July 27, 2007 Weekly Garden Guide

  • Spring must be close. We have the first flower on Magnolia Vulcan open and the early miniature daffodils are opening. The English snowdrops are in full flower. Start to panic. Spring will rush upon us and the time for digging and dividing clumping plants will run out.
  • Divide clivias now. The leaves on the divisions do not need to be cut back before replanting. Clivias are best in shade and need to be away from frosts.
  • Winter is a time for pruning (roses, hydrangeas, all deciduous plants except cherry trees and most evergreen trees and shrubs).
  • If you are growing hellebores, do not let all the seedlings around them grow. They are promiscuous seeders and germinating like mad now. If you let all the seedlings grow, the patch can get crowded out. The seed will not normally be true to the parent unless you have controlled the pollination last year.
  • Grapes need to be pruned before the sap starts running in mid August. If you want any sort of crop, prune your vines and now is the optimum time.
  • Pick kiwifruit and put them in a cool dark place or fridge to extend the season. I enquired from a horticultural scientist friend last year whether it was possible to get a plant of the yellow fleshed kiwifruit and he merely shuddered at the thought (it is tightly protected for commercial reasons) and told me to raise seed.
  • Earth up potatoes (mounding the soil around the plants) and you can also earth up around broad beans, brassicas and most green vegetables. It reduces weeds and stabilises the plant, giving more protection to their surface roots. Unlike most ornamental plants, these vegetables do not rot off at the stem if you raise the soil level.
  • A precise correspondent tells me that English domestic goddess Nigella Lawson was not named for the flower nigella damascens as I suggested last week. No, her father was a Conservative MP named Nigel and apparently she has two sisters called Horatia and Thomasina (maybe the parents had hoped for sons). I preferred the flower association theory.