Swings and Roundabouts


Alongside all of the wonderful little plants growing away quite happily there’s a small selection which haven’t come on so well…

Unfortunately the two main problems I’ve had are with the plants which make up the backbone of my design – sweetpeas (Lathyrus odoratus ‘Midnight’ and ‘White Supreme’) and the purple millet (Pennisetum glaucum ‘Purple Majesty’).

The purple millet has simply failed to germinate – only three seedlings out of the whole batch have come up.  I resowed, hoping it was perhaps a bad batch but three packets later and I have nothing to show for it – the three seedlings that did come up have died off.  Despite being at optimal conditions, on a heated bench at the right temperature in a glasshouse, they failed to thrive – this despite me having managed to get them growing on a windowsill last year.  I’m not sure what the issue is, but I suspect that low water might have been part of it as the benches do dry out the plants quickly, despite me having sown them onto fairly deep pots to allow for moisture without saturating them.  I’ve added another pot with compost in it underneath them now, to reduce the direct heat and to allow for more water to be drawn up if needed – millet doesn’t like too much water so it’s a fine balance to strike between keeping them moist and warm but not having to water all the time.

The sweet peas had a similar problem with early germination but, despite expectations that the ones sown in long-toms wouldn’t germinate, a good few have actually come up.  When put out into the coldframes, though, several seedlings were munched off right at the base, left lying to mock me in the morning.  I did double sow my sweet peas, when I thought the ones in the long-toms might have rotted, but the ones which went into root trainers had about the same germination rate – ‘not great’.  Well, perhaps that’s not being entirely fair – ‘White Supreme’ has germinated well – about 70-80%, it’s ‘Midnight’ that’s lagging behind with only about 20% germination.  This means I have a few more white than I’d anticipated, and just enough plants to cover the cordons I’ve set up.  Although I’d planned to alternate colours, I don’t think that it will majorly impact the style of the design if there’s two white to one black – the aim was mainly to have both colours, not a particular pattern, after all.

Atriplex hortensis 'Rubra'

So, apart from crossing my fingers and hoping, what am I doing about it? Well, I’ve protected my sweetpeas by placing them back in the polytunnel – I’ll use bottle cloches when they go outside until they’ve established.  I’ve considered how I’ll move my cordons, too, if there end up being more casualties (I’m going to remove the end ones rather than respacing them as spacing is important when layering) and I’ve sown a few more seeds on the off-chance they’ll get a growth spurt in the warm weather.  I’m not holding any hopes for the last one but as I vastly over-ordered those seeds I don’t mind trying a few more.

I’ve also plated a few plants which weren’t originally on my list to replace the purple millet and fill in gaps left if a few do germinate:

  • Brassica juncea ‘Dragon’s Tongue’
  • Brassica Rapa ‘Rubi’
  • Latuca sativa ‘Really Red Deer Tongue’
  • Atriplex Hortensis ‘Rubra’

Brassica juncea ‘Dragon’s Tongue’ is the stunningly dark veined mustard green at the top of the page.  It grows to ~60cm and likes shaded, cool spots in the summer – given my plot has half shade for the day I’m not too worried about starting it this late as it’ll have cool conditions to grow on in.

Brassica Rapa ‘Rubi’ is a pak choi with very deep, almost black, red leaves.  Never grown this before, and might not have tried it had I not seen a display at New Hopetoun Gardens the other day which showed just how dark the leaf is.

Latuca sativa ‘Really Red Deer Tongue’ (pictured below) is a lettuce which I’ve grown before and which, as I mentioned in a previous post, I’ve substituted for the second row of lettuce in my proscribed area – it’s also deep red, especially on the more mature leaves.

Atriplex Hortensis ‘Rubra’ (pictured above) is a deep purple-red mountain spinach – it can grow to over a metre in height and I’m hoping that it will substitute for the purple millet in that regard – as a tall plant to echo the uprights of the cordons at the back of the bed.  It won’t grow to its full height by viva day, but it may get some ways toward it.

Latuca sativa 'Really Red Deer Tongue'

All of the above were chosen because they grow fairly fast (time is limited, now!), they’re hardy, and they have the right colour profile. They’ll be used to replace the millet and to add to the ends of the cordon area if I have to remove some of the stakes – I’d rather not leave big gaps.  They can also be used to gap up any other spaces that might occur – choosing a range of heights gives me flexibility in their placement.


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