Think about spring now for a colourful garden next year: GARDENING

Brian recommends geraniums.
Brian recommends geraniums.
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The petunias were the best ever this year but that wretched cold wind seems to have dehydrated them. The begonia semperflores were protected by our hedge and they are absolutely lovely.

Let’s have a look at a few plants which will give us a great spring to look forward to.

First of all, why not plant some daffodils about four inches above the bottom of the pot and then another layer on top of them so that when they bloom, the whole pot is filled with blooms. It’s amazing – the flowers and foliage all finds its way to the top and if they are all of the same variety, they will all flower at the same time.

If you would like a narcissus, which is very wind resistant, then look out for the variety called geranium – it has a wonderful perfume. On top of the pot, plant a few winter flowering pansies. If you choose a dark blue, this will give you a beautiful contrast of white, orange and blue.

Winter flowering pansies can also be enhanced by planting hyacinths the noses of the bulbs are an inch below the surface of the compost. If the container is near a door, you will be able to enjoy the perfume early next spring. The hyacinths will come into bloom probably in late February, there will be just a few pansies in flower at that time but there will be a complete coverage of the whole container with pansy flowers in April and May.

What about orange and blue winter flowering pansies on their own or, if you have lots of forget-me-nots in the garden. Dig out a few, plant them on top of the container but before that plant some pink tulips underneath, about four inches apart. They are not expensive and after all you got the forget-me-nots for free!

I’m often asked which of the spring flowering plants is best for wet places. Primula denticulata is the very best one – it’s available in white, pink or blue and a good plant to go with it is variegated ivy. The reason for this is because the primulas don’t usually have leaves all winter so the ivy prevents the container looking bare but the primulas look brilliant when they come out in flower in the spring.

Polyanthus are a very good choice too, they don’t like standing in water but they will put up with wet winter conditions and won’t let you down.

Wallflowers are not successful if the soil becomes too wet in containers. But don't be afraid of planting out wallflowers because you may feel they are too common – they are excellent as long as the containers are well drained. The great advantage of choosing wallflowers is they are still one of the cheapest and most reliable plants for containers.

Also look out for orange bedder, blood red or golden bedder and then use the colours to either blend or contrast. If planted more than five inches apart, you will find that one looks after the other in the container and they will all flower together when the warm spring weather arrives. In normal circumstances, the wallflower remains evergreen and noticeable in winter whereas a lot of other plants almost disappear. 

Question time

Q: I have a small garden and had all my black guttering replaced. Can the old guttering be used to grow plants? SL, Cosham

A: Yes, drill small holes about a foot apart and cover these with a piece of broken flower pot. These pieces are called crocks and prevent the compost being too wet. Use JI number three compost and plant strawberries 12 inches apart. In another strip sow lettuce, radish, spring onions or beetroot in small batches next April. Keep an eye on watering as guttering can dry out rapidly. 

Q: I have been forking out my gladioli plants. I waited until the leaves went brown but want to know which parts to keep and which bits to throw away? DL, Denvilles

A: The dead leaves should be put into the compost bin. Pull the corms off and keep these in a dry frost free shed and put a label in the box.

Jobs for the weekend

■ Keep cutting the grass. It is much easier and quicker to cut if done regularly. If the grass is sometimes a bit too wet, drag a stiff broom behind you dragging it over the surface. This makes the water droplets fall on to the soil and an hour later the grass is easier to cut.

■ If you are intending to treat wooden garden furniture with a preservative to restore its quality, choose the correct product. Ensure the wood is dry before using any preservative otherwise moisture is locked in.

■ Buy some fragrant, longstemmed sweet pea seeds ready to sow next month. They are more expensive but if you love perfumed sweet peas it’s worth paying a bit more.

■ Try to get the hedges trimmed before the cold winds arrive. The good news is that this will be the last trim required this year – hooray!

■ Take a lot more care about watering the greenhouse. From now until spring, watering is best done in the mornings.