Annuals & potted colour for the garden
In winter, potted colour is worth every cent. If your spirits need lifting, whip to the shops for blooming bedding plants. What you see is what you get, and what you get is three months of full-on floral flamboyance.
Every garden has its dreary corners, especially in winter, and potted colour provides an affordable quick-fix in pretty much any colour scheme your horticultural heart desires. Either popped into pots or mass-planted into fallow vege gardens, a bit of floral bedding will lift your spirits ahead of spring.
Interestingly, white is one of the most popular shades in winter, but there are many vibrant colours on offer. Iceland poppies, with their crumpled petals, have shades of yellow, orange, red and cream. They look delicate but can cope with anything winter throws their way.
Pansies are a winter winner, both for their paler antique shades and their bright colours. There are ruffled forms too, like the variously coloured ‘Frizzle Sizzle’. These pansies have wavy flowers up to 7cm wide and graciously flower in just a little over two months from seedling emergence.
Primula malacoides hold their clusters of pink, pale purple or white flowers on erect stems held above chunky rosettes of light green leaves. They do look lovely in pots but for best effect, plant lots in big drifts.
Cinerarias, which flower in winter and spring, are unbeatable in shady corners, and blue and white lobelias are terrific for trailing over pot edges.
Polyanthus are one of the few flowers available in every colour, from gold to blue. These low-growing charmers suit the edges of beds, or slot them in as living grout between paving stones or crazy paving. If the conditions are to their liking, they’ll hunker down through the warmer months and pop back up year after year.
LOOKING AFTER BLOOMS
Plant winter-flowering annuals in a sunny spot, in free-draining soil. In waterlogged conditions, the plants are liable to rot at the crown, so plant in containers or raised beds if necessary.
To keep your plants blooming, feed with potassium-rich liquid fertiliser, diluted in a watering can of warm water to improve nutrient uptake in the cold.
Be vigilant when it comes to removing any spent blooms. Not only does deadheading encourage new flowers, it stops moulds such as botrytis infiltrating the crown via the dying stalks.
Iceland poppies ( Papaver nudicaule), pictured right, are short-lived perennials but they're usually grown as annuals for winter and spring colour. They make excellent cut flowers. Pick for the vase when the fuzzy calyx has split and the first petal is visible. All poppies bleed a milky sap that, if not treated, will clog the xylem. Either plunge the stem ends in boiling water for 10 seconds or sear them with a candle flame. The flowers will then last five or so days in a vase.
Potted pansies and polyanthus can be brought indoors for extra colour. They make excellent houseplants but keep them in a cool spot away from heaters, and once they've finished blooming, move them back outdoors. Give them a feed and they should resume flowering.
PANSIES IN POTS
Violas, pansies and polyanthus are cheap and cheerful. They can cope with wind, rain and cold weather, but they'll drown in waterlogged soil. If your patch is boggy, plant in tubs or pots, but don't let the pots dry out. Add a fertiliser high in potassium to the watering can once a fortnight. Grow in several containers and dot them around the garden, or hang lightweight baskets on a wall.
There are three good things about camellias flowering in winter: they lift our spirits at a drab time of year; the dreaded camellia blight that turns the flowers to mush is dormant during the colder months; and t¯ū¯ī like to take nectar from the flowers when winter food is hard to find. Camellia sasanqua and its hybrids flower in autumn into winter, followed by the Camellia japonica types, which start flowering in winter. The former grows in full sun to shade; the latter grows best in part to full shade. Both prefer free-draining soil with lots of organic matter dug in.