Cof­fee sacks a use­ful tool



Cafe´s of­ten give away cof­fee sacks free, or for a small do­na­tion, and they have all sorts of uses in the gar­den. The pic­tured car­rier is just the right size to lay on the ground to catch prun­ing clip­pings and it works well as a boot liner too.

To make a car­rier, un­pick the string from the side seams of a cof­fee sack. (Don‘t throw away the string – it‘s per­fect gar­den twine.) Pick a sack that has a seam down one side and across the bot­tom so you end up with a square piece of hes­sian.

Sow sturdy rib­bon web­bing (buy from Spot­light) around the sides to form carry loops at the cor­ners and strengthen the edges.Sacks are also ideal for stor­ing au­tumn leaves while they rot down. They are pret­tier than black garbage bags and come with their own ven­ti­la­tion. I tried grow­ing pota­toes in sacks but found they dried out too quickly. In­stead I use sacks to dis­guise grow bags of pot­ting mix and ugly plas­tic pots.


The four Ps. Along with pan­sies, prim­u­las, prim­roses and polyan­thus are re­li­able for cheer­ful flow­ers through win­ter. There can be some con­fu­sion with the names, how­ever, as polyan­thus, prim­ula and prim­rose are of­ten used in­ter­change­ably. That’s un­der­stand­able be­cause prim­roses and polyan­thus are both mem­bers of the prim­ula genus which has around 400 species.

The name prim­ula comes from the Latin primus or first as they are among the first of the spring flow­ers.

Prim­roses (Prim­ula vul­garis) have clus­ters of flow­ers on erect stems aris­ing from a rosette of basal leaves. Flow­ers can be sin­gle or grouped to­gether as an um­bel on a sin­gle stem. They are of­ten yel­low but have been bred in many other colours. Polyan­thus, mean­ing many flow­ers, have larger clus­ters of flow­ers held above the leaves on sturdy stems. They are hy­brids of the cowslip (Prim­ula veris) and the com­mon prim­rose (Prim­ula vul­garis).

Polyan­thus have been ex­ten­sively hy­bridised and come in a wide range of of­ten mul­ti­coloured petals. There are also au­ric­u­las (Prim­ula au­ric­ula), the sub­ject of much in­ter­breed­ing for dis­play by Florists So­ci­eties dur­ing the 18th and 19th cen­turies.

These peren­ni­als should not be con­fused with Prim­ula mala­coides, aka fairy prim­rose, which is a win­ter and spring flow­er­ing an­nual. The flow­ers look more del­i­cate and the stems are much taller (to 30cm).

When it comes to bed­ding plants, more is more! A gen­er­ous patch looks bet­ter than a sparse sprin­kle dot­ted about. Luck­ily it’s easy to bulk up your stock of plants. Over a sea­son, prim­roses and polyan­thus grow into clumps of eas­ily di­vided plantlets called crowns. Dig up each plant, shake or wash off ex­cess soil and tease the roots of each crown apart. Trim off any woody or dead bits and re­plant. Keep moist un­til they are estab­lished. Feed with dried blood or tomato fer­tiliser when buds start to form.

It’s get­ting a bit late in the sea­son but in warm ar­eas there’s still time to start Prim­ula mala­coides, pan­sies and their mini rel­a­tives – vi­o­las –from seed in trays. Seedlings are also avail­able in pun­nets or as pot­ted colour from gar­den cen­tres.


Daffodils don‘t need to be lifted and stored ev­ery year but if they look like the ones above, then it‘s time to give them a bit more el­bow room.

Ide­ally, move them be­fore they start to sprout as they will be eas­ier to han­dle. Dig up the whole clump with a fork. Shake or rinse off ex­cess soil. These daffodils had 1-2cm roots that needed to be gen­tly teased apart. Re­fresh the soil with com­post and bulb fer­tiliser and re­plant a few in the orig­i­nal spot. The rest can be given away or re­planted else­where in the gar­den or in pots. The small­est baby bulbs are un­likely to flower this spring. I planted them sep­a­rately in a large shal­low tub to grow on for a year be­fore find­ing them a new home in my gar­den.


After four or five years, rhubarb clumps get crowded and form smaller leaves with thin stems. Clear away most of the leaves, then chop the clump into 2-3 pieces with sev­eral buds and as much root as pos­si­ble. Big­ger chunks will es­tab­lish faster. The new plants are go­ing to be in the same place for years so it’s worth giv­ing them a good start with the rich nu­tri­ents they re­quire. Dig

a big hole and half fill with com­post and fer­tiliser. Old books talk about us­ing a 45cm layer of ma­nure and hand­fuls of woodash. Nei­ther of these are easy to come by in the in­ner city so I make do with com­post plus half a bucket of sheep pel­lets and a hand­ful of Nitrophoska. Let new plants grow for a year be­fore pick­ing from them.


Cym­bid­i­ums might look frag­ile but they are easy to grow in the gar­den, ei­ther in pots or the ground. To get a good dis­play, stake each stem. The plas­tic clips shown are avail­able from gar­den cen­tres. Each spike lasts for a cou­ple of months. Feed with high ni­tro­gen food in spring and early sum­mer for fast growth. Change to a high potash food from sum­mer to win­ter for flower for­ma­tion. Watch out for snails!

This col­umn is adapted from the weekly e-zine, get grow­ing, from New Zealand Gar­dener mag­a­zine. For gar­den­ing ad­vice de­liv­ered to your in­box ev­ery Fri­day, sign up for Get Grow­ing at: get­grow­

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