|Snowdrops at Cambridge Botanical Gardens.|
So today I'm indoors, cup of tea, slice of cake, sitting in the warmth and thinking about work for my garden design course. We have a big test next Friday to make sure all the plant science stuff has been understood - revision will have to be bedtime reading. In the meantime, I'm having fun sketching.
I've just handed in a big drawing assignment on garden graphics, now I'm building up my sketchbook. It's another assignment but, as ever, laying down good habits for future design planning. It started with sketching at the V&A but now extends to include plants, hard landscaping and whatever else inspires us. At last, a valid reason to browse Pinterest and read endless garden mags! I'm trying to do a little bit every day, although that works better in theory than in practise.
For the big horticulture test, we've been learning the science behind how plants function; words like xylem, phloem, cortex, stomata, transpiration and photosynthesis trip lightly off the tongue when in the classsroom. Sounds dull? Not at all. It's why dark green leaved perennials usually prefer to grow in the shade and why variegated leaves are much brighter grown in the open with good winter light. Plants such as Chimonanthus (Winter Sweet), Sarcococca (Sweet Box) and Mahonia use their fantastically perfumed flowers to attract early pollinators towards their nectar, a symbiotic relationship that ensures survival for both. (Who would have thought the insect world was keeping busy in this cold and dreary weather?) Cyclamen seeds are moved around the garden in late winter by ants, the wide dispersal giving the plants a greater chance of survival.
And what an eye opener this week's lesson on plant nutrition was! This brought me full circle back to the veg: learning why (and when) plants need extra NPK (nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium) and other minerals was invaluable. Potassium hardens the cell walls in a plant, hence its importance for roses and tomatoes. Brassicas with yellowing base leaves (chlorosis) need more nitrogen; with rotting stem centres, they're lacking boron (fortunately quite rare but helped by a seaweed feed) - and dead. When plants get sick (as in they're nutritional needs are not being met), they're more susceptible to pests and disease; with a bit of knowledge, the situation becomes retrievable. I've always suspected that any success in the veg patch was due to more luck than judgement. It seems that the more I know, the more I realise how little I knew before.
I hope all this college work will leave me enough gardening time this summer. I'm reading Anna Pavord's book 'The Curious Gardener' (highly recommended) and her advice is not to be in too much of a rush to sow seeds of annuals: "Those that are sown in April quickly catch up with those sown in March." Despite this good advice and my own resolution not to yield to impulse seed buying, I bagged packets of cornflowers, poppies, loads of sweet peas and nasturtiums for £2 after popping into my local Poundstretcher for a pop up garden waste bin. The colours on the seed packets were so inspiring! I'm looking forward to growing them - the nasturtiums will be trained up the apple trees - and have kept them in the kitchen for now to remind me that spring can't be too far off. For now, I'll console myself with planting broad beans if it ever stops raining.
A few jobs to do now:
Last chance to prune apples and pears, if needed.
Hard prune autumn fruiting raspberry canes and mulch.
Plant broad beans, garlic and onion sets, if not already done.
Start to chit potatoes.