The brief blooming of a real star

By Richard Wright

Friday, May 2, 2014


The brief blooming of a real star

Cytisus andreanus lena.


IT IS always lovely to welcome old friends at this time of year and a colourful one has lit up the front garden wonderfully.

Broom, or cytisus, now comes in almost every colour combination of the rainbow.

The flowers may not last for more than a fortnight but, like all stars, those that burn the brightest burn out soonest.

I have featured broom before and will undoubtedly do so again because it is a plant seared into my memory from the garden where I entered my teens.

I have endeavoured to plant it wherever I have gone because it brings a little light into my life. Plants are like that sometimes — bookmark reminders of past times.

In my front patch the muted C. boskoop ruby sits in front of my personal, enduring favourite C. andreanus lena, with its vibrant yellow and red.

Blousier — and, yes, that is possible — is C. le coquette and that might be a future acquisition because broom is not a long-lived shrub and needs replacing every few years.

All brooms originate from the yellow scoparius but the market has been swept along on a tide of hybrids, ranging from the white C. multiflorous to the ruby reds and even deep purples.

Now is the time to visit a garden centre to see broom at its best and make a colour choice of a plant which will flourish almost anywhere with sun — except on chalk.

The RHS has the following growing tips:

Aspect and conditions: Full sun, south facing or west facing; exposed or sheltered.

Cultivation: Grow in any well-drained soil in full sun; may become chlorotic on shallow chalk soils. Resents transplanting.

Soil: Well-drained acid or neutral, loam or sand

Propagation: Propagate by seed or semi-ripe cuttings in late summer.

Broom looks good in a cottage/informal garden, flower borders and beds, coastal or gravel garden.

Most species reach a maximum height of about 10ft and for all but a fortnight of the year look nothing much at all.

In late summer, they do provide a bit of extra entertainment when the pods start to explode, spreading their seeds three or four feet from the host.

Leek appeal

I HAVE had a desperate plea from Shanklin gardener John Hampshire.

He is a creature of great habit, as most gardeners tend to be.

They find a routine and produce what suits them and stick with it year on year.

And so it had been with John — until this highly disruptive year where the almost continuous deluge set everyone back.

I tend to plant out my leeks in August, so the fact they have only just poked their heads above ground is no problem to me.

But John likes to get his in the ground by mid-June — at the latest.

He and I reminisced over the sadly departed Guy’s seed merchants and gardening supplies shop in Newport with a smell like no other — and bundles of wallflowers and leeks in buckets outside.

Now they really were leeks with which to be reckoned. They were fat as pencils and they always came to something good.

Now, if you were the Guy’s supplier or think you may have a surplus come planting-out time in June, John would really love to hear from you.

He can be contacted at

Tomato rarities

EDDIE Grove’s Queen of Hearts tomato plants are now ready.

I have had a few early bird requests already and next week I will let you know how to get hold of these Island born-and-bred rarities produced by Stan Jackson, from Northwood.

Just a donation to the Send a Cow charity in return would be appreciated.

A gentle reminder for summer colour

I AM grateful to Monty Don for reminding me I should have planted my sweet peas by now and that, when they are ready to plant outside, it is well worth pinching out the growing tip when the second set of leaves has formed to make them branch out.

This year, I am trying Thompson & Morgan sweet pea Robert Uvedale, named in honour of the enthusiast, who in 1699 helped introduce Lathyrus odoratus to British gardeners.

Sweet peas, for which we have our own Island expert in the prizewinning form of Keith Brewer, from Ventnor, can be planted straight in the soil now it has warmed up a bit but they do benefit from a bit of help in germinating.

They are a hard shell to crack and it helps to soak them in warm water overnight.

I have not had a problem with this technique but the latest RHS advice is not to soak but to chip the seed coat opposite the 'eye’ using a sharp penknife to aid germination.

Three plants per 3ins pot are recommended if you are planting them indoors and placing them either in a propagator or making a plastic bag tent over the pot.

I favour planting more than a dozen in a 9ins pot and transplanting them into individual 3ins pots once they have reached about 2ins tall. They prefer fertile, well-drained, humus-rich soil and being in full sun or very light dappled shade.

For best results, incorporate organic matter, such as garden compost or well-rotted manure, at least four weeks before planting and apply a general fertiliser, such as Growmore. After planting, water the plants well during dry spells.

Sweet peas are usually allowed to scramble up pea sticks, canes, wigwams or trellis. Alternatively, use post and netting supports. Use dwarf bush type sweet peas for pots, hanging baskets or as ground cover.

For a long and regular supply of blooms, cut flowers frequently, before they produce seed pods. Like any plant, if allowed, they will put all their energy into the seeds.

Sweet pea seedlings are always prone to being 'leggy’ and until they manage to latch on to support with their tendrils are prone to being blown over or beaten down by the rain.

It is always worth tying them onto the support with a piece of twine to start with because if they do fall over they will quickly rot.

Good place to work

AS A hobby gardener, who does not pot plants on an industrial scale, I can thoroughly recommend my little plastic potting station I bought a few years ago at one of those cheap shops in Newport.

For those with limited space, it is especially useful.

It has plenty of working space for compost and little cubby holes for labels and pens and can be stowed vertically when not in use. From memory, it cost a very few pounds too.

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