THE landmark events of 2012 – namely the Queen's 60-year reign, followed by the Olympics – are set to prompt patriotic gardeners to fly the flag for Britain this year in the form of red, white and blue designs in their beds, borders and containers.
Blue and white lobelia, red salvias and geraniums and other bedding favourites could be the mainstay for many borders. The challenge will be getting these colours in the garden in time for the jubilee celebrations in the first week of June.
The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) has just launched an advisory page on its website (www.rhs.org.uk) providing advice and suggestions to gardeners wanting to go for red, white and blue planting schemes, bringing together a selection of suitable plants that will go well together.
"Unfortunately June is not the best time to have masses of colour from plants grown from seeds," says Jenny Bowden, RHS advisor. "But we have come up with some great suggestions that are relatively easy to grow.
"We know how important these two wonderful events are to people and we just thought that some patriotic planting would help in the celebrations."
The secret will be to buy partially grown plug and mini-plants such as white verbenas, lobelias and Nemesia 'Wisley Vanilla', red pelargoniums (geraniums) and blue Lobelia 'Panthera Cobalt' to put in containers and hanging baskets. These plants will have to be purchased as early as possible. Plant centres are likely to have supplies from April.
"Although it will be necessary to get the plants into containers and hanging baskets as soon as possible, gardeners also need to ensure that they are kept in sunny, frost-free conditions until the threat of frost has passed. A temperature of 15C (59F) is ideal," says Bowden.
Themed selections for June flowering include Petunia grandiflora 'Jubilee Mixed', from Suttons (www.suttons.co.uk). Compact in habit and reaching a height of 25-30cm (10-12in), they should be sent out as young plants in late April.
Another Suttons celebratory package includes Calibrachoa Superbells 'Red Devil', Lobelia 'Panthera Cobalt' and Verbena 'Superbena White', which should perform all summer in baskets or containers. Young plants will be sent out in May.
Verbena 'Union Jack' collection is being offered by Vernon Geranium Nursery (www.geraniumsuk.com). With delivery at the end of April, there should be time for plants to settle in and start flowering for June.
DT Brown (www.dtbrownseeds.co.uk) is offering a patriotic blend of young highly scented red, white and blue sweet pea plants, which should be delivered in late March and, once hardened off, can be planted in their permanent positions.
As the Olympics and Paralympics are being run during the end of July, August and early September, gardeners will have enough time to grow plants from seeds for these celebrations.
The RHS suggests growing red, white and blue sweet peas, red-flowered Salvia splendens, Nicotiana (tobacco plant) in red and white, and blue flowers such as ageratums or Salvia farinacea 'Victoria'.
However, if the thought of a red, white and blue border stirs up images of old-fashioned planting schemes often seen in parks or on roundabouts, vertical displays may provide a more contemporary feel.
Consider planting a wall of blue, white and red with verbenas, ivy-leaved pelargoniums, lobelias and begonias.
RHS Garden Harlow Carr, in North Yorkshire, is extending the theme to vegetables by planting red ('Highland Burgundy Red'), blue ('Purple Majesty') and white ('Elisabeth') potatoes, while all four RHS gardens will be featuring planting displays to celebrate both the Queen's Diamond Jubilee and the London Olympics.
Other patriotic veg might include the purple/blue variety of carrots, 'Purple Haze', white cauliflower 'Avalanche', runner bean 'Painted Lady' which produces red and white flowers and rainbow chard, for its colourful red stems.
Flying the flag opens up so many opportunities for gardeners to go red, white and blue this summer.
Best of the bunch – Box (Buxus)
There is a place for this evergreen in every garden, whether planted as a hedge, a stand-alone piece of topiary or simply in pots to add order and form to a patio or either side of a front door. The stems can be clipped regularly, ensuring formal screening and topiary remains neat and tidy. The plant, which bears small, glossy leaves, stands up well to wind, alkaline soil and will tolerate partial shade. There are two main groups: B. sempervirens, the common box, which has oval leaves and will grow to 3m (10ft) if left untrimmed, and has more compact and colourful varieties including 'Aureovariegata', which has yellow-blotched leaves; and B. microphylla, the small-leaved box, whose leaves are 2cm in length. Box will thrive in any reasonable soil in sun or partial shade. To increase stock, plant cuttings in a cold frame in summer.
Good enough to eat – Sowing peas
You don't need a load of fancy propagators and trays in which to sow peas. A piece of plastic guttering will do, provided you drill drainage holes in the bottom and then fill it with a peat-free seed compost. Make a head start in February by sowing the seeds evenly in two rows 2.5-5cm (1-2in) apart and 2.5cm (1in) deep, and water, keeping the containers on a windowsill or in an unheated greenhouse, although heat will speed up germination.
When the seedlings have a few leaves, they can be planted out under a cloche by sliding them out of the guttering and into a prepared shallow trench in the soil. Keep plants well watered in dry weather and weed regularly. After sowing, push pea sticks in along the rows of short-growing varieties, or erect posts with horizontal wiring supporting pea netting for larger types.
Good varieties include 'Feltham First', suitable for the earliest sowings and dwarf in size, needing little support, and 'Hurst Green Shaft', a delicious second early or maincrop variety growing to 75cm (2.5ft) tall and producing heavy crops.
Three ways to... Perk up Moth orchids (Phalaenopsis)
1. Only pot them on when they have totally outgrown the pot, preferably during spring or autumn, at times when there are no flowers but the plants are growing. Use an orchid compost based on bark chippings.
2. Keep orchids in a north facing position where they receive good but not harsh light, coolness in summer, plenty of fresh air and a minimum temperature of 10C (50F) in winter.
3. Don't overwater them – once a week is enough. Use rainwater when the pot becomes light in weight and add half-strength liquid fertiliser every other watering. Water from below, dunking the container in a bowl of water until it is soaked through, then leave it to drain for around 20 minutes before placing it back in its pot. Mist leaves from time to time with an orchid spray.
What to do this week
Mulch asparagus beds and clumps of rhubarb with manure or compost.
Place cloches over ground where early sowings are to be made.
Continue to cut back faded foliage on herbaceous perennials.
Take root cuttings of Oriental poppies, verbascum and phlox.
Sow under glass quick growing perennials to flower this year.
Begin to feed plants in established borders using a controlled-release slow-acting fertiliser and try not to get fertiliser on the new foliage.
Water indoor strawberries sparingly, removing any dead leaves.
Don't let your pond freeze over completely. Stick a floating ball in it before it's too late.
Top-dress year-round tubs and don't let sheltered containers dry out.
Continue to plant soft fruit bushes and bare-rooted fruit trees if weather permits.
Prune half-hardy fuchsias being kept under cover when the pink 'eyes' appear.
Plant out ranunculus and anemones if the ground is not too wet.
Protect the blossom of early-flowering apricots, peaches and nectarines from frost damage by covering plants with fleece.
Prune out the old flowering heads from hydrangeas.