May gardening tips by Lucy at Poundbury Gardens

Every month we talk to the experts at Poundbury Gardens to see what we should be doing in our gardens. Manager Lucy Simpson gives us her tips for May.

Manager of Poundbury Gardens Lucy Simpson
Manager of Poundbury Gardens Lucy Simpson

I always view fashion in gardening with a certain amount of scepticism but trends do exist and plants do come in and out of favour. The early garden centre industry was based on the sales of bedding plants and has adapted from there. It is certainly the way I first became aware of the garden centre trade. But it also went out of fashion for a while as gardeners found large bedding schemes high maintenance and wanted easier planting schemes that would “cut down on the work”. However summer bedding can provide such a vast impact of colour and with growers bringing in new and exciting varieties, gardeners have been getting back into bedding in force, albeit in a different way.

The difference is that instead of large beds and borders of flowers, bedding plants are mostly used in containers such as hanging baskets and tubs and are used to provide excitement close to the house. In containers the workload is concentrated and can be controlled.

Use the right compost

Using the correct compost is a great start and good quality multi-purpose compost – or even better a specific container and basket compost – will ensure that the plants have a good medium to grow in with the right balance of nutrient. Watering is then a crucial part of aftercare and is hugely important for the success of your plants. Not only will a lack of water reduce the growth of plants, but also placed in tubs will stop flower development. Secondly, feeding is vital – in the first few weeks the fertilizer contained in the compost is sufficient but may need to be supplemented with Miracle Gro, Phostrogen or Maxicrop for the first month. From then on switch to a high potash fertilizer such as Tomorite or Maxicrop’s equivalent for the organic gardener – this will promote flowering.

Thirdly, and crucially plants will stop flowering if flowers are allowed to go to seed. The plant thinks that it has done its job in perpetuating the species and so deadheading (the removal of old flowers) is crucial. It can be therapeutic for the gardener too.

Inevitably in one’s imagination the summer garden is always sunny, never in the shade and perfect for all plants. However, certain parts of your garden will have very specific conditions perhaps hot and sunny or maybe partially shaded. Choosing the right plants that will do well in these conditions is important. The following suggestions maybe useful;

Ideal bedding plants

Bedding plants ideal for a sunny site include:
Allysum, Calendula, Cosmos, Dimorphotheca, Gazania, Geranium/Pelargonium, Helichrysum, Kochia, Mesembryanthemum, Nasturtium, Petunia, Phlox, Portulaca, Salvia, Tagetes, and Zinnia.

If the site is very hot and dry, try:
Amaranthus, Begonia semperflorens, Celosia, Convolvulus, Coreopsis, Dahlia, Helianthus, Kochia, Pelargonium, Petunia, Portulaca, Salvia, Tagetes, Verbena, and Zinnia.

Plants ideal for a shady site include:
Non-stop Begonia, Begonia semperflorens, Busy Lizzies, Calceolaria, Campanula, Coleus, Fuchsia, Kochia, Lobelia, Mimulus, Nasturtium, Nicotiana, Pansy, Stock, and Viola.
Another development in the bedding plant range is the exposure that annual climbing plants have had in recent years. These plucky varieties grow really quickly and in their only season climb to significant heights and then produce lots of flowers. They can be used to scramble through existing shrubs, grow over perennial climbers or up trelliswork. They also do really well on obelisks in large pots. Many will have gown sweet peas but why not have a go with Canary creeper, Ipomoea, Nasturtium, Rhodochiton, and Thunbergia (Black – eyed Susan).

Creating height

Height can also be created with what I call monster bedding although the varieties are somewhat more sophisticated than my clumsy description. These plants can be used as centrepieces to borders or large tubs or as single specimen in pots. There are many but look out for Amaranthus, Cineraria maritima, Kochia (Burning Bush), Ricinus, Standard Chrysanthemum (now known as Argyranthemum) frutescens, and Standard fuchsias. My favourite is a variety of Plectranthus, which has large silvery leaves and is a dramatic foliage plant.

Beware of the late June frost

If the weather is good there is always a huge and often premature rush to get bedding plants out too early without protection. I don’t wish to sound like a merchant of doom but I remember a frost on 4th June one year! Late frosts can wreak havoc with bedding plants and so delay putting them out until the first week of June. If you can’t wait, then cover your displays with horticultural fleece. This lightweight material allows the plants to breathe but keeps a few degrees of frost at bay, which should be enough to keep your displays snug.

And then sit back and enjoy yourself – after you have watered, fed and deadheaded, of course!

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We would love to share your gardening tips on what works in your garden or allotment. Please send any advice to£†



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