Hartley Magazine

All the latest news, hints, tips and advice from our experts


Lia blogThe sudden warmth has meant that the greenhouse has become my second home, fair weather gardener that I am.

After half shunning it all winter I am now its best friend again, and spent much of the Easter weekend and since shuffling compost into seed trays and modules, and starting off my future vegetables. It has been such a time of productivity towards sensible, practical ends – peas, beans, courgettes, squash – that I felt it was time to attend to a little beauty too.

I grow lots of pelargoniums, widely known as geraniums, too many, they are one of the plants I find impossible to resist. I love the blowsy and colourful bedding types and snap up anything I see in bold pink or coral of these. I love the more sophisticated, Spanish style, ivy-leaved types too, and here tend towards dark mulberry flowers that I think I must have spotted on a visit to Spain aged 17, trailing down courtyard walls. I love the scented leaved geraniums too, almost as if they were an entirely different group of plants: so understated and delicately flowered, with those delicious and oddly differing scents: rose, lemon, mint, apple and camphor.

Normally this is the time I mournfully pick over the remains of my plants and throw out the mouldy, frosted ones to start afresh with a whole new batch. I have had trouble over-wintering them in the past: those that I grow in the mini greenhouse with a tiny little bit of heat come through fine, but I have far too many for them to all fit in there, and the rest have to make do with the unheated glasshouse. This year the winter was so mild that they were hardly troubled and I have a bumper crop of surviving geraniums, some have even carried on flowering throughout. I will barely be able to justify my next flower show splurge. Barely.

However while they may have survived they were certainly not looking their best. Bits had died back, stems grew leggy, and those taken as cuttings towards the end of last summer were each crying out for a pot of their own. And so I spent a happy, sunny afternoon potting these geraniums on into slightly larger pots, or topping them with fresh compost. I cut them back and I prised them apart and freshened them up and just generally gave them a little tlc.

I love the gardener’s idea of ‘starting plants into growth’, as if they wouldn’t grow whatever we did. But it is true that without this correct starting off they might grow in a less beautiful way, more bedraggled and wan, or lopsided. So after potting on and cutting back up I ‘started them into growth’ with a good watering, which combined with the greenhouse warmth should get them going a treat, after which time I will start to feed them a little, and then a lot later on, always maintaining that self-delusion that it is me who decides how much they grow and when (a little at the start of the year when the temperatures are too low for very soft new growth, a lot later in the year when evenings are warm). Who knows, it may be true.

There is one group that fared least well of all over the winter and that is the scented-leaved types. I lost most, and I find I am suppressing a smile as I write that, for they are perhaps the most fun when it comes to shopping. Maybe I’ll go for ‘Attar of Roses’ this year, and ‘Mabel Grey’. Or ‘Islington Peppermint’ and ‘Lemon Fancy’. And this time I will almost certainly manage to keep them alive until next spring.