At the start of the month I enjoyed a delightful garden visit with an old friend from college to the lesser known gem that is Primrose Hill in Lucan, Co. Dublin. Renowned for its snowdrops in spring it's a garden I've been meaning to visit for years. Myself and my friend try to visit new gardens when we get a chance but life has a funny way of getting in the way of the best intentioned tours so I was thrilled when our schedules lined up meaning we could spend a quiet afternoon chasing the toddler and taking snaps of as many of those spring bulbs as time would permit.
Covering 2.5 ha in size, the moment you enter the gates and drive up the snaking driveway you are greeted by a sea of pearly-white snowdrops peppered with patches of deep pink cyclamen and a smattering of winter aconites (Eranthis hyemalis) providing the dazzle of sunshine with their jesters collars. At the top of the drive, you are greeted by the regency villa designed by architect James Gandon now owned and run by Robin Hall whose family have held the reigns for the past fifty years. We had a quick chat with Robin before ambling around the garden and although it had been a mucky day to start, luck was with us as the clouds cleared and we could immerse ourselves in this lovely little oasis.
Snowdrops were the bulb of the day but there were cheeky cyclamen of all shapes and shades alongside freckled Hellebores with the prettiest pink faces nodding in their typical shy way. Here and there we met some early Irises which were a welcome treat in the spring sun. Having enjoyed our stroll, we chatted further with the owner and were delighted to be the first visitors of the season when all of a sudden a fox arrived! She is friendly with the family and comes by on occasion for a snack. This was the highlight of the visit, being so close to a wild animal, close enough to admire their true beauty and an experience I won’t forget soon. The herbaceous collection is said to be as impressive in the summer so I'll have to make sure to pop back with the wee one.
Sweet Pea Sow Along
As I mentioned in my email, lots of you are actively taking part in the #sweetpeasowalong sowing all kinds of varieties and sharing your photos along the way. I have a few varieties on the go namely ‘April in Paris’, 'Unwins Signature Blend' and 'Memories'. All bar one are long-stemmed varieties which I hope to fill the house with throughout the summer. I have been posting lots of tips and advice on Facebook and Instagram for those of you who would like to take part and for anyone who is not active on social media I have a new YouTube channel where I will be posting regular updates to get everyone involved.
The main issues people are encountering include slow germination and leggy shoots once the plants have sprouted. It’s important to make sure the plants have a steady supply of sun (weather permitting!) so you can grow them on a sunny windowsill but make sure you don’t let them dry out. I have grown mine on a sunny south-facing windowsill which is fine for this time of year as the light levels and temperatures are not too intense but grow seeds in that same spot again come April and they could easily dry out in the space of a day. The best thing to do once they have germinated and have started to put on some height is to transfer them outside to a greenhouse or cold frame somewhere nice and sunny to harden them off and make them good and strong for the growing season. I understand not everyone has this equipment to hand but a cold frame can be picked up for as little as €30 to help you on your way or Pinterest is packed with thrifty ideas on how to make your own. Alternatively, you could put them beside a sunny shed window with a view to hardening them off and they will do just fine. Mine have a good few pairs of leaves now so I will be pinching them out and will share a video on how to do so. This is a common practice used to slow down upward growth and encourage side shoots to grow which will make the plants much bushier and robust and will help them get more established quicker.
If you have yet to start, no problem at all. Another technique which was recommended by Fionnuala Fallon on my Instagram page is to ‘Chit’ the seeds on some moist kitchen paper in a sealed container. Once they have germinated, they can be sown in pots/seed trays and transferred outside under cover straight away to harden them off. This will also make much hardier plants that will grow well into the summer.
Each year I grow first early potatoes with my gardening course at the TCD Botanic Garden and we end up with a tasty crop of spuds come mid June. Seed potatoes are available in garden centres now and ideally should be ‘Chitted’ which means storing them somewhere bright but out of direct sunlight to encourage them to put on some ‘eyes’. These are the little sprouts we all see growing away in our press and are what the future potatoes will grow on. Chit your seed potatoes until the shoots are nice and plump and about 1cm long. Traditionally, they are planted in and around St. Patrick's day and will take about 12 weeks to produce the most delicious,tasty little spuds which are best eaten with a big knob of butter!
We will be planting Red Duke of York and Arran Pilot but there are plenty of other varieties that are available as first earlies such as Pentland Javelin, Sharpes Express, Casablanca to name a few. You might also come across Second Earlies and Maincrops. Second Earlies take just a few more weeks (around 16) to mature but are equally as easy to grow as First Earlies. Some varieties in this category include Charlotte, Maris Peer, Orla and Kestrel. Maincrops worth trying are Pink Fir Apples (yes I know but they’re delicious!), Kind Edward, Roosters and lots more.
The benefits of growing First and Second Earlies is they are mature before the risk of blight has begun – you’ve all heard the warnings on the weather forecast come mid-July early August. This is a great benefit as maincrops which are not planted until mid-April and take up to 22 weeks to mature are still in the ground when blight is airborne (it’s a fungal disease) so to prevent it from infecting crops they need to be treated with a fungicide such as Bordeaux Mixture which is copper based and helps control its spread. This is important as maincrops can be stored over winter in a cool dry place such as a shed and used as needed as they have a much thicker skin so don’t dry out as much. Whereas, First and Second Earlies have a papery thin skin so they don’t store well but that just means you can make a glut of yourself in mid to late June when they are ready to harvest!
I’ll be sowing lots more come mid-March and in early April will be showing my class how to take softwood cuttings so stay tuned and join in!
As Always Happy Gardening Folks!