Allotment Associations & Horticultural Groups in Harrow, Middlesex
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This is the shortest month!

Near the start, on the 2nd is Candlemass day commemorating the national power cut when masses of candles were lit. It is also Groundhog Day, remembering when greedy landed gentry grabbed thousands more acres.

Now is the time to get the seed potatoes, and make sure they are chitting comfortably in shallow trays of dry peat. Arrange the seed potatoes with the eyes uppermost in a lighted, frost-free room and out of direct sunlight and in 4-6 weeks they will have several sturdy shoots. The storage must not be dark, if it is the shoots will be too long and too weak The variety of seed potato chosen is a matter of taste or the local soil can be taken into the reckoning. One of the popular main crop potatoes planted in this area is Desiree, it has good flavour and it is not on top of the slugs menu.

Snowdrops: One of the most welcome, lovely sights this month is seeing the barren ground brightened by the appearance of snowdrops. As with many flowers, the double variety is almost doubly attractive, though it was reported by one expert that doubles could revert to singles - what a waste of money! Perhaps you are a galanthophile and can drive a few miles to see a display: try Beth Chatto nursery at Elmstead Market near Colchester, (tel:01206 822 007) and, at the end of this month, it is the time to add to your snowdrop display or start one for this is the time to buy bulbs "in the green" Bluebells, winter Aconites and snowdrops both benefit from being planted not long after and multiply more rapidly to form larger clumps. So it will soon be time to get more Bulbs are described as "in the green" once they have started to grow green shoots. When they have been carefully lifted out of the ground, they naturalise in their space quicker, there are advertisements in all the gardening magazines. One supplier is or email or Anglia Bulbs (Lords Lane, Wisbech, Cambs, PE13 4TU), a few years ago their price was £6 for 100 singles and £8 for doubles.

Propagation and Greenhouses:
What about heat? Bottled gas, paraffin and electricity have become quite expensive if a greenhouse has to be heated, but some seeds can be propagated on a shelf above a radiator. Geranium seed can be sown on edge in a pot containing moist seed compost. The pot can be covered by a polythene bag to retain the moisture and the pot placed at the bottom of a warm airing cupboard, the temperature about 75 degrees Fahrenheit or 23 centigrade. At the first sign of growth put the pot in a cooler place, on a window shelf where there is plenty of light. Hopefully, there will be plenty of small plants to re-pot in 3 or 4 inch pots. That way there is much more satisfaction that buying plug plants. However, this is the month to order plug plants, especially plants which are tricky to grow from seed and you want to be sure of plants to fill hanging baskets e.g. trailing fuchsias, double petunias. A good way to sow tiny seeds, such as Begonia, Busy Lizzie etc. is to mix them with a little fine, dry sand and scatter them thinly over he surface of a moist seed compost. The tray can then be covered with a sheet of paper or glass to retain the moisture. The tray is kept in a light place with a temperature of 65-70F.

Hedges: if the weather is mild and dry it should be possible to plant deciduous hedges on well-drained land. Keep the plants in a frost-free shed, keeping the roots protected perhaps with straw until the soil is suitable. A plant that is right for a hedge is the escallonia that has lovely dark green leaves plus some lovely flowers. Escallonia Apple Blossom produces the most beautiful flowers but can grow to 8 feet tall The variety Pride of Donard is compact and will not grow too tall, only 5 feet, and also has lovely, rich red flowers Most hedging plants grow too tall and dangerous if a car is in the driveway and then backed into a road the hedge could impair the view, dangerous to pedestrians on the pavement The rose Rugosa grows very vigorous and tall so care must be taken when using it as a hedge In David Austin's book "A handbook of Roses" there is small list of short roses: Bredon, Burgundy Rose, De Meaux, Little White Pet, Old Blush China, Rosa Mundi, Wife of Bath- some say that small is beautiful!

Early sown vegetables: Gardeners were advised to plant parsnips quite early in the year but it is probably best to leave planting until March The snag with early sown parsnips is that the weeds may grow more vigorously than the parsnips and it could be hard to only take out the weeds.

Prune: not with custard, but with secateurs. Some people are keen to have the plants given their short back and sides, at the right time. While other people are a bit confused and do not cut at all, and hope for the best.

One plant which puts doubt and confusion in gardeners’ minds is clematis, for there are three groups which add to the confusion:

Group 1: which includes the C. Montana, flower early in the year on wood produced in the previous growing season. They are not over vigorous and rarely need any pruning. If overgrown thin to restrict growth.
Group 2: Clematis in this group are large flowered hybrids. They flower first on wood produced in the previous year, then, in late summer and autumn on the new growth. Typical of this group is Nelly Moser, pruning aims to have a framework of old wood and also to stimulate new shoots. Stagger the pruning cutting back some shoots to healthy buds later than others, prolonging the flowering still further. However, these plants can be grown with minimal pruning, cutting back every three years.
Group 3: Clematis Viticella and its cultivars and hybrids flower in late summer on growth made in that season. They make new growth from the base each year, so can be cut back hard on a regular basis. Prune in late winter or early spring when buds show signs of growth.

Clematis have opposite buds, so cut straight across stems. Cut weak or damaged growth back to its point of origin or to the ground.

Ralph of Roxbourne Society

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