Opt for a splash of colour to ban­ish the chilly win­ter blues

The in­evitable ap­proach of win­ter brings with it one con­so­la­tion for gar­den­ers — a wide choice of win­ter flow­er­ing an­nu­als in warm, bright and cheer­ful colours, writes Alice Spenser-higgs

Business Day - Home Front - - HOME FRONT -

IT IS al­most im­pos­si­ble not to be charmed by pan­sies and vi­o­las, and al­though the colour range is huge, the quin­tes­sen­tial yel­low bloom with its black face al­ways lights up the gar­den.

Both are easy to grow, tak­ing up as lit­tle or as much space as is avail­able. They can be grown to­gether, with vi­o­las in front and pan­sies be­hind, in be­tween bulbs, with poppies, or in a win­dow box, con­tainer or hang­ing bas­ket; any­where enough win­ter sun­shine.

Gar­den­ers want­ing to try some­thing dif­fer­ent can look out for the new spread­ing pansy “Cool Wave”. It is a low grow­ing, spread­ing plant that can be used as a ground­cover or in a bas­ket. In hang­ing bas­kets it can trail by up to 75cm and in the gar­den can spread up to 60cm. The larger colour range in­cludes Frost (soft blue and white) Vi­o­let Wing dark pur­ple outer petal), pure White and pure Yel­low.

The tried and tested “Vi­ola Sor­bet” has five new colours added to its al­ready ex­ten­sive range. They are “Pink Halo”, with a soft pink swirl around the blotch, “Pink Wing”, also soft shades, “Peach Melba” which has a brown­ish wing and un­usual spots on its other petals, a deep “Carmine Rose” and “Midnight Glow” a blue, yel­low and dark pur­ple com­bi­na­tion that first showed up on the Ma­trix pan­sies.

Vi­ola Sor­bet has a gar­den height and width of 15cm to 20cm, and the well branched plants cover the soil with a pro­fu­sion of blooms. It per­forms well across a wide range of cli­matic con­di­tions and over win­ters well.

Petu­nias are at their best in our dry win­ter cli­mate.

A bold and rather un­usual com­bi­na­tion for a con­tainer is the pe­tu­nia So­phis­tica “Black­berry” and “Lime Green”.

“Black­berry” is shim­mer­ing black with some red­dish pur­ple un­der­tones and it is beau­ti­fully set off by the yel­low un­der­ly­ing tone of the So­phis­tica “Lime Green”. Both are also well matched in terms of flow­er­ing time.

Ice­land poppy “Cham­pagne Bub­bles” is an­other sun lover that looks spec­tac­u­lar on its own but is equally good planted with pan­sies, vi­o­las, and cal­en­du­las.

Th­ese lower grow­ing bed­ding plants fill the “colour gap” be­low the taller, flow­er­ing stems of the poppies. There is no sense of crowd­ing be­cause the poppy stems are airy and light.

Cham­pagne Bub­bles poppies are avail­able in sin­gle colours: or­ange, pink, scar­let, white and yel­low as well as in a mix.

They should re­ceive reg­u­lar wa­ter­ing be­cause their per­for­mance suf­fers if they are over wa­tered or are al­lowed to dry out. To en­cour­age flow­er­ing, feed monthly with a liq­uid fer­tiliser.

Then there are the tra­di­tional favourites that can be grown from seed like Na­maqua­land daisies, linaria, corn­flow­ers, lace flower, Vir­ginian stocks, ursinia, and Mesem­bryan­the­mums. Kirch­hoffs win­ter scat­ter packs con­tain a mix of th­ese and other va­ri­eties.

A new ad­di­tion to the list of win­ter flow­ers that can be sown is “Win­ter Sun­flower” from Kirch­hoffs. It is day-length neu­tral and while cold weather may slow down its growth it will still flower in mid win­ter if sown now or in May. The flower head is a clas­sic dark disc with yel­low petals.

The plant is mildly frost re­sis­tant and can be ex­pected to grow 1.3m to 1.7m high as long as it re­ceives full sun and grows in a shel­tered po­si­tion. Stake the plant once it reaches 1m, es­pe­cially when the flower heads start to form as the stems are brit­tle.

Plants should be wa­tered reg­u­larly and fer­tilised once dur­ing the grow­ing sea­son, with a potas­sium rich fer­tiliser to en­cour­age qual­ity flow­ers. A ni­tro­gen rich fer­tiliser will de­lay flow­er­ing.

For shade, one can never go wrong with fairy prim­u­las ( P mala­coides). They do best in dap­pled or semi-shade.

Other shady per­form­ers are the prim­rose (P acaulis), cineraria, and cy­cla­men. All like well com­posted soil that drains well, reg­u­lar wa­ter and reg­u­lar feed­ing.

Pansy ‘Cool Wave’ quickly fills win­dow boxes and con­tain­ers, as well as act­ing as ground­cover, above left. An un­usual com­bi­na­tion: Pe­tu­nia So­phis­tica ‘Black­berry’ and ‘Lime Green’, above right.

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