Diarmuid Gavin: Summer colour
Watch your garden ignite in a blaze of scorching hues
I'm digging some planting holes in the Garden of Pure Imagination, which we've transported back from last year's Chelsea Flower Show to re-create in the Dundrum Town Centre in Dublin (more on this next week!). And I'm surrounded by colour. Vans are pulling up to the site with floral cargos from a Co Wicklow nursery to help us weave a colourful tapestry. Because at this time of the year, we crave our colour fix! But it's not only at Dundrum Town Centre - your local garden centre is also packed with rainbows full of every shade imaginable. Now is the time to shake off the shackles of winter and have great fun planting summer bedding in pots, hanging baskets and borders.
First things first: your growing medium. If you're replacing bedding in pots, I'd recommend replacing at least half of the compost, if not all, with fresh multi-purpose compost. Old compost is tired out but is perfect for throwing on beds and borders as a mulch so won't go to waste.
At this stage, you can also add in some slow- release fertiliser and some water-retaining gel, which will help prevent the compost from drying out and keep the plants fed. If you go for unconventional pots such as tin cans or miniature dustbins, make sure they have drainage holes punched in the bottom or you'll end up with a soggy mess. Small containers are fine for single plants but if you want to create an interesting picture, the bigger the better, as you can fit more in.
Now you can get planting. Ensure to water the plants before they go into the pot. If they seem bone dry, dunking in a bucket of water until no more air bubbles are visible is a good way to make sure they are fully soaked.
For an exuberant display, put plenty of plants in: it looks wonderful when they start to overflow. Plant close together so the root balls touch.
Generally, bedding plants supply most instant colour and what they need is an open sunny position (there are some exceptions) and to be kept clear of snails and slugs. Because they flower so much, they'd like some liquid feeding or slow-release fertiliser.
Keeping them well watered is critical: a simple drip irrigation system is the ideal. You can also use water-retentive gel pellets to help things along. Regular deadheading will keep your display looking good. Collect any moss you have scarified from your lawn to use as padding for your hanging baskets.
So, what plants will you choose this year? Gazanias that open up and smile, marigolds that will dance delightedly wearing their sparkling yellow hats, and petunias that look as if a pack of Smarties has been sprinkled by the side of the lawn, or bacopas and lobelias that trail down from baskets?
Bedding has been somewhat forgotten but in these times of dull news, bright begonias, osteospermums and calibrachoas are the perfect antidote to a grey world.
You may have been growing summer bedding from seed or overwintering pelargoniums in your greenhouse so will have already planned your displays. If not, don't worry: there are plenty of plug plants available in garden centres. This week I saw lots of tender geraniums ready to go in dazzling pinks and reds, trays of lobelia plugs and sunny displays of osteospermums.
What caught my fancy in my local garden centre were delightful Marguerite daisies (Argyranthemum) both in white and pink. These make great long-lasting displays. I popped in several trailing Bacopa 'Festival Colours' - a mix of white and mauve flowers - as well as some million bells (Calibrachoa), which will cascade purple, white and pink funnel flowers throughout the summer, all together creating a pink confection to make me and passers-by smile!
If you prefer something less pastel and more dramatic, try Calibrachoa 'Black Cherry', a very deep purple to black flower. And there's plenty of bedding available in more vibrant oranges and yellows: marigolds, gazanias, zinnias and, of course, begonias. Throw a bit of horticultural fleece over the display at night if frost is forecast.
Have fun experimenting with different flowers shapes, habits, sizes and foliage, and enjoy the new burst of colour in your life.