BRIAN KIDD: It's only rock 'n' roll, but you will like it, oh yes you will...
Things are moving in the rock garden. Groups of snowdrops have lasted well, blooming for three weeks now.
Miniature irises still look good, but their flowers only last about a fortnight.
There are also pretty groups of miniature daffodils. Delightful February Gold has lasted three weeks, closely followed by another little gem, Tete a Tete.
Spring is the best time to enjoy rock garden colour, but as with all successful gardening it needs forward planning. It’s important to note in the garden diary to plant these bulbs and corms in September or October.
Have you noticed how well crocus have lasted? They’ve been splendid whereas last year it was too warm and they only bloomed for about a week.
Most bulbs are flowering at the right time this spring. Exceptions are always good news and the great thing about these displays is they cheer us up.
Once bulbs have finished other things will follow, but if there are bald spots visit garden centres and nurseries to buy replacements. There are delightful saxifrages for example – a wide choice in full bud which will soon become flowers and enhance the rock garden.
The term ‘rockery’ isn’t as attractive as ‘rock garden’. The former conjures up bits and pieces of concrete, slate, or flint pushed into the ground and looking like a currant bun.
On a rock garden, plants are grown in pockets set between decent rock. The pockets must contain well-drained soil. Alpine specialists mix a compost of loam, peat and sand in varying proportions to accommodate particular species.
For example, tiny pinks love a mix of 10 parts loam to seven parts sharp grit and one part crushed chalk. They hate wet soil so this ensures good drainage because the pocket is raised to accommodate the rocks. Once planted, scatter half-an-inch of fine grit on the surface to stop mud splashing on flowers and foliage.
If space is available, small evergreen shrubs and miniature conifers look wonderful and add year-round interest. It’s always good to have an evergreen background. It certainly enhances the rock garden.
The shrubs don’t have to be large. Evergreen euonymus comes to mind, especially Euonymus Emerald ’n’ Gold (think rock ’n’ roll). If it gets too tall, clip it back at any time.
The other great advantage about a proper rock garden is it can be built up on top of existing soil – a good idea if you are having to cultivate on clay.
If you do create a rock garden, take it easy and do a little bit at a time. Buy a few rocks each month. They aren’t cheap.
If you’re worried about the environmental impact of using real rocks, artificial stone is available. It’s much lighter because it’s hollow. The quality varies but some are good. Shop around.
TIP OF THE WEEK
Spring usually arrives by mid-March and the frequent sunny days provide the opportunity for an increasing range of gardening tasks.
It’s time to get busy preparing seed beds, sowing seed, cutting back winter shrubs and generally tidying up around the garden.