Monday, 22 May 2017

summer bedding

As I continued excavating the contents of the greenhouse I discovered some more plants for the orange corner.  In among the Zinnia and Cosmos seedlings were some Tithonia rotundifolia 'Torch'. Tithonia grows quite tall and has warm orange flowers.  I saw it somewhere, possibly on Gardeners' World, and was charmed, though I have since heard that it needs a warm summer to do anything useful.  I sowed seed a year or two ago, but barely any germinated and the resulting miserable seedlings never came to anything.  Probably I watered them too much or too little at some critical stage.  This year's sowing germinated far better, and since I moved the seedlings into individual tiny pots they have continued to grow, although not race away.  Today I potted them on to nine centimetre pots, not knowing if it was safe to put them straight into their final containers or if they would take umbrage at all that unused damp compost around them and rot off.  The tiny pots were gratifyingly full of roots.  So far, so good.

The splendid garden near Lavenham I visited last autumn with the garden club had a small patch of what I correctly guessed was Tithonia near the house, and the owner was rather shamefaced about it.  I saw no need to be apologetic.  You do not get nearly as many points for large orange flowered bedding plants as for rare cyclamen, but a garden containing nothing but small obscure bulbs would not be half as much fun.

The Zinnia went into nine centimetre pots.  I said last year I would not grow Zinnia again, because they were such miffy plants, resentful of over and underwatering, stems rotting off at the least opportunity, and with such coarse leaves.  I relented because the fat, multi-petalled flowers are so theatrical and make such vivid pops of colour in among airier things like the Cosmos.  I had some seed left of last year's bright purple variety, which germinated well.  Clearly it is worth husbanding Zinnia seed from year to year.  New this year is a lime green and pink variety I saw on Derry Watkins' website and fell for.  This time as an experiment I used John Innes compost for sowing and pricking out, to see if it overcame the problem of small pots drying out in the greenhouse, or sitting too wet as I over watered them in an attempt not to let them dry out.  Perhaps Zinnia prefer JI to B&Q multipurpose, or perhaps the weather has been more to their liking, or I have been luckier or more careful with the watering, but so far none of them have collapsed.

The Cosmos were sad little things.  I sowed a pale yellow called 'Xanthos' from Derry Watkins and two different sorts of pink ones that came free with garden magazines, and they all germinated quickly as Cosmos do, but have been slow to grow on, and have not made nearly such good roots as the Tithonia.  Perhaps Cosmos don't like John Innes.  Or the weather.  Or they are not such vigorous varieties as the 'Sensation Mixed' I've grown for the past few years.  I moved the Cosmos directly into the pots they will be displayed in because I've always moved them up to a big pot in one fell swoop in the past and they haven't minded.  At the moment they look so small and spindly it's difficult to imagine there will be anything to display.

The only bedding I have bought this year are five white flowered Begonia boliviana alba for the porch, and two Calibrachoa and two trailing Verbena in coordinating shades of raspberry for the ancestral pot.  I don't think you get any points at all for the Begonia, but I like them.  They have long, pointed leaves and the flowers are not brilliant white but a nice, muted shade of cream.  And they will grow on a shelf that gets half sun at the front and is in shade much of the time at the back.  There are lots of critical things one could say about seasonal bedding.  It is time consuming. It is not sustainable.  Piet Oudolf and Nigel Dunnett would not have anything to do with it.  But it is great fun, and helps carry the garden on into late summer when otherwise there would be a lull until the leaves changed colour and the berries ripened.  And just think, having all these plants in pots is one of the reasons why I almost never go anywhere, so in the moral stakes I can offset my two bales of compost and a few nights of the greenhouse fan heater in winter against your weekend break to Barcelona.

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