BRIAN KIDD: We’re now heading downhill to summer

Carnations can be grown as annuals in a sunny border

Carnations can be grown as annuals in a sunny border

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We had a lovely surprise on Christmas morning.

There was a beautiful single, pure white camellia in full bloom right outside our bedroom window. I feel sure Father Christmas must have seen it.

The winter-flowering jasmine is in full bloom, the mahonia is a dream and in a few weeks the snowdrops will be in flower. We have everything to look forward to.

If you would like to sow some seeds in the greenhouse, perhaps for the very first time, it would be a good idea to start with something which is easy to germinate. A good choice would be carnations which can be grown as annuals in a sunny border.

I am suggesting carnations because they only need a temperature of 7C (45F) and they don’t damp off like a lot of other seedlings when the weather is cold.

Just in case you are new to gardening... damping off disease kills seedlings remarkably quickly. Seedlings fall over and when the fragile stems are examined, it looks as if someone has squeezed them. This disease can be prevented by using clean seed trays, fresh sterilised compost and clean water, but adding copper mixture to the water – a level tablespoon in a litre of water. So it is possible to totally avoid the problem.

Copper mixture comes in green plastic drums and can be bought at all garden centres, but you’ll have to look hard because the drums are small. It’s a good idea to use this at the initial watering time.

The best way is to allow the compost to soak up the solution by putting the seed tray into a container half-filled with the solution and wait until the surface of the compost glistens before allowing the seed tray of compost to drain off.

At this time of year, heating the whole greenhouse is expensive, so investing in an electric plant propagator is a good idea. It will last many years if kept clean.

If you have electricity in the greenhouse it’s just a matter of plugging the propagator into the plug and switching on. If you don’t have electricity, a cheap plant propagator box can be bought and if this is seated on a piece of metal with a paraffin heater set up below the metal, this will do the job well.

Returning to the carnations...

Annual carnations are not good in flower beds, unlike busy Lizzies and begonias. They are not showy enough, but they do have their place in a border and are one of the plants which are always admired in a cottage garden because of their long flowering season – June until late October here in the south.

There are lovely varieties such as Giant Chabaud.

This is one of the best of all the mixed colours and extremely reliable to flower well.

It is brilliant if the soil is very chalky.

Sprite mixed has slightly smaller flowers in pastel shades with a red or pink frilly edge, not often seen in the annual carnations.

If you would like to grow perpetual carnations which are grown in the greenhouse all the time, they are expensive to buy as plants. There is a perpetual mixture too but it will take over a year to get them into bloom in a cold greenhouse.

If you can’t find these varieties at the garden centre and you like growing unusual plants from seeds, send off for a seed catalogue. All seedsmen will be pleased to send you one if you drop them a line. The seed packets have the name and address of the seedsmen on the backs of the packs and it’s amazing to see the differernet types that are available.

Carnation seeds are best sown in John Innes seed compost because there is a small amount of chalk in this compost and carnations love chalk.

Sow the seeds evenly. This isn’t hard to do because the seeds are not tiny and there aren’t a lot of them.

Soak the seed tray in the solution of Cheshunt mixture until the surface of the compost glistens and then put the tray inside the plant propagator and the seed will germinate in about three weeks.

Keep an eye out each day, watering with clean water with a watering can with a fine rose attached so the compost is always moist, but err on the dry side. If in doubt, keep the seed compost only just moistened.

Once the seedlings are large enough to handle, prick out each seedling into insert cells so each plant makes an individual strong root and plant them into the garden at the end of April after hardening them off.

The best way to do this is to leave the plants outdoors for three or four days and bring them back into the greenhouse each night. Then leave them outdoors for three or four days before planting outdoors in a sunny border.

To ensure the plants are sturdy, nip out the tips of the plants once the side shoots appear.

In June you will be picking your first fragrant annual carnations from a very pretty border.

Do you love cottage gardens? Well, all cottage gardens have carnations.

THIS WEEK’S TOP TIP

Keep an eye on those lovely plants you were given for Christmas. If the room is always warm, they will need more water than those in a cold room.

To be sure, push your fingers into the top of the compost and water when it feels dry.

Cyclamen prefer a cool room with plenty of light but not in a sunny window.

If leaves on poinsettias are yellow at the bottom they are being over-watered.

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