Gardening - cheer amid the gloom

PUBLISHED: 12:06 22 January 2010 | UPDATED: 16:36 20 February 2013

Gardening - cheer amid the gloom

Gardening - cheer amid the gloom

If winter's too dark and you fancy an early splash of colour, then you can't go far wrong with the ever-popular camellia which boasts hundreds of varieties

For a vivid splash of colour in the winter and spring garden, camellias are popular choices. If you dont have acid soil you can grow them in containers with ericaceous potting mix. The stunning blooms are a warming sight and the glossy evergreen foliage is attractive all year round.
Camellias are easy to grow once established and do best in a lightly shaded, sheltered spot, replicating their woodland origins. They prefer free-draining neutral to acid soil, with the addition of organic matter. Rainwater is best for watering camellias as tap water may contain too much calcium.
Popular and revered plants in China and Japan for centuries, camellias arrived in Britain in the 18th century and were prized ornamental shrubs by 1850, loved by the Victorians for their formality and elegance. After falling out of favour they became fashionable again with the introduction of new varieties from the 1950s.
For expert advice and a wide choice visit specialist nurseries, such as Rotherview Nursery with Coghurst Camellias, at Three Oaks near Hastings. Owners, Wendy and Ray Bates showed me some of their range from tiny single blooms to large saucer-sized flowers, in shades of white to pinks and deepest reds. Some of their favourites include San Dimas, Hawaii, Optima and Drama Girl.
The camellias are in flower from January, with the widest range in flower through March and April.
They are not difficult shrubs to grow as they are hardy, strong and can be pruned at will. Because the flowers look exotic people think they are tender, says Wendy. Choose a variety that will suit the position, for example small compact varieties for containers, large open growing ones for specimens and bushy uprights for hedges.
Part shade is perfect, the deeper the shade the more green the leaves and only very free-flowering varieties should be planted in deep shade. Buds are formed in July and August for flowering the following spring, which is why they shouldnt get too dry in the summer, particularly if planted in pots, recommends Wendy.

Plant of the month
Helleborus, Hellebore
-a winter favourite
-perennials grown for their stunning flowers in shades of green, pink, purple, black white and cream
-single and double flowers,
some scented

Growing notes
-easy to grow, hardy
-wide range soils prefer neutral
to alkaline
-sun or shade
-grow in groups, mixed borders or woodland setting
-as usually the flowers face downwards, try growing them where you can see their faces, such as on raised areas
-remove some of the leaves before flowering to see the showy flowers better
-cut some flowers to float inside to fully enjoy their beauty
-self-seed or divide spring or
late summer

A cut above
Prune summer-flowering clematis, wisteria and ornamental vines. Also cut back grasses and perennials, prune dogwoods to ground level, and keep deadheading winter and spring bedding. Summer-flowering deciduous shrubs that flower on the current years growth can also be pruned now. Mulch and feed after pruning to give them energy for
the regrowth.

Its wild out there
For the birds put up a nesting box in a safe spot, clean and top up the birdbath, add some native plants for food, hang some bird feeders with appropriate seed. Remember that insects can be the gardeners friend and aim for a balanced ecosystem. Maybe try an insect hotel and see what moves in. A wide diversity of plants will encourage a wide diversity of insects, mammals, amphibians and birds. It is a good time to plan a wildflower meadow and prepare the soil.

Clumps of perennials can be divided and replanted. Plant up some lily bulbs in pots ready for a summer display. Hardy annuals can be sown in containers. Sweet peas can be sown in a cold frame or under a cloche. Shrubs, trees, climbers, roses and fruit trees can be planted this month.

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