No theory this month: we’re moving on to technique.

First of all we’ll be sowing some seeds. Mid February is on the edge for germination both in terms of temperature and in terms of light. With overnight temperatures often sub 5°C and with only 9 or so hours of light this is not really the time for sowing. But some plants really benefit from a long growing season. If they can be started early the resulting plants grow bigger and flower earlier and that’s why we dice with the weather and the light now rather than waiting a month or so until mid March.

Canna patens

Canna patens

Well be sowing Canna patens which replace plants stolen last year and C. indica derived from seeds collected at Cambridge Botanic Gardens. Some of both of these plants will be available to you. We will also also sow two varieties of Ricinus for the walled garden – and for some of you. We’ll also be sowing some chillies which are intended to be sales stock. Once these are germinated we’ll be maturing them in the LGH whilst the Melons are still small.

To ameliorate the effects of weather and season on the seedlings we’ll be sowing them into a covered propagator at 27°C. We’ll also be giving them some light support to ensure that they get 12 hours of effective light per day. The Chillies will be sown in Jiffy coir plugs. These plugs provide a ready-made medium where the seeds can germinate and grow on for several weeks more than seeds grown in a conventional tray. When the plant is ready for transplanting the entire plug can be replanted whole and this ensures minimum root disturbance during transplanting.

Jiffy 7s expand when water is added

Last year we lost all our early Chillies to a mouse attack. This year we’re taking much better care and the plants will be in the propagator until they are too big to be of interest to mice.

Both the Canna and the Ricinus will be planted in modules containing 100% medium vermiculite. Both of these species have large seeds and the seed contains plenty of nutrients to support the very young plants. Vermiculite promotes faster root growth and gives quick anchorage to young roots. It helps retain air, plant food and moisture, releasing them as the plant requires them. All the seedling will be fed a 1/4 strength mix of Maxicrop seaweed extract as soon as they have true leaves.

Scarifying Canna seeds

Scarifying Canna seeds

For the Canna seeds, which are so hard that the plant is often called ‘Indian Shot, we will also also be scarifying the seeds. This means that we try to damage the outer coat of the seed to allow moisture to enter. This can be done in a number of different ways – with sandpaper, a file or, my preferred method – with toe nail clippers.

So in just the first hour of the workshop we’ll be experimenting with two growing media, learning about temperature and light support and trying our hand at scarification – all useful propagation techniques for those of who like to grow things from seed.

After working in the greenhouse for the first hour we’ll be outside in the walled garden. I’m expecting around 5°C and light cloud so wrap up warmly. There are a number of things I’d like us to achieve.

Firstly we need to deal with the grasses. We’re going to cut the Arundo donax canes to the ground and lightly thin the Borinda macclureana. I want to harvest just enough of the borinda to pot up for our friends at Overbeck’s.

Secondly we need to renew the paths to the rear of the beds. These will be recovered with wood chips. We’re also going to begin the feeding regime with a light dusting of rock dust, which gradually releases potassium; and an application of seaweed meal which releases Nitrogen and Phospherous. We do this now because we have maximum access to the srface before everything strat to come back.Finally we’re going to spot weed. We’re going to be using boards to avoid compressing the soil and damaging the emerging bulb shoots and herbaceous material.

Last year at this time we were planting out hardy herbaceous plants that we had grown the previous year in the greenhouse – the Tradescantia virginiana and the Hemerocalis as well as some summer bulbs but this year we have enough stock and don’t need to do that. We’ll be dividing the Trads later and it’s still too cold to trim the Red Hot Pokers.

That’s a good couple of hours work for the group in the border focussing on techniques that ought to be useful in your own borders at this time

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