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Sir Roddy Llewellyn's January gardening tips

PUBLISHED: 15:22 13 January 2011 | UPDATED: 10:31 21 February 2013

Sir Roddy Llewellyn's January gardening tips

Sir Roddy Llewellyn's January gardening tips

A miscellany of gardening tips from Sir"Roddy"Llewellyn:<br/>flowerpot heaters, cannibalistic plants, bananas, and sowing seeds for the sweet scent of summer

I remember being told about how people kept themselves warm in Anderson Shelters during the war by using two terracotta flowerpots, one on top of another, with a candle placed in the bottom one. In order to keep the severe chill off my dahlia tubers and penstemon cuttings I have successfully adopted this cheap heating device. The flower pots come free and the cheapest candles, which last several hours, do the job perfectly. It is the top flowerpot, that becomes almost too hot to touch, that does the trick. The thing to do is to play around with your flowerpots. Two pots with wide bases, for example, may be able to accommodate more than one candle and therefore produce more heat.

I am choosing plants for my new woodland walk and on pouring through books for inspiration Ive stumbled across some that I will never entertain again because they have proven too invasive. The Japanese quince (Chaenomoles speciosa), has glorious flowers in spring but an antisocial habit of spreading at an alarming rate and golloping up its neighbours in a very untidy fashion. Theres a variegated version of ground elder which is sold as a groundcover plant. This different plant looks so charming in its little pot at the garden centre but it can, like its green-leaved feral cousin (introduced to this country by the Romans who used to cook it as a cure for gout), spread out of control and prove very difficult to eradicate. Those low growing, groundcover bamboos like Arundinaria viridistriata soon become similarly bothersome and should always be contained in some way, like mint. I shall certainly avoid these plants as I dont want any extra unnecessary maintenance in the future when I may not be as nimble on my feet as I am now.

You may think Ive gone bananas to talk about bananas as we enter mid-winter but they have become popular ornamental additions to gardens all over the country. I was first made aware of banana plant cultivation in this country when I visited Architectural Plants in West Sussex some 25 years ago. After many attempts at insulating them from the winter cold by using everything from plastic drainage pipes filled with straw to chicken wire surrounds stuffed with bracken, the current practice is to surround them with bales of straw. This prevents the main stem from collapsing right down to the ground. Although if the banana plant does lose its main stem, it will nearly always produce off-sets from the base the following summer. If you decide to grow a banana outside you will be sold the hardiest of the bananas Musa basjoo which originates in southern Japan. It goes without saying that you should choose the most protected spot you can find for it, especially if you live in the country. Fashion-conscious city dwellers who enjoy milder winters in their micro-climates will always have a banana lurking in the corner of the terrace (along with a Melianthus major, of course).

A few years ago I was walking down a smart street in Notting Hill and saw a flower seller on the pavement. From some distance away the scent of sweet peas was wafting towards me so I made a bee line towards them. Standing tall and proud was a vase of white sweet peas going for a mere 1 a stem. This reminded me why I always grow my own. January is the time to sow sweet peas if you didnt get round to doing it in the autumn. Because sweet peas send roots down quite deep it is best to sow them in special long, slender black bags that can be bought in garden centres. Once these bags have been filled with seed compost they need to placed into a deep tray so that they prop each other up. Seed can be soaked overnight to soften the seed coat for sowing the next day and two to three seeds should be sown in each pouch. Soak the seed compost and keep at room temperature. Soon after they have started to produce growth they can be put in a sunny porch or frost-free greenhouse. If they become impossibly leggy they can be snipped back, about half way, before being planted out after the threat of frost is over. There is a chance that they might be attacked by hungry mice while theyre growing inside so I put them on a table whose top overhangs the legs by, say, 6 ins (15cm). This makes it very difficult for mice to get at the young plants!

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