February: exams done, seed sowing starts!

9th of February is a date I’ve had engrained in my mind for the last five months or so, as it was the date of my first four Level 2 RHS exams. I’d promised myself that the real gardening fun begins after these exams as my reward for sticking out the revision.

As if on cue, the weather seems to have taken a mild turn and the days are noticeably longer (5 – 10º C and I can leave for work at 7.20am in daylight!)

Temporary spring window boxes
Temporary spring window boxes even got a ray of sunlight!

I can’t believe I’m saying it but the winter in Clapham was disappointingly mild. I know that’s slightly ridiculous as I’d rather have milder weather, I was just interested in how many plants could really survive in our garden in a frosty, snowy winter. We haven’t had any real frosts and many plants like the Buddleja still have their leaves.

The weather will probably turn again yet however. Last year, spring hit early in the first week of March, so we’ll see what happens.

Garden notes (10 Feb):

  • Very mild weather, no real frost all winter except for a little on one day, and only one day with a tiny sprinkle of snow (currently temps are around 3 – 10º C).
  • In the garden many plants are stirring. The few Galanthus snowdrops remaining are just coming into flower beneath the plum tree and all of the bulbs I’ve planted are now breaking through the soil, including daffodils, some tulips and even one giant Allium. The Ornithogalum nutans are starting to grow too.
  • My Hippeastrum cybister ‘Sumatra’ flowered twice in Dec/Jan spectacularly. I thought it was done but no! In the last week a third spike is rocketing skywards. No leaves yet.
  • I’ve sown a second batch of Sweet peas (trusty old Lathryrus odoratus) as a back up to the October sown ones. All three cultivars ‘Matucana’, ‘Beaujolais’ and ‘Solway Velvet’.
  • The Brunnera macrophylla are showing lots of new growth at the crown though the leaves seem to be holding back. I’m hoping the ‘Mr Morse’ cultivars flower this spring. When they arrived they were in very poor condition until planted out. I love the leaves of these plants.
  • Helleborus x hybridus ‘Ivory Prince’ is only just now starting to open its buds. Flowering seems really slow – is it because it needs a cold shock to get it started, which has been lacking in London?
  • Sambucus nigra ‘Black Lace’ still has some leaves at the very top and the buds are really swelling now, I think this will be first to start growing again soon.
  • I’ve really taken a liking to Clematis in recent months. The Clematis x Cartmanii hort. Avalanche out the front (which is one of my favourite plants but has struggled over 2014’s summer) is starting to bud up and I’ve started giving it a high potassium fertiliser once a week. I’ve taken receipt of two Clematis viticella for the back garden for late summer: ‘Polish Spirit’ and ‘GALORE evipo032’. The Galore looks ‘very dormant’ but then I did only pay £5 for it in a sale – but let’s not cast judgement just yet! [note to self: must publish the plant inventory blog I’m working on!]
  • I’m absolutely dying to cut back the Fuchsia and Buddleja davidii ‘Santana’. But as they still haven’t really dropped their leaves and there could potentially be worse weather to come, I’m holding off until the end of Feb.
  • In the house I’ve sown two batches of Solenostemon scuttelarioides. The first batch sown in late Jan all germinated perfectly, then when moved into the light box have quickly succumbed to Damping Off, which is proving to be a major disaster in my propagation plans – which will spark a separate post of its own, stay tuned! 😉
  • Inside I have plans for an “indoor border” which I will write about in the future when it exists.
  • Sowing wise, I’m going to see how the new batch of Solenostemon perform before sowing anything else. If I have a Damping Off problem, I need to get to the bottom of that first. If all goes to plan, by about mid – late February I will have all of the seeds planted in the heated propagator.

Other than that, the exams went ‘OK’ – harder than I was expecting and my fate is now in the hands of the RHS. I have to say though, I even enjoyed doing the exams, that’s how horticulture mad I’ve become.

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Jack Wallington

I'm an RHS qualified garden designer living in Clapham, London who loves growing plants and designing with them. Follow me on Twitter.

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