This Month in the Garden – March 2017 with Derek Cox

Having read so much about the new potato ‘Jassy’ during early February I decided, along with my seed list, to order some from Thompson and Morgan. ‘Jassy’ is a second early potato with creamy skin and flesh, which has the taste of ‘Jersey Royal’ potatoes.
According to Thompson and Morgan, one tuber when well grown will produce 35 new potatoes. I set the potatoes up in my garage in cell trays to chit and by late February these are then ready to plant out in 50 litre black tree tubs in my usual compost of one third multipurpose compost, one third John Innes no3 compost and one third of my own one-year-old garden compost.
To every 50 litres of compost I add one third of a cupful of Osmacote slow release fertiliser as this will help to improve the first three months of growth. When planting potatoes in containers, cover the bottom one third of the container with compost and then place the tubers evenly spaced on the compost, five tubers for first earlies and three for late potatoes. Then cover the tubers with two inches (5cm) of compost and as the growth develops add more compost to earth them up to within one inch (25mm) of the top of the container. This will help the plants to form more young tubers along the new growth. My containers stand in my cold greenhouse and as they grow, on fine days they are stood outside to help harden the growth, but they are always taken back inside at night and if frost is forecast even in my greenhouse I cover them with horticultural fleece.
I am very fond of Phalaenopsis orchids, which although tender, make excellent house plants with glossy evergreen foliage and upright scapes of colourful flowers that last for almost three months and nowadays these will cost you as much as a bunch of flowers , which you will throw out after only two weeks. During early February I already had two standing on my kitchen windowsill, but then while shopping at a local supermarket store, I came across a beauty whose broad pansy-like white petals were striped with deep pink veins that ran from the centre of the petal and divided outwards to the petals rim. In the centre of the petals there is an almost bat shaped red cup. Phalaenopsis are very easy to grow in bark orchid compost and although most books will tell you to use rain water, I always say that tap water is better than none at all, but do not over water and feed about once a month with orchid fertiliser.
I have around 30 different Snowdrop species/cultivars growing in my garden which help to provide colour during the dull winter days and many of these will seed themselves around my garden. Amongst these are four which have double flowers. However, four years ago I came across a double flowered seedling growing in a border close to my house, this grew almost 12 inches (30cm) tall, but with such week stems the flowers would fall down onto the ground. My first thought was pull it out, but then I am glad that I left it as this year a nine inch (22cm) seedling with upright grey green leaves and strong flower stems growing close by has produced very attractive double flowers, close up above. This, although attractive, looks very similar to another double named ‘Dionyus’ that is growing in a border some 50 yards (27m) away, otherwise I might think of introducing it.
At present there are numerous Helleborus hybrids in flower in various colours from white through to almost black and these will flower for over two months and seed freely around the garden. Most of the hybrids will tolerate shade and even grow and flower beneath my Rhododendrons. I do grow Helleborus foetidus which has green flowers and although these look nice in flower arrangements, or close to, they need a light background to be visible from a distance.
Last year I was given a seed packet of a yellow climbing French bean. The writing on the packet was in French, but as I have grown French beans I decided to set the small black beans, as I do with my runner beans, in cell trays during late March in my cold greenhouse, then as they get to their first true leaf stage I pot them into 9cm pots where they will remain until they can be planted out during late May.