Power up with pansies

HAVE you ever stopped to admire the humble pansy? And when was the last time you did so?

Sometimes when we are surrounded by something and if we see it all the time, no matter how beautiful, it can become nearly invisible to us.

I have no doubt that if we couldn’t grow pansies here in Ireland and only got to admire them on our holidays to hot climates, we would be clamouring to get our hands on special seeds and nursing them with TLC to get them to flowering stage. But we are lucky enough that pansies, all of which are varieties of Viola, thrive in our climate and growing conditions.

They add such a blast of colour to any planting scheme be it in flower beds or in pots. Next time you see one take my advice and just stop, pause for a moment and admire the work of art that is each flower.

We tend to think of hanging baskets, window boxes, and patio planters exclusively in terms of summer colour. And this year the mild temperatures has meant we have got such value from the summer beauties. But now with the hour going back and November entering our lives and closing down the year, it is time to consign the contents of these baskets and pots to the compost bin.

Don’t throw out this spent compost and plant material, it is no longer has nutrient value after all the summer bedding has taken every last bit, but it will improve the humus content and texture of the soil in your beds no end.

Do be careful however if any of the pots showed any sign of virus or vine weevil damage as you don’t want to spread the problem.

Patio pots and planters are a great addition to the summer garden but to me they give so much more value in the winter garden. During the long, hot, dry, sunny days of summer, there is so much going on in the garden to admire.

However, during the winter, any garden will be lifted with pots of colourful winter bedding. During these long dark evenings it does the soul good when your eye lands upon one of these beautifully planted tubs, shining like a light bulb in the otherwise drab outdoors.

Every year at this time it is time to make compost from the summer flowers and don’t get me wrong, they owe you nothing. A plant that cost €2 or

€3 six months ago and has flowered profusely ever since, is great value in my book, but the plants that we use for winter containers often have the benefit of being useful in the garden after they have ‘done their thing’.

Plants such as Skimmia, Pernettya, Cordyline, Leucethoe, Heuchera and Carex all make fantastic feature plants in a winter container. They all have the added extra of being a valuable addition to the garden when they have outgrown life in a pot.

Nothing conjures up Christmas in the garden for me as much as the Skimmia. The variety, ‘Rubella’ has beautiful sprays of reddish buds through winter which open up in the early spring to masses of white, strongly scented flowers. ‘Rubella’ is a male form and whilst it does produce a few berries it is normally the female forms of Skimmia, such as ‘Nymans’ that produce berries. They do however, need a male specimen lurking nearby.

Do plant this beauty into your garden after potting and it will develop into a nice evergreen shrub about 1m x 1m. ‘Reevesiana’ is a self fertile variety which has both male and female on the same plant. All these Skimmia make beautiful central plants in a winter pot display.

The most traditional winter bedding plant used with Skimmia and other winter-interest shrubs is Cyclamen and in particular, the red and white varieties. Again they conjure up Christmas in the garden for many, but what else can you use to brighten up the winter garden with masses of colour?

Primroses and polyanthus are another favourite, wallflowers of course and winter heathers too will provide colour throughout the next few months. And now this is where I come back to the pansy.

Let me introduce you to a very recent introduction to the plant world and that is the trailing pansy. These beauties are finding their way into plant centres and markets around Ireland and if you have yet to discover them then, wow, what a spectacle awaits you.

The range of colours available in the trailing forms isn’t as diverse as the uprights but it is developing each year. Two or three of these plants in a hanging basket or around the base of the aforementioned Skimmia will be more than enough to create a wonderful flouncy display of colour to bring you from now right into the spring of next year.

Let me urge you this year as you are emptying the remnants of baskets and boxes to fill one or two with fresh compost and if nothing else a few simple trailing pansies, sit back and let the wonder of nature take over and enjoy the beauty to come.

WORK FOR THE WEEK

Berried Holly is synonymous with Christmas in this part of the world and it adorns mantles and garlands throughout Ireland during December.

As a gardener, I am more inclined to grow holly as a foodstuff for the birds, but if you do want to harvest the berried boughs before the birds feast on them, then about now is the time to take action.

The temperatures haven’t become quite cold enough yet for the birds to have stripped the stems but they will soon.

So prune some branches now and plunge them about 50cm deep into a bucket of damp sand and store in a cool garage or garden shed until you are ready to use them.


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