Anticipating the Spring part 2: Winter bedding plants

Tracy Wilson considers how to create colour in winter and early spring

12th September 2006

Having explored last week the joys of bulbs (which probably are the easier route to take as far as spring colours are concerned), then the next logical thing to move on to is seed. The problem is that in all honesty, you’re a little bit late in the day (mid September) for sowing seeds now to get spring colour. Spring flowering things that you would grow from seed (of which there is a reasonable quantity) you would normally sow earlier in the summer because theyíre generally treated as biennials Ė those things like Wallflowers, Stocks, Pansies, Primulas Ė that sort of thing. If you sow them now, really you're going to be missing the boat unless you put them into a tunnel or greenhouse to bring them on.

So, for seed-raised plants Ė whilst youíre not going to be sowing the seed yourself Ė you can now go out to buy your autumn bedding raised from seed. All these are coming in Ė ours have just appeared, looking absolutely scrumptious I have to admit Ė and I think that, probably, is going to be your best bet. Have a good look round in the garden, see whatís looking good, see what you want to do, what sort of effect you want to have. Personally, Iím now looking at things like planting up tubs with bulbs and putting bedding plants on top Ė Iíve got colour now and Iíve got bulbs to come up through in the spring, so that i can ring the changes with whatís going to be happening later on in the spring.

As I said last week, you need to think about things like your tubs and baskets, the things that go on your decks, your patios and your balconies, because we do still get some stunning weather in the winter when we want to sit outside. Thereís nothing grimmer than sitting out on a patio thatís as bald as a coot because youíve got rid of all your tubs and baskets and everything because you think thatís something you only have in the summer. Thereís nothing wrong with having some lovely tubs for the winter, and letís be fair, it certainly is a time of year when you need cheering up more: when winterís moving into spring is definitely one of those periods. I wouldnít hesitate with moving things into tubs and baskets and bringing some colour in. So, seed raising is a little bit difficult for the flowers but you can still get your vegetables into place. You can get a late sowing in of winter salad crops, hardier spring vegetables like cabbages and you could probably still get away with sowing some carrots now. So those you could be thinking about, but in all honesty, as we reach mid-September, if you íre looking at seeds for the spring, really you have missed the boat.

But of course what you havenít missed are shrubs and trees. In fact weíre really just hitting the season now. Go out and look at your garden and think Ďwhat do I want to do, where do I get those gaps in the spring? What can I bring into the garden? What can I actually make the most of?' And if you think about shrubs particularly, again, they're brilliant container plants. So many times I get asked the question, ĎCan I grow this in a pot?í and I have this overwhelming desire to say ĎCan you see what itís in now? Itís in a pot!í You can grow anything in a pot for a limited period of time and obviously the bigger the pot, the longer you can grow it on. But donít use a huge pot immediately: itís far better to pot your plants on a little and often. Then youíre giving them a fresh bit of fertiliser and giving the roots a fresh lift every time you do it. So if youíre planting something up now for the winter, put it into a pot slightly bigger Ė again, you might be looking at a shrub mixed with some bedding plants or some bulbs or whatever it might be. Donít go for too big, because you can whiz out those bedding plants in the spring and put some fresh ones in again for the summer. You can quite happily ring the changes with a shrub in a container Ė itíll work very well for quite a length of time.

Have a look also at your garden, think about how much you actually see in the winter. Do you travel from the backdoor to the garage via one path for six days a week and thatís all you actually see of your garden? If it is, is that the bit you see when the security light comes on? If it is, have a good look at it. If that area is for summer display, youíre not going to see anything there in the winter and itís going to look grim. Thatís the area where you really need to get some winter colour. Your summer colour you can have elsewhere in the garden, because when itís nice and sunny and bright youíre happy to walk around the garden. But in the winter, either youíre breaking the world speed record getting in from the car to the house, or youíre going out and tripping in the dark in the morning. So put your winter colour where you can see it from the house, because there are some days when you just donít get out the door: the nearer you can bring the garden to the house, the happier you will be.

Tracy Wilson, 2006