Filling winter gaps

Sunday, 17 June 2018

Honesty self-seeds in my garden over winter

After all the winter pruning I have been doing lately, there are quite a lot of gaps in my garden now! Dahlia plants, which encompassed up to a metre of garden space when in full flight in summer and autumn, have now been cut back to the ground. Ornamental grasses (mainly Miscanthus sinensis cultivars) have been reduced to quaint tuffets.

Some of the Salvia shrubs that grow anew from basal shoots, have been cut back very hard. I don't really mind the sparseness but the empty spots do offer an opportunity for a little seasonal gardening, and make the place look a little more attractive to visitors!

Mesh cover to protect vegetable seedlings

Where the Dahlia tubers lie dormant, I have added a layer of compost and will be sowing directly onto the ground some seeds of winter greens such as rocket, mizuna and lamb's lettuce, along with herbs chervil and coriander. All these crops do best in Sydney over winter, not running so rapidly to seed as they do if grown in the warmer months of the year - and they have pretty foliage. I cover the area where the seeds are planted with mesh food covers from the $2 shop (pictured above). These deter the neighbours' cat and the local brush turkeys from digging up the seeds/seedlings. Sometimes I have even left them in place when the seedlings are well established, to discourage the white cabbage moth from targeting the crops, but I know it isn't a great look!

Purple-leaved pak choi in my garden

I sometimes plant advanced vegetable seedlings from punnets into my spaces at this time of year to get an instant effect, and this winter I am enjoying a few clumps of a purple-leaved pak choi (pictured at left). The whole plant can be harvested at once or leaves can be picked a few at a time, which is what I tend to do with all my winter crops. This one looks quite decorative in the garden.

Black-flowered pansy hybrid

I also scatter seeds of spring-flowering annuals around in my gaps - poppies and nasturtium are favourites. Other spring annuals seed themselves from year to year in the gaps, which is a joy: forget-me-nots, Chinese forget-me-nots, honesty (pictured at the start of the blog), Primula, Nigella and Orlaya are some examples. I also tuck in here and there a few annual seedlings bought in punnets, such as the cute black pansies pictured above, and some tiny white daisies (Leucanthemum paludosum), which I hope might self-seed. These all grow well in the winter months, filling in the spaces nicely with fresh and attractive foliage, and often starting to flower in winter.

Osteospermum Summertime Sweet hybrid

I also take the opportunity to grow a few other sorts of daisies at this time of year, plunging plants into bare spots. I love daisy flowers, but on the whole, I find that the plants don't really survive from year to year in Sydney, or if they do, they become horribly woody and look unattractive over summer. My solution is to buy some flowering specimens at this time of year (a good excuse to visit a nursery!) and simply pop them in and enjoy them over winter and spring, when they are at their peak. By the time nearby plants are starting to fill in again, I remove the daisies and compost them. This year I have gone for a couple of unusual Osteospermum hybrids: a white and purple, pinched-petal cultivar from the 'Summertime Sweet' series (pictured above) and a silvery white and lavender double form, which I bought as '3D Violet Ice'. I admired some interesting Osteospermum forms in the garden of a friend last spring, and am enjoying them in the garden. I may also get some Marguerite daisies for other gaps, as I love these too.

Any of these plants could be grown in troughs or pots where there are no gaps in the garden. It is good to be able to enjoy these temporary plantings - they provide food for the kitchen or flowers to cheer the soul on the bleakest of winter days.