GARDENING RESOLUTION has always been something of an anathema to me, especially after new year.
I cannot think of one which has stood the test of time but this year it will be different. But then it always is…
In gardening terms, I have resolved to plan more carefully and be more timely in my planting, instead of always playing the game of catch-up.
So, resolution number one: To sow seeds at the most appropriate time, not six weeks after everyone else.
Resolution number two: To throw away all the packets of opened seed and buy fresh (that will never happen).
It will be interesting to compare what actually happens as there are ever more plants to consider growing and only a finite space in which to plant them so there’s usually going to be leftovers — and can you bear to throw unused seed away?
Plant sharing of surplus seedlings is an idea often suggested for this column but I can see it being a logistical nightmare so that remains very much on the back-burner.
The dark months are some of the best for sitting down and having a good rummage through the seed catalogues, which seem to drop ever more frequently through the letter box.
All these seeds should be available at local garden centres or through mail order.
If you have space for a large drift of annual flowers in a sunny position then Californian poppies (Escsch-olzia) are hard to beat.
The paper-thin petals were my mother’s favourite and, many moons ago, I brought her back some pressed flowers from the US state in which they are the national bloom. They make the most delightful surprise in a book, keeping their colour and shape.
T&M’s Butter Bush is worth considering for soft, yellow interest or Mr Fothergill’s XL Peach Strawberry for a swathe of extra large, frilly blooms in orange to red.
These hardy annuals are tougher than they appear and positively thrive on poor, dry soils. The papery flowers attract bees and hoverflies, and make excellent, if very short-lived, cut flowers.
For a great addition to a cottage garden design consider aquilegia Rhubarb and Custard from Suttons. It makes attractive, low-growing plants just eight to 12ins tall.
These columbines are an easy-to-grow perennial, bearing masses of delicate pinkish-red, yellow-tipped flowers on slender red stems.
Asters make excellent cut flowers that seem to last for ages indoors.
While some breeders are looking for dwarf varieties that make great edging to borders, it is interesting to note a new pink variety from Suttons, called Lady Penelope, grows to more than 2ft tall.
The large peony-like flowers are double or semi-double heads of light pink. Incurved petals are carried on top of tall stems on well branched plants.
Then, there is cosmos Double Click Pink from Suttons.
It promises plenty of blooms throughout the summer, showing striking pink and white bi-coloured petals on top of feathery foliage. Like the single cosmos, it is relatively tall, growing to up to 3ft.
Sow February to March indoors for flowers that bloom between July and September.
Sweet pea lovers will be fascinated by Blue Shift, a new variety from T&M that has colour-changing blooms. The petals transform from light mauve as they unfurl to true blue as they mature.
These extraordinary annuals make a spectacular display bearing different coloured blooms at the same time — the flowers even changing colour in the vase after cutting.
Bred by renowned New Zealand breeder Dr Keith Hammett, this is a 'must have’ for the sweet pea enthusiast. I wonder if Keith Brewer will be growing this one down in Ventnor?
If you forgot to sow your sweet pea seeds in the autumn, you can sow them now, one seed per small pot. These are deep-rooted plants and appreciate deep pots or root trainers so the roots go downwards rather than create a root ball of ever circling roots.
Sweet peas are becoming more popular as blooms take on new colours, forms and significance.
For example, Mr Fothergill has selected a new pale lavender variety called Chelsea Centenary to mark the 100th year staging flower shows on the Royal Hospital site. With a good scent and seven or eight blooms per stem, Fothergill’s is hoping it will make a good showing on the Miracle-Gro’wers stand in the Great Pavilion.
T&M on the other hand is to introduce a revolutionary new sweet pea called Erewhon! It has darker lower petals in mauve and upper flag petals in pale pink — making it a true reverse bi-colour.
Bred in New Zealand, this striking sweet pea is a cross between L. odoratus and L. belinensis. It is highly fragrant and makes an eye-catching addition to early summer bouquets.
Summer flowering pansies and violas are a great favourite of many gardeners.
They are consistent flowerers and their 'face’ markings create delightful displays.
New over the last few years is the development of tumbling varieties and newest of all are the truly trailing ones that perform well in hanging baskets and over the sides of window boxes and other containers.
Look out for Mr Fothergill’s Plentifall, T&M’s Friolina and Suttons Balconita.
Nasturtiums can be extremely vigorous for growing in the flower border, especially if the soil is rich.
But, this year, there is a new variety from Suttons called Castanet.
The attractive semi-double flowers come in bright mixes of colours, including red, yellow, orange and 'flame’. The habit is described as 'a compact, quick-flowering mixture with semi-double, spurless flowers produced above light foliage’.
This hardy annual can be sown in April.
In the patio vegetable garden, Goldstar is a new F1 yellow hybrid from Suttons, which the company claims is compact, spine free and heavy cropping.
At about half the size of a standard courgette plant, this UK-bred variety seems to be ideal for containers.
In the veg plot proper, the maincrop pea Alexandra (T&M) produces broad, dark green and slightly curved pods, each containing eight or nine tasty peas.
As the name suggests, Carrot Eskimo is one of the most cold-tolerant varieties available. The late crop, cylindrical roots of this RHS AGM variety promise to resist splitting and retain their flavour throughout the autumn and winter.
For rocket salad pickings — a high-value cropper — there is Pegasus from Suttons. It is promised not to bolt, which is valuable as a cut-and-come-again crop in the greenhouse, where its leaves should remain more tender than outside in the elements.