Petunia Fanfare in a hanging basket. Picture by John Clowes.
GARDENING TO PLANT out or not to plant out, that is the question at this time of year — and this May, in particular, it is a knotty one.
As Walk the Wighters will tell you, there are fierce winds and hail whipping about and the night temperatures still dip quite low, so the advantages of getting plants established is counter-balanced by growth being checked by low temperatures.
Up at Sandlands, there are a few runner beans that allotment holders have put out, mostly with some protection. There’s a few courgettes too but most gardeners are holding back for some stability before sweet corn plants and squash brave the chill outdoors.
But, while it might be worth holding back with tender plants, it is definitely time to visit the garden centre to buy bedding plants.
It is a bit like a trip to the supermarket — weekdays or moderately early on a Saturday morning are definite favourites.
When it comes to flowering containers, most gardeners forget any thoughts of minimalist style and cram too many plants into the container or hanging basket. I know I have.
But horticulturalists will say you will get better results from each plant if you give them room to grow, and a mix of fuchsias, petunias, verbena and geraniums will ensure flowering through summer well into autumn.
A good growing medium and plenty of feed helps in that, building on the lessons employed by the developers of the Gro-Bag.
I am old enough to remember it coming onto the market and thinking the ugly, shallow thing would never catch on.
Hard to believe, but it is now 40 years since the first Gro-Bag was launched from Levington Research Station.
These pillows of compost started a revolution in the way we garden and the results we can expect from the composts most of us use today.
The original compost in the Gro-Bag was a universal peat product that showed amateur gardeners how to easily grow flowers, fruit and vegetables in bags, in pots and in all manner of containers.
The original Levington Gro-Bag lives on today and is still Britain’s number one choice for growing salad plants, such as tomatoes, cucumbers, aubergines and sweet peppers.
When it was first launched in 1973, its price was £1.39 and millions have been sold in the subsequent years and cheaper copies made.
But, millions of copycat bags and 40 years later, the price of the Levington Gro-Bag has not even doubled and will be on sale in 2013 for around £2.50. If the price had kept pace with inflation then gardeners would be paying £15.
But, as they say, there’s trouble ahead.
In response to government direction, the industry is working hard to find acceptable alternatives to peat but these currently work out more expensive.
Using recycled green compost, expanded wood fibres and coir from the tropics is not a cheap way of achieving further, drastic reduction in the amount of peat in the bags.
Current predictions are the days of cheap compost are nearly gone.