Bring the gar­den to your doorstep

The Sunday Telegraph - Sunday - - Life Gardening -

I’m a fair-weather gar­dener. Dur­ing win­ter I leave my boggy gar­den – ex­ac­er­bated this year by months of rain – to the wildlife, with just the odd foray out­side to keep an eye on what’s grow­ing. Of course I scurry out two or three times a day to feed my hens and let them out, but I don’t gar­den. I still like to see and smell plants, so I clut­ter them around my front door, in pots, pans and buck­ets, to wel­come visi­tors and to cheer my­self up. I’m also very short sighted, so un­less I put my glasses on, most of my gar­den is out of sight as well as out of bounds. The spec­ta­cle around my porch changes with the sea­sons. Pots can be moved as soon as the plants are past their best, ei­ther to per­ma­nent homes planted in the main gar­den, or some­times to spend the sum­mer tucked away in the wild gar­den, or in the side pas­sage if they like a shady spot. Some­times, if I’m tempted to buy a plant – as I of­ten am from my lo­cal nurs­ery, Taste­ful Plants near Faver­sham – I’ll leave it in a pot by the front door for a star­ring role for a while, be­fore plant­ing it out. At the mo­ment there are five pots of beau­ti­fully mar­bled helle­borus lividus – a lovely na­tive species hellebore, with pale pink buds, that I’d like to get to know a lit­tle bet­ter, be­fore they’re planted out into their per­ma­nent home in the spring bor­der be­hind the veg­etable plot. With my sea­side cli­mate, I can grow a wide range of plants that wouldn’t be hardy else­where. I pass ex­otic palms, cordy­lines, agaves, olives, phormiums, myr­tles and yuc­cas in front gar­dens all over Whit­stable, so I thought I’d take a chance this year with some Phormium ‘Pink Stripe’, with leath­ery dark bronze spiky leaves, and Astelia ‘Sil­ver Spear’, whose leaves al­most ex­actly match their alu­minium coloured pot. To be on the safe side, I keep a col­lec­tion of bam­boo cloches (from an­drewcrace. com) ready in the wings, if I hear the tem­per­a­tures are go­ing to drop. Web­site green­hous­esen­sa­tions. co.uk of­fers a smart fleece jacket that cov­ers plant and pot, but lets in air, light and wa­ter; you can or­der hes­sian by the me­tre from rand­jbuilder­shard­ware.co.uk and posh­cloche.co.uk sells a se­lec­tion of pro­tec­tive cov­ers. We may not have as wide a spec­trum of flower colours avail­able to us at this time of the year, but we can make up the loss with tex­tures and shapes, and shades of green and grey. As a back­bone plant, I use box pyra­mids, but the Christ­mas Box Sar­co­cocca would have the ad­van­tage of smelling de­li­cious, in­stead of the usual whiff of cats’ spray; and of course we can bring in a lit­tle colour with con­tain­ers, us­ing metal, ter­ra­cotta, slate, enamel pots and bas­kets as cachep­ots. Un­ex­pect­edly, there is still fra­grance – a wide range of win­ter-bloom­ing plants flower their socks off to tempt early pollinators (see list above). Tucked in be­hind a large pot of pa­per­whites, I’ve in­cluded a pot of Lon­icera fra­grantis­sima, easy to miss with small green leaves and tiny creamy flow­ers, but with an un­for­get­table fra­grance to be in­haled with ev­ery go­ing in and out. Pots of bulbs can be brought out in suc­ces­sion through­out the year then re­moved when spent. Early flow­er­ing bulbs start the year with tiny Iris retic­u­lata in blues and pur­ples and el­e­gant I. un­guic­u­laris (from avon­bulbs.co.uk); and a col­lec­tion of nar­cissi, in­clud­ing ‘Fe­bru­ary Gold’, ‘Tete-a-tete’, ‘Le­mon Silk’, ‘Early Sen­sa­tion’, all from broadleigh­bulbs.co.uk, all au­gur­ing spring and all guar­an­teed to raise the spir­its. The view from my kitchen win­dow with­out my glasses on, fo­cuses on the ter­race ta­ble, where I’ve set up a tableau of pots in­clud­ing spring-bloom­ing pink cy­cla­men cuom with greenand-sil­ver mar­bled leaves (in­tended to be nat­u­ralised in the wood­land gar­den later), a pale blue enamel bowl of royal blue pan­sies, a caramel-coloured heuchera in a ter­ra­cotta pan, some grey green Eu­phor­bia myrsinites with lime green bracts, and a col­lec­tion of herbs: rose­mary, thyme and sage, so I don’t have to make sor­ties out­side to the herb gar­den in the dark, search­ing for in­gre­di­ents for my bou­quet garni. How to grow a gar­den in­doors,

Care­ful clut­ter: Francine adds in­ter­est to her front door, top, with (clock­wise from above right) pots of pa­per­whites, Astelia ‘sil­ver spear’, helle­borus lividus, se­dums, eu­phor­bia, heuchera and rose­mary

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