Never before has the garden been so important in lifting our spirits than now...

In her weekly column Olive Ryan tell us what's blooming in the garden right now, but also what tidying up and preparation needs to be done, at this time of year.
Never before has the garden been so important in lifting our spirits than now...

Daffodil Hoop.

THIS year, I am having a moment with miniature daffodils or narcissus. They never really caught my attention before and there are some really adorable smaller daffodils cultivars.

Probably one of the best-known is Narcissus‘Tete a tete’, an early flowering variety appearing in February, and then there is ‘Jetfire’, ‘Rip van Winkle’, ‘Topolino’ and ‘Hawera’ with their dainty flowers bobbing in the wind.

A more delicate flowered miniature is Narcissus bulbicodium with yellow trumpet-shaped funnel flowers. These little beauties are also called hoop peticoat daffodils, a very evocative name which is justly deserved.

You do have to take some time to stop and admire the smaller flowers of these miniature daffodils. By and large they are easy to grow, ideally in moisture- retentive and free-draining soil.

They are ideal for pots or included in a spring flowering meadow as their foliage is not as plentiful as the larger flowering daffodils: miniature flowers equals miniature leaves also and this can be helpful for grass cutting later in the spring.

Other spring flowering bulbs that look good as part of spring meadows are chinodoxa with their dainty blue flowers, Cyclamen coum with their strongly coloured magenta flowers, different varieties of crocus, iris and snowdrops.

Using a range of bulbs, a display can be provided from January up until April, not bad for early in the year. Identify an area in the garden that may be suitable for creating such a display next year and plan for purchasing and planting this autumn.

Never before has the garden been so important in lifting our spirits than now, with all of the uncertainty that is going on in the world.

Getting out into the outdoors, feeling the spring sun on our skin — maybe more often feeling the fresh spring breeze! — and taking in all that is looking good right now is good for the mind and body.

Life is ready to burst forth from under the soil and there is plenty to be done in advance of the growth spurt. Ticking jobs off of the list can be very satisfying and gives a great sense of achievement, particularly if you’re spending a lot of time at home with or without young kids. Indeed, this may be an opportune time to get small people gardening and helping outdoors!

MELLOW YELLOWS: Chinodoxa and ‘Tete a Tete’ daffodils above and (below) Daffodil Hoop
MELLOW YELLOWS: Chinodoxa and ‘Tete a Tete’ daffodils above and (below) Daffodil Hoop

There is plenty of tidying up and preparation to be done at this time of the year. It is a good time to start sowing seeds of hardier annuals like Calendula, Cosmos, Sunflowers, poached egg plant and nasturtiums.

No special equipment is needed for planting seeds — used yogurt cartons or butter containers with drainage holes made at the bottom can be filled with compost and seeds placed on top with a light covering of compost over the seeds.

Leave the seeds on a window sill to germinate, checking daily for progress. They should not need water until they begin to grow and placing the containers in a saucer which can be filled with water when it is needed can be useful for watering from beneath.

Germinating seeds are delicate and require the use of a fine rose when being watered from the top. Some fast maturing salad crops like beetroot, chard and lettuce can all be sown now and will provide leaves for salads in a few weeks. These can be sown directly into the soil outside in a sheltered south- facing spot, once the soil has been cultivated to create a fine tilth creating a seed bed.

Alternatively, a window box or larger container can be used and will work better for the salad leaves as they can be sown in situ and left to mature there.

The satisfaction of growing from seed can help to instill a deep love of growing and gardening and this can never begin too early.

Spring is well and truly underway and for that we are grateful. There was a window last weekend when it was possible to get new plastic in place on the polytunnel, so thankfully a warmer space is now available for starting seeds.

The last week has been cold, with temperatures dropping close to freezing at night and even going below on occasion. This is a challenge for young seedlings and having a heated bench at this time of the year is invaluable as it provides a steady heat from below, and with some horticultural fleece in place during the night-time it can ensure there are no adverse effects from low night-time temperatures.

Reviewing night-time temperatures over the next few days before undertaking a main seed sowing is advisable as planting too early when protected space is limited or not available can be risky.

Some seeds are particularly sensitive to lower temperatures and wait for more favourable temperatures before triggering germination.

This is the time of year for new life emerging and a hopeful one for the growing season that lies ahead. Happy Spring Gardening.

Primula veris 'June Blake'
Primula veris 'June Blake'

Plant of the week

Looking good in the garden this weeks is Primula veris ‘June Blake’. It has very distinctive, almost black flower stems which bear clusters of deep butter yellow flowers that are produced from late winter until mid-spring.

The flowers are also lightly fragranced and reach about 20cm in height.

This plant will grow in full sun or partial shade, preferring a moisture-retentive but free-draining soil.

The plant originated at June Blake’s garden in Blessington, Co. Wicklow, where the seed of hybridized Primulas were collected and sown in 2002, producing this beauty which was eventually named ‘June Blake’.

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