Plant now for a colourful spring next year

Chris Marlow, Clumber Park head gardener
Chris Marlow, Clumber Park head gardener

Now is the time to plant bedding plants in order to produce a colourful display next spring.

The classic ingredients are bulbs, especially tulips, and bedding such as wallflowers, forget-me- nots and polyanthus.

As soon as the summer bedding display starts to look tired, the final blow usually being delivered by the first hard frost, which will blacken dahlias and see off tender summer annuals, beds can be cleared and weeded.

Except on the heaviest of clay soils, digging isn’t usually necessary, just a light forking over and levelling. Tender perennials, such as dahlias and cannas can be lifted and stored over the winter, the annuals can be put on the compost heap.

There are two broad approaches to planting spring bedding.

Either combine early and late flowering varieties in a single scheme to provide interest from, depending on the weather, mid-April to mid- May, or choose varieties which flower at the same time for a shorter, but fuller display.

The classic combination is to use taller growing bulbs above lower growing plants.

Varieties of forget-me- not will usually grow to around 23 centimetres high and may have white, pink or blue flowers.

The blues associate with most colours. Some effective tulip combinations would include the orange Princes Irene, especially attractive by virtue of its glaucous leaves, the bright red, late flowering, multi-flowered Red Georgette, and, for a pastel combination, the delicate pale pink Angelique.

When well done, such displays can look magnificent, with the tulip flowers appearing to float over a shimmering misty sea of blue.

Along with the scent of newly mown grass, the scent of wallflowers is a highly evocative of spring.

Their predominantly red, orange and yellow shades combine well with similarly coloured tulips.

In recent years at Clumber we have used the dark reds Cassini and Jan Reus, the orange Apricot Beauty and Apeldoorn and the yellow Golden Apeldoorn.

Wallflowers and forget-me- nots can be grown from seed sown in June, if you have the space.

These are sown direct into prepared soil. Good garden centres will be selling plants now, along with winter flowering pansies and violas and polyanthus primroses.

Look for compact, healthy plants with deep green leaves.

Polyanthus need not be in flower, although if you need to be sure what the flower colour is, choose plants whose colours are showing.

The modern trend with wallflowers is to sell them container-grown, but bare root plants with drooping leaves, in spite of looking sorry for themselves, will respond to proper planting – firmly and watered in if the soil is dry.

Containers can also be planted up with spring bedding. If you’re really keen to have a successional display, choose a couple of plastic pots to fit inside your container.

One can be planted up with bulbs and bedding for an early display, the other for a late one.

The early pot can be taken out once flowering has finished and the second one then put in.

We are now into October and it’s time to plant spring flowering bulbs.

In addition to the big three, tulips, narcissi and hyacinths, try something different such as ornamental onions, muscari, anemone or scilla.

Keep an eye on the weather forecasts for the first sharp autumn frosts.

Lift tender perennials such as dahlias, cannas and gladioli before the cold weather damages them.

When the frost has blackened the tops of dahlias, lift tubers and prepare them for storage for the winter.

In a frost-free shed or greenhouse leave them upturned for a few days to drain off water from the hollow stems.

Put the tubers in seed trays and pack damp compost around them.

They should be stored in a frost-free place and inspected regularly.

The compost should be kept damp, but not wet, to ensure the tubers don’t dry out and shrivel.

If you heat your greenhouse over the winter, put up insulation such as bubble pack to reduce heating bills.

Check that your heater is working properly.

Prune blackberries and hybrid berries such as Loganberries and Tayberries by cutting back the old fruited canes to ground level and tying canes produced this year to supports.

October can be a good time to plant container grown hardy perennials and shrubs.

In warm, moist soil plants can establish and make good root growth before the onset of cold winter weather.

Collect and compost fallen leaves.

In mild weather, grass will continue growing so raise the height of cut of your mower to just over three centimetres.