Designer Landscapes

Get Growing, NOW
It has occurred to me, and may have occurred to you that I don’t generally give a list of things to do in the month that these articles appear. I tend towards encouragement of the self learning experience. An approach, which has served the British education system well over the years and the opposite to the spoon fed and tick box, multiple choice of recent times. In fact, the way I discovered the wonders of horticulture was by guidance, trial and error and devouring books. Successful gardening, in any climate, is a journey of discovery.

Now, as with most of my opening gambits, I am going to do exactly the opposite. I am going to give you a list. A list of things to be done, more or less soon, depending as always, if you can get in the garden yet or not.
I have been considering whether a zone map would be useful, to decide who should be doing what, and when. But to be perfectly honest, I don’t think I am that clever. I have noticed in my travels, that in the morning in Cocentaina I will scrape off 6 degrees of frost, and an hour later be basking in sunshine in shirtsleeves on the coast. I think there is probably about a months’ difference, in 30 miles as the crow flies it’s dubiously straight line. That’s the same as the 300 miles of climate change between my granddads house in Darlington and where I used to live in the south east. No wonder most of that land here is filled with pine trees then.
To labour the point even further; and regulars will know how I like that.  It is then, difficult to be prescriptive, and less so to be indicative.
On the land in Polop, (coastal mountains) they are cleaning the Nisperos, cutting out the diseased and dead. Thinning the ends and checking for infestation. I suggest you do the same. Look for the damaged wood and expect to see a little more. Prepare your trees and other plants for the coming winds. We always get winds in March, as sure as the Mistral blows across the Camargue, the Levante wind will want to tear everything in it’s path. How romantic the image of these winds; and we don’t tell the tourists about them. But we should be very wary of something like a wind, a simple difference in air pressure that actually has a name!
Check over the garden for stakes that need replacing, ties that need loosening, after a years growth; or tightening for security, and branches that are crossing.
Around the land in Cocentaina (Inland Mountains) they are cleaning the olives. On the dark side of the hills they are doing it now, having finished the light side last month. Somewhere in between, they did it when I last wrote about it.. Another example of getting caught out by the climate difference. I might start to give that capitals; make the concept exist.
On the coast; and I’ve moved again by the way,-Don’t ask, but I’ve also learnt in time that Luci gets what Luci wants; Sometimes I facilitate, but most of the time I just accept it-. It’s spring, in full flow. Time then, for everyone to be thinking about planting seeds in beds or trays for this year’s crop of home grown tasty stuff.
I have a golden rule for growing soft fruit, vegetables and salad crops from seed. It’s simple, and hopefully doesn’t insult your intelligence. Are you ready for the greatest piece of enlightened advice ever? Ok then. Read the packet, and do what it says. The second part is often harder than the first, but if done with conviction, you can’t go wrong. In fact, if buying seed in Spain, you don’t even need Spanish, there’s a diagram. It goes I think without saying, though I will labour this point as well, that you need good tools, clean equipment and a careful and diligent approach. Other than that, it’s easy and phenomenally rewarding. I’ve been growing for years, even occasionally commercially, and I still get a buzz from the moment of germination.
Indeed, the timing of growing from seed, in a climate like ours is very much a variable feast. There are, of course some prescriptive needs for growing form seed. New compost, preferably seed compost, ‘turbo para semillas’; clean tools; new or clean seed trays and small pots; some horticultural grit; pearlite, and labels with a water proof pen. Clean glass for covering trays and newspaper for those seeds that don’t need direct light.
Easy enough then.
Looking at the seed will tell you, more or less what growing programme to follow. As a very general rule, you sow seed twice as deep as it is long. Very small seed, slightly larger than dust, like Lobelia for example, needs to be sown on the surface of a smooth seed bed and covered with a dusting of compost. Gently dampen the compost with a spray and place a sheet of glass over the tray and cover that with a sheet of newspaper.
Larger seed, such as most vegetable seed, brasicas – the cabbage family-, if not being sown direct into open ground, follow the same protocol, covering with about ½ a centimetre of compost, use glass or plastic sheet to cover and leave out the newspaper. The recommendation for things like carrots and salad crops is to sow where they are to be harvested, in rows. This isn’t totally necessary, once you get the hang of how gentle you need to be in transplanting, but until then, practice on things that are tough, like tomatoes
Small, light sensitive seed, such as petunia, follow the same as Lobelia and leave out the newspaper. The seed is encouraged by a gentle exposure to light, but not direct, as this will dry out the compost and burn the seed. So place the tray under the workbench, or place you are working.
All ok so far. I should point out that the few rules are very simple with variations.
Sowing in trays is for the small seeds and those that you want to grow early, with protection from the elements. Larger seed, tends to be sown directly in the open ground and when large enough, the plantlets are planted out or just thinned in situ in the same way as those in the seed trays..
Very big seed, such as peas, beans and sweet peas. Make a pot. Fold a sheet of newspaper in half and wrap it round a tool handle to make a pot about an inch across and 5 inches deep. Perfect use of this paper, once you have red and digested all the information held within. The reason for this is, when very young these seedlings will not put up with any disturbance to the roots at all, so you can use your fully recyclable pot to put straight in the ground. Sweet peas, need to be chitted. That is, cut a very small amount of the seed coat off, and soak for 24 hrs in water. If you don’t, germination is very hit and miss, because the seed finds it difficult to get enough water on its own. Large seed, will benefit from an over night soak as well, and should start to germinate within a week if conditions are right. Soak in luke warm water for best results, plant beans a finger deep in pots individually and peas half a finger deep in twos.
Some seed is shaped so that it is important to orient it correctly in the ground, pot or seed bed. Melons and marrows, and wisteria -which everyone will tell you, can’t be grown from seed- are very flat seed. Follow the same pattern. Plant twice as deep as it is wide, and place the seed on its edge, like a blade in the compost. This stops the seed rotting before it has a chance to germinate.
Keep everything well watered. Bit obvious I know, but seed is very delicate, and cannot cope with any drying out at all, unlike the parent plants, which will usually put up with some basic abuse/ forgetfulness on our part. As they grow, at about ½ to 1 centimetre high, spray with a very gentle fungicide.
When germinated and ready to plant out, either in to pots or open ground when the weather is completely better (no frost coming) do it gently. Never touch anything with your hands that doesn’t have 4 leaves. You stand a very good chance of damaging the seedling. Always water the trays and pots at least ½ an hour before transplanting and don’t plant anything too deep.
Hope that gets you interested and going. Starting now is perfect for the beginner, and if all goes horribly wrong. Pop down to the local coop/ agricola and buy the seedlings they produce every year. Just don’t tell any one.
The big news; I am appearing at the Alacant Home and Garden Show in April, doing 9 seminars on; planting, potting, palms; the usual sort of thing. Please pop along and say hello Thanks to everyone at The Inland Trader for allowing my ramblings to be printed and therefore getting me the Alacant gig. Should be fun.
A deu, Jon.
Designer landscapes Service
For a quote contact Jon 609 30 66 43

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