FEBRUARY straddles winter and spring. The sense of sap starting to rise calls gardeners to action, and it is tempting to start sowing seeds. But caution is needed. Seeds, having been tricked into premature germination, beget seedlings that quickly outgrow the confines of a propagator but need continued warmth and bright light. Holding back just a couple of weeks can make this transition easier.
I like to plant up a couple of containers to celebrate the melting of winter into spring. This calls for some potting compost, and “peat-free” is the only responsible way to go. The precious nature of peat bogs as carbon sponges and unique habitats is slowly hitting home with consumers. It is worth seeking out the excellent Melcourt SylvaGrow, a compost made mainly from composted bark and wood fibre, with only a little coir (for stockists, visit melcourt.co.uk ).
The other hot environmental concern for gardeners is the prevalence of plants in black plastic pots that are not accepted by standard council recycling schemes. Thankfully, the industry is responding. Look for plants in taupe (or brightly coloured) polypropylene pots that can be recycled.
Planting up early spring pots is akin to floristry: a protem fix to get us over the hill. Later in the year, the plants can be given permanent homes in the open ground; so it is worth keeping in mind what you could accommodate long-term as well as what makes a pleasing short-term display. It is a chance to be creative, and plant choices are inherently personal, but here are a couple of “recipes” as suggestions. In each case, the planting container needs to be about 35cm (14 in.) in diameter. Approximate pot sizes of plants to be purchased are shown in brackets.
Silvery hues set against orange stems:
Cornus sanguinea “Midwinter Fire” (2 litre) × 1
Euphorbia characias “Glacier Blue” (9cm) × 1
Helleborus lividus (9cm) × 1
Festuca glauca (9cm) × 3
Hedera helix “Adam” (9cm) × 1
Bold and scented:
Fatsia japonica “Spider’s Web” (14cm) × 1
Sarcococca confusa (2 litre) × 1
Carex oshimensis “Evergold” (9cm) × 1
Ready-potted dwarf daffodils (9cm) × 3
It is worth raising the containers on to pot feet to allow excess water to drain freely. Partially fill with compost; and covering the drainage holes at the bottom with crocks will stop it escaping. Then, arrange the plants, and, when you are happy, fill in around them with more compost.
A spring display will not fill out in quite the same way as a summer one; so you may wish to top-dress with decorative stones or clay pellets to hide the soil surface.