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Brighten up a dull day

All Areas > Homes & Gardens > In the Garden

Author: Julia Smith, Posted: Tuesday, 24th January 2017, 08:00

This year, why don’t you grow some early potatoes? You will find early seed potatoes in the garden centres – the variety ‘Accent’ is a good one, but there are plenty of others. Put them individually in egg boxes to ‘chit’ in a cool, bright place. Don’t let them get frosted in an unheated greenhouse – if frost is forecast, cover in fleece and then uncover again in the morning.

You don’t even need a garden to grow potatoes
Chitting is just a term for sprouting, and you want sprouts about 1.5cm long ready to plant out in late March. You don’t have to even have a garden, as there are many different companies selling sturdy bags or bins which have been designed to grow potatoes in and can be kept on a patio – a dustbin with holes in the base would do fine.

If your garden is looking a little dismal, perhaps it might be an idea to plant a Witch Hazel (Hamamelis), which is at its best in January and February. They have scented, spidery yellow, orange or red flowers and really brighten up a dull day. They need to have been planted in late autumn in a sunny situation, while keeping their roots cool, as they are very shallow. Mulching around the plant will sort this problem out but not right up to the stem. If your garden is small, prune immediately after flowering to two or three buds on last summer’s shoots.

Globe artichokes look great in mixed flower borders
I love the architectural height of globe artichokes, which look brilliant in the mixed flower borders – especially if underplanted with low-growing flowers in blues or reds to contrast with the grey foliage. You can grow them from seed now, sowing two seeds to an 8cm pot and germinating at 18°C.

Plant in the middle of a sunny border
Remove the weakest of the two seeds and grow the other on the window sill inside, or in a heated greenhouse until all risk of frost has passed. Then plant outside towards the middle of a sunny border. If in a group, space them 45cm apart. They can be retained to grow on the following year but will need more space, so thin out to 90cm apart. Cut the flowerheads whilst they are still closed to get the tenderest flesh. Sarah Raven recommends soaking them in salty water for an hour or so before boiling to dislodge any hiding earwigs!

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