with daffodils
I’d like to think I am fairly organised when it comes to the garden but last year I left my annual tulip shopping a little late. Not too late though, according to Fergus Garrett you can still plant tulips up until Christmas Day. Those of you that read the blog regularly will know our go to choice for tulips is Peter Nyssen who offer a huge range of bulbs at very reasonable prices. I’m still experimenting with tulips so this year I opted for two complimentary colours. They’re mixed up in this bed with some daffodils beneath a dormant iceberg rose bush.

The red/pink tulips are Dior & Albert Heyn whilst the lighter ones, which aren’t quite through yet are Pink Diamond. Here’s a few more of our favourite tulips from previous years.

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May the Force(rs) be with Me

rhubarb forcers on display in a shop windowGreat excitement the other day when I spotted a stunning collection of vintage rhubarb forcers in the window of one of our local antique shops. They weren’t all that expensive (1/3rd London prices) but I was in a sensible mood and persuaded myself that much as I liked them I didn’t NEED them.
rhubarb forcers in use at Gravetyeearly shoots of rhubarb under a forcerHowever, the next day I was at Gravetye Manor where they were using their collection of antique rhubarb forcers in the walled garden and I felt my resolve slipping a bit.
two rhubarb forcers on display in the shopWhich is why I found myself in the shop the next day buying two of them.
two new rhubarb forcers in my garden I certainly don’t need them and they are not being used to force rhubarb at the moment but they are such lovely objects that I am sure I won’t regret the purchase. And yes, I do realise the lids are newer but they will weather down in time.

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Sowing seeds under cover

greenhouse

We’re not all blessed with a huge greenhouse for raising seedlings, but it’s still possible to start off crops on windowsills. Photograph: Sarah Lee

The time had come for me to sow a big batch of seeds the other day – all different, so each required its own treatment. A happy couple of hours spent in the greenhouse alongside the tones of Graham Norton left me feeling like I’d just performed a sowing demonstration in the absence of an audience, so maybe we could re-live that morning? Our veg seeds are only going to thrive if we give them a good launch from the packet – here’s how I try to do that.

Sowing environment
Important considerations here are light and heat. I’m incredibly lucky – my parents have ample spare greenhouse space (they’re retired market gardeners). It’s lit from all sides, and contains a heated commercial propagator. If you can’t get seeds to germinate here, you’re really doing something wrong.

Windowsills are tricky. Run a reflective strip of aluminium foil or white glossy paper behind your seeds to limit leggy seedlings, and get plants outside as soon as you can (if light levels are really low, then buying plug plants later in the season may be better – if more costly – than sowing now). Artificial lighting is an investment for the serious propagator. Heated propagators are good, but you can buy heat mats instead (these are very handy as you can roll them up when not in use for compact storage, whereas my heated propagator lurks at the back of the shed for nine months of the year).

Compost
I’m old school when it comes to seed compost. I use peat-reduced or peat-free formulations for potting up and so on, but for seed sowing, I don’t. This is just my experience – perhaps you can help me here with reports of good results from peat-free seed composts? Whichever your preferred compost, break up any lumps in it (this leads me to stand in the potting bench, bashing like fury with the back of my garden fork) before filling your pots.

Container
Your choice of sowing container comes down mainly to the veg you’re sowing (for ease, refer to the example list below). Fill your container by lightly dropping the fluffed-up compost into the vessel. Leave it proud by 2cm or so, then gently rub across with the palm of your hand to level it, then scrape off any excess – you can use a pot tamper if you prefer not to end up with filthy hands. (Don’t use this method with paper pots as they’ll crumple and collapse. Also, ensure paper pots are crammed cheek by jowl into a deep tray before watering them, as the moisture demolishes their rigidity).

Seed trays: Ornamentals (for pricking out later)
Small modules: Lettuces, brassicas, beetroot, celeriac
Root trainers: Peas, beans, sweetcorn
Pots: Squashes, globe artichokes & broad beans (individually), tomatoes and capsicums (to prick out into pots later)

Watering
You want to get enough moisture into the compost before sowing so that there’s no need for additional irrigation before seedlings emerge. I soak compost intended for large-seeded peas and beans, and give lesser amounts to pots that will contain fine-seeded celery and lettuce. Allow the compost to drain, ideally in the warmth of your propagation area.

Sowing depth
The larger the seed, the deeper you sow (only very fine seeds, such as antirrhinums and begonias, should be sown on the surface). Watered compost is far easier to make a drill or hole in than dry. A pencil makes a very good dibber for large-seeded lupins and peas. A retired bread knife or ruler is excellent for making shallow drills 1cm deep, for brassicas, salad leaves, etc. Sow as thinly as the seed packet states – we’ve used a surplus 15cm length of aluminium greenhouse frame to help us with small seeds for years. It creates a right angle: tip your packet into this (or whatever right angle you can find) and use a pencil to gently flick the seeds off the end, into your hole or drill.

It’s important to firm over the hole or drill with compost once sown. Re-use your dibber, bread knife or other improvised item to gently ‘squash’ the hole or drill back together, then pat down with your fingers. I finish off the sowing with a topping of as much vermiculite as I see fit (generally for medium-sized seeds, rather than large or tiny ones). Give the seeds a final light water to settle the compost, and pop in your propagator. Job done.

• Lucy Halsall is the editor of Grow Your Own magazine, which contains a wealth of information about growing your own vegetables. There are even more resources on the website, including the new growing guides section.

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